From boob-tubes to Tamagotchi, human history is littered with ill-advised crazes. Rhodri Marsden looks back in wonder – and imagines what our future holds

Thank goodness that common sense deserts us from time to time. Imagine how lacking in sparkle our everyday existences would be if we didn't occasionally make absurd decisions, such as jumping in a fountain fully-clothed, belching loudly at a Christening or marrying our cousin.

Without hare-brained, impetuous plans and preposterous ideas to add some va-va-voom to our waking hours, we would all proceed in a pre-ordained, predictable fashion – in fact, our lives probably wouldn't be worth living at all. And after we'd all gone through the motions, history could be plotted on a gently sloping graph, free of kinks and looking for all the world like the performance data of a highly-efficient combustion engine.

But sometimes we're liable to happily jump on a bandwagon and collectively decide that something is a great idea, while somehow all managing to suppress any niggling thoughts in the back of our minds that it might be a load of rubbish. We invariably come to our senses after a while; we're able to look back with the benefit of hindsight and either gasp at our naivety, lack of taste or downright stupidity, before immediately plunging ourselves into some new ill-thought-out activity that will inevitably be judged by future generations as being a bit silly, too. We can't help ourselves. We're doomed to do it, through a combination of being highly suggestible and easily bored.

In 1974 and 1975, a colossal proportion of British teenage girls clad themselves in ankle-length tartan trousers and tartan scarves, and screamed at deafening volume at the Bay City Rollers, a band from Scotland who you could safely say weren't pushing back the frontiers of songwriting. But by the summer of 1977, you'd be hard pushed to find any girls who'd be prepared to admit that they'd ever had anything tartan lurking in their wardrobe. Total embarrassment and shame had descended. And if it wasn't for the video evidence, we wouldn't have known that it had happened at all. "Bye Bye Baby" is no worse or better a record today than it was when it was released, but you don't find anyone wearing a Tam o' Shanter and playing it over and over again while bawling loudly.

You see, humans are terribly fickle creatures; recipes that excite our tastebuds today might revolt us by the following Tuesday, and ornaments that our grandparents once cherished are unceremoniously jettisoned into skips if they don't coincide with our current aesthetic outlook. We live our lives amid a complex web of rapidly changing whims, desires, ethics and policies; we pick the ones we like, and they form the spirit of our age, the spirit of our society. The zeitgeist. When we're bored with those, we quietly disown them and quickly find something else. And that becomes the new zeitgeist. But what we can't ever do is get rid of the zeitgeist. It's always knocking about.

What does it comprise today? A zillion things: hatred of bankers, the word LOL, a bizarre love of competitive TV-based ballroom dancing, a disinterest in the plight of factory-farmed chickens, the Kings Of Leon. In 100 years, it might be uploading your brain to someone else's during the night as a joke so they wake up disorientated, zinc handbags and cannibalism. We have no idea. But what we can do is look back and laugh at, wince at or, very occasionally, rehabilitate things that our ancestors thought were brilliant, but then realised weren't that good after all. Eating swans. Tamagotchi. Crinolines. Shell suits. The things that just make you think: why?

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"The Next Big Thing" by Rhodri Marsden is published by Penguin (£5.99).


To order a copy for the special price of £5.69 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit