Sunday, July 23, 2017

How Time Makes Fools of Us All

by Jean Roberta

What would I know of fads? I like to think my taste in most things (clothes, literature, art, music) is “classic,” but sometimes this just describes the fads of yesteryear.

When I began writing stories with explicit sex scenes, I hoped that erotica wouldn’t turn out to be a fad. So far, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The presidency of Donald Trump is one fad that I (and many others) hope will end as quickly as an English teacher can spell “IMPEACH.”

The trouble with any fad is that no one knows when or if it will end. Motion pictures with sound were described as a silly fad when they were new. After all, "silent" movies with a musical accompaniment were universal, since they didn’t require the actors to speak in any human language.

Rock-and-roll was described as a vulgar, passing fad by harrumping adults in the 1950s and even the ‘60s. In the mid-sixties, there were three major bands that I knew of, and they were often compared, as though only one could survive for another year. They were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five. No one knew at the time which of these would turn out to be a fad.

School dress codes of the time were unbearable. Teenage girls were universally criticized for wearing skirts that showed their knees. The conservative types (and even leering boys) who assessed the moral fiber of each miniskirt-wearer didn’t understand that when a handful of designers have launched the latest style, manufacturers start producing it, and soon nothing else can be found in the stores. Short skirts weren’t all about sexual availability. And when girls were sent home to change clothes, what were they supposed to change into? Pants/trousers were considered even less suitable for school than short skirts.

At the time, my mother told me that men’s trousers had always been fairly baggy, and always would be. Apparently she hadn’t looked at any all-male rock band on TV. Nor had she noticed Henry VIII showing off his legs in a pair of hose in a full-color reproduction in a coffee-table book we had, titled World-Famous Paintings.

I was told that university education (and worse, professional training) for women was a passing fad that would have to give way to reality. How could women possibly become doctors or lawyers? Well, okay, there might be a few, but those gals were clearly freaks who were probably infertile.

Here is a passage from my historical novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, in which Emily the narrator contemplates a possible career as a couturiere for the drag queens who are her shipmates. She has shockingly chosen to wear men’s trousers, altered to fit, instead of the fashionably voluminous skirts of the 1860s.

As I stood at the rails, admiring the view, or wandered about the ship in search of occupation, men consulted me about fashion and adornment. Could I make a gentleman’s waistcoat out of brocade, assuming there was some to be had in the Bahamas? Would I consider making a lady’s gown to a man’s dimensions out of an old sail which could be dyed a beautiful dark blue once indigo was procured? Did I think pearl or diamond jewellery to be better suited to a rather sallow complexion? Did I not think that parting one’s hair exactly in the middle made one’s nose look too long?

Watching the clouds, my companions sighed about the virtues of fine cotton: its softness against the skin, its fresh smell when freshly-ironed, its fluidity, its elegance, and its scarcity since the beginning of the American war.

Early in our voyage, I asked Roger and Martin about our mission. “Husbands,” I asked them, “are we to settle in the Bahamas? And how will we survive?”

Martin cleared his throat. “We may do, Emily,” he told me, “but first we need to intercept a blockade-runner.”

Roger had explained to me that the attempts of the Union government to cut off supplies to the Confederacy were regularly thwarted by cleverly-manned schooners from the southern states which sailed to Nassau to trade cotton and tobacco for items more useful to the southerners. He hadn’t told me that few of the Green Men valued the life of a darky more than a bale of cotton or a pound of tobacco.

“Cotton?” I shrieked, completely out of sorts. “Are we sailing to the New World like adventurers of old just to steal a shipload of cotton? Are you stark raving mad?”

“Get hold of yourself, Emily,” admonished Roger. “Have you never heard of expeditions to the Far East for spices and silk? Some adventurers made fortunes for themselves and improved the lives of all their countrymen. And cotton is not all we need. Tobacco, especially in a good cigar, makes men more amiable. The best physicians attest to this. Green Men aren't spartans, dear. We need beauty and pleasure as much as we need air.”

His argument was persuasive, if lacking in moral rigor. So we were not all set on defending universal freedom after all.

Now I knew that I could earn my own fortune as a dressmaker for men, who would pay me in coin and in adoration if I could dress them in ladies’ attire – and gentlemen’s suits as well. For an instant, I imagined myself as a designer to rival Monsieur Worth in Paris. I could ease my conscience by repaying my parents for the extraordinary expense of my education, which had caused them hardship.

(If you would like a link, try copying this:

As we all know now, the American Civil War—like other wars—was a passing fad because one side won. (And as is often the case, the side that won the first battles was not the side that had the last word, so to speak.)

Keeping up with fads is as tricky as balancing on an endless tightrope. Anyone who grabs hold of the latest thing is likely to be considered ridiculous, especially after the fad has passed, but those who don’t even seem to know what the latest thing is seem dense or deliberately ignorant.

Is erotica about Bigfoot or dinosaurs a fad that has passed? If so, I hardly noticed it.

Excuse me while I go scroll through various social media to find out what is trending so I can explain why I’m “above” being influenced by particular fads.


  1. Today's news suggests that for some, the Civil War fad isn't quite over. Considering how several former slave states changed their laws the day after congress trashed the Voting Rights Act, some fads do persist.

    That and the Stones.

  2. True. I saw the Stones live on 2 occasions, 40 years apart.

    Re the Civil War, I thought the racial conflicts that were an aftermath had finally ended when the US government sent in the National Guard to enforce public school integration. Obviously not.

  3. I saw the Stones back in 1977, when they played at the Chicago Bears stadium (Soldiers Field) on the lakefront. We snuck in a watermelon that had a hole drilled into it, and an entire bottle of rum poured into it. We also got high, of course; but even high, I didn't think the Stones were that good. I never even liked their old stuff that much, though "Honky-Tonk Woman" was my theme song in the bars of my college town youth, when I used a straw as my microphone to sing lustily along with Mick.

    But I've spoken to women my age or older, who glad fork over $200 or more for each ticket, to see the Stones these days whenever they appear locally. To each their own, I guess. The last concert I saw was Nine Inch Nails, a 90's industrial metal band that I've adored for the past 20 years. And the husband went with the same two sons to see Rammstein, a German heavy metal band. We all wanted to go see Tool, another industrial metal band, but the tickets started at $200, and with the husband being unemployed, we chose not to go.

    Re: the Civil War. My favorite columnist here has commented that the backwards-looking white folks are like the Taliban and Isis, in that they all want to return to the halcyon days of yore: the Taliban to when the Moors ruled the world, and the white folks to when white men were default in everything and women and folks with extra pigment in their skins, or religions that don't involve baptism, knew their places and stayed there. They are destined to lose, eventually, since the tide of progress is against them. Humanity doesn't go backwards, but forwards. But until we get there, the violence perpetrated by those who are unhappy with their perceived loss of a status they feel to be their birthright, will be awful and cause the rest of us a lot of pain.

  4. Two nights ago, I had an erotic dream about Mick Jagger.

    Some things are eternal! ;^)

  5. Some fads, like the Bigfoot and T. Rex erotica, live on for a while as parodies of themselves. Then again, maybe they always were.

  6. Unlike all you other people, apparently, I haven't seen the Stones, which is sad... I like what you say about fads, though, Jean. It's often struck me that it's hard to know ahead of time whether something is here to stay. That said, I think it's naive when people don't recognize that fashions are always moving and changing. I remember reading an article once that claimed we'd finally, as a society, "discovered" the perfect style of jeans, flattering to all body types. It was... low-rise, bootcut jeans. Which would look dated now. Things change, as you wisely note.

    1. I haven't seen the Stones either, much to my regret.


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