Popular Fads and Those Who Hate Them

Throughout history, there have always been worried parents, dubious “older people,” and social critics who have looked down their noses at the latest fads. They shake their metaphorical (and sometimes physical) fingers and bemoan, the fate of the nation if not mankind.

We have gone through a number of fads in recent decades, from Hip Hop to TikTok, that has caught the ire of the national critics and the simply critical. This type of generational disdain is not new. In fact, it has shown up in some surprising instances. Here are just a few:

The Novel

Mid-19th century parents were worried sick about their children reading novels. They saw these fictional tomes as an addictive.They feared their children were becoming anti-social, staying in their rooms all day and doing nothing but reading frothy novels. Worse still, their children were getting bad ideas.

Here are some quotes you may find interesting:

The Reverend J.T. Crane, in his book “Novels and Novel-Reading,” gave these admonitions:

  • If you have but little time for reading, spend none of it on works of fiction.
  • [Reading Novels ] waists precious time.  
  • Abstinence from novel-reading henceforth and forever.

Another critique, “Novel Reading” in “The Western Gem,” published in 1859, compared reading to getting drunk on booze:

A distillery of liquor is generally conceded, by the moral portion of mankind, to be a fountain of misery and degradation, and to our mind, distilleries of romance…are fully entitled to a place in the same category.

Today the reading of novels is seen as a virtue, a sign of intelligence and wit. Similarly, those who do crossword puzzles are esteemed as intellectuals and masters of the word. That was not always the case.

The Crossword Puzzle

Crossword puzzles became such a craze in the1920s and 30s that they were called a national menace. Here is a quote from a December 20, 2021, New Yorker article by Anna Shechtman, “ESCAPING INTO THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE:”

Newspapers and magazines from the nineteen-twenties and thirties warned of a “crossword craze” gripping the country’s minds. Hotels considered placing a dictionary next to the Bible in every room; telephone companies tracked increased usage, as solvers phoned friends when stuck on a particularly inscrutable clue; baseball teams feared that America’s pastime would be usurped, the grid to replace the diamond. The passion for crosswords was described as an “epidemic,” a “virulent plague,” and a “national menace.”

Who knew that doing The New York Times Crossword puzzle could be so dangerous?


Democracy is a continuing fad (thank goodness) that from time to time comes under attack. Those of us who live in democratic countries , see our way of governing as delivering a far greater good than other forms of government. That was not always true. In fact, according to the recently published “The Last Emperor of Mexico” by Edward Shawcross, democracy was highly suspect in the 19th century, particularly in Continental Europe. The Prussians, Austro-Hungarians and at times the French were disdainful of democracy as dangerous.

Monarchical critics of capitalism in Europe saw Catholicism and democracy as contraindicated. They tied democracy to the Protestant religion and the Anglo-Saxons. For example, Mr. Shawcross writes that in the 1860s, those Europeans who favored a monarchy in Mexico “insisted that unless Catholic Mexico maintained the power of the church, rejected radical democracy, and allied itself with monarchical Europe, then the Protestant United States would take what remained of the nations.”

All of this reminds us that whatever is anathema today can be warmly embraced tomorrow.

Leave a Reply