This morning in the car my daughter asked if I would buy her clothes from lululemon.
“No,” I answered. “They’re too expensive.”
Her reply was, “But everyone wears them.”
(I’m sure I’m the only parent who has ever heard those words.)
Arriving at school, we saw signs all over the grass announcing a school fundraiser at Chipotle, Mexican food for the millennial generation. Believe me, the last thing you will find me doing this evening is wedging myself into a massive line at the tiny storefront where they are apparently serving tacos with a side of heroin.
Why do people insist on climbing on every bandwagon that comes along? Whether it’s the clothes we wear, the restaurants we frequent, or the must-see TV show everyone is talking about, we have a sheeplike need to follow the crowd.
I am not immune to this tendency. When everyone was pouring buckets of ice water on themselves last summer to raise money for ALS research, I was right there with them. And the words pumpkin spice latte make me salivate like a Pavlovian dog.
But why do we feel such an intense need to do what everyone else is doing? The term bandwagon was coined in the late 1800s to refer to the mass appeal of a candidate in a political campaign. The implication was that said candidate appealed to people more as entertainment than for substantive political ideas. Sound familiar?
Humans are social animals. We want to be accepted by other humans, so we subsume some of our individuality to be part of the group. There are commonly accepted social norms, such as not running around town naked, for instance, that help society function in a more or less harmonious way.
But bandwagons don’t always make sense and are not always for the greater good. It makes absolutely no difference to a person’s intelligence or personal worth what the label on her athletic wear says. But try telling that to a middle schooler, whose main purpose in life is blending in with the flock.
I’m always curious as to where fashions and crazes originate. Is it from advertisers or an influential public figure? Are some people just “cooler” and thus able to foist their opinions off on everyone else?
I remember a kids’ movie in the ’90s called Josie and the Pussycats. The plot revolved around a popular teen band fighting an evil conglomerate that was hiring cool kids to hawk their products to the sheeplike masses. Far fetched, you say? I wonder.
I’ll admit that most bandwagons are harmless or sometimes beneficial. The Ice Bucket Challenge raked in millions of dollars for ALS research, and researchers are now saying the money has helped them make strides in understanding and eventually treating and preventing the disease.
Sometimes, though, a bandwagon can be detrimental to society. One need look no further than the current presidential race and the rise of Donald Trump, who is essentially a celebrity whose popularity rests on how entertainingly terrible he can be.
Furthermore, it’s important to teach our children that being or feeling different about something does not make us uncool or weird. Regardless of the fact that I never got those Gloria Vanderbilt jeans I coveted as a teen (Yes, I’m showing my age here), I turned out to be a normal, successful adult. Helping our kids withstand the pressures to fit in can help our own resolve when the next bandwagon rolls into town.