I’m wearing a Frankie Says Relax T-shirt and leg warmers. It’s non-uniform day and I’ve just been to Big Pit Mining Museum in Blaenafon on the school coach. We’re on our way back down the M4; Kim, Louise and I are singing Duran Duran on the back seat, and I’m trying to look cool in front of Nick Holloway. It’s 1984.
Everyone’s been talking about Torvill and Dean all day because they’ve just won Olympic Gold. Louise says she’s starting skating lessons at the Mecca next Saturday and I’m going to put skates on my birthday list so I don’t have to wear those embarrassing blue ones. Kim’s not into skating. She’s an animal lover and wants to be a vet. She’s against animal testing, smells of Body Shop White Musk perfume and is the only vegetarian in our year.
In 1984, I was 14. I got what Kim was saying about cosmetic testing but I couldn’t bring myself to give up Twilight Teaser lipstick. Everything was animal cruelty, miners’ strike, CFCs, Ethiopia, and nuclear threat. Even Mum was wearing a CND badge and talking about taking us to the Greenham Common Peace Camp over half term. I closed my eyes and hoped it’d all go away, but it didn’t. By Christmas, Band Aid was number one and starving children were all over the TV. At the school disco, I backcombed my hair, sprayed it with Boots Extra Firm Hold hairspray and tried not to care that Nick Holloway was kissing Louise under the mistletoe whilst Simon Le Bon sang ‘There’s a world outside your window…’
Elim Bible Week, 2012. I’m wearing an Oxfam Ethics Girl T-shirt and furry ankle toppers (yeah okay, they’re just leg warmers under a new name). I’m walking round Telford Conference Centre with no shoes on and delegates are giving my bare feet funny looks. I’m doing this to support the annual TOMS One Day Without Shoes campaign. I’m trying to raise awareness of how lucky we are to have footwear – something we all take for granted. Between meetings, I go to the coffee hall, hopping in and out of crowds of excitable worshippers and getting my toes stepped on. I’m just drinking a nice cup of Fairtrade red bush when an old friend sidles up beside me. After the Hi’s and Hello’s and the lamenting of the lack of Costa-standard coffee, he gets down to it:
What’s with the no shoes thing?
I launch into my explanation and he listens and nods politely and does one of those considering type of smiles. “But tell me,” he says, when I’ve finished. “Tell me honestly. Isn’t it all just a big fad?”
Oxford Dictionary: Fad (noun) – An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived.
Tall skinny sugar-free caramel cappuccinos. Fad. iPhone apps for everything and anything. Fad. Frankie Says Relax T-shirts. Fad. Teens liking Torvill and Dean. Fad. Duran Duran. Fad. (Sorry, Le Bon lovers. It’s true.) Using half a can of Extra Firm Hold hairspray in one night. Fad. Nick Holloway. Fad.
Since the Sixties, campaigning has become cool. Rock stars do it. Comedians do it, TV personalities and film stars do it. Does that make it a fad? And does it matter? Would you rather they sat around in their LA mansions drinking mojitos all day? Freedom in East Germany wasn’t trivialised just because David Hasselhoff sang Looking for Freedom on the Berlin Wall.
Society has changed. In the last half-century it’s started to express itself in different ways: television, pop music, high street fashion, social media. And to cycle through ideas, technology, and trends more and more quickly. None of us are untouched by the mass media programming of popular culture. Even my 89 year old gran watches X Factor.
The Church isn’t immune either. In 1984, we were all ‘Graham Kendrick’. Then the new boy Noel Richards hit the scene bringing us Queen-style stadium rock. Nowadays the pony-tails have gone and fresh-faced Matt Redman and Tim Hughes dominate our worship slots.
We live in a faddish culture, but it’s not all bad. The current appetite for TOMS shoes is doing a whole lot of good whilst they reign supreme in the footwear charts. And it’s showing the multinationals there’s a market for ethical products. If consumers buy ‘ethical’ then suppliers will make ‘ethical’ because they want to sell. And if suppliers make ‘ethical’ their advertising campaigns will promote ‘ethical’. And if advertising campaigns promote ‘ethical’ then consumers will buy ‘ethical’ because we live in a faddish culture. It’s a virtuous circle. Let’s not pull the brakes on it with cynicism and negative labelling.
In 1984, I thought ‘ethics’ was someone lisping the name of a county. In 2012, you can buy Fairtrade Dairy Milk in supermarkets, TOMS shoes from Top Shop, and cruelty free cosmetics from Superdrug. You can support ethical campaigns at the click of a Like button and add your views to green blogs. Ethical has gone mainstream.
(even if you want it to)
Not a fad.