Recent cultural innovations made to seem timeless?
January 10, 2006 4:11 PM   Subscribe

What are some relatively recent cultural innovations that have been made to seem timeless?

For example, diamond engagement rings, or the modern concept of Santa Claus. Not just recent notions, but notions that seem, for whatever reason, to have been around since forever.
posted by Sticherbeast to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
White wedding dresses (I believe Queen Victoria was the first, prior to that gals would just wear something nice)

The nuclear family (as opposed to multigenerational households still common in much of the world)
posted by Kellydamnit at 4:25 PM on January 10, 2006

Tartans and kilts in Scotland. I also suspect the Irish Claddagh ring to be something of the kind.
posted by zadcat at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2006

The concept of Christmas as a gift-giving holiday.

The Super Bowl.

High-school graduation ceremonies (high-school anything, actually).




Organized youth sports (e.g. Little League).

The "summer blockbuster movie."

Fax machines.

posted by frogan at 4:47 PM on January 10, 2006

"under God" in the pledge of allegience. Or the pledge itself. Many Americans seem to think it was written by George Washington or something.
posted by Biblio at 4:51 PM on January 10, 2006

the Internet.
posted by cellphone at 5:15 PM on January 10, 2006

Hallowe'en, particularly in the UK. The whole trick-or-treat thing is about ten years old for us.

Father's Day and Mother's Day.
posted by Hogshead at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2006

Wedding rings for men.
posted by 445supermag at 5:43 PM on January 10, 2006

i think there's various things related to childhood and children - not just stuff like the assumption that they go to school, but "darker" things about happiness, innocence and sexuality. i don't have any facts (ta da!), but a vague memory that i read something about this once...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:49 PM on January 10, 2006

Andrew: are you referring to the notion of childhood innocence? Because I've read similar things. In years past, children had been treated more like little adults-in-training, as evidenced by the tone of Grimm and Perrault's recounting of fairy tales from when they were first introduced, as compared with their more Disneyfied versions nowadays.

Our notions of adolescence, of being a "teenager", are also quite recent.

(Hmm...I wonder where I could read even more just about that...)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:57 PM on January 10, 2006

Oh, and to answer my own question even further, Christian Fundamentalism. Not much older than a century and change.

Or, hell, our fairy tales as we know them now. Part of their point is their supposed timelessness, but of course they have all changed so much.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:03 PM on January 10, 2006

That kilt stuff is crap. Very misleading. "Tartans and Kilts in America and the rest of the world" would be a more accurate comment than "Tartans and Kilts in Scotland."

There are two types of kilt, philabeg (little kilt) as in the article above, and philamhor (big kilt.)

The philabeg (a small, easy to wear version of the philamhor) was invented by Thomas Rawlinson as stated in the article above. The real kilt (philamhor) however, is easily recognisable as the 18ft long bit of tartan material that goes round your waist and over your shoulder, dateable as far back as the bronze age, rather than the patterned "skirt" (philabeg) you Americans and Canadians, scrambling for some heritage, buy from eBay today.

Wearing of Tartan and other Jacobite symbols was banned in Scotland after 1746 due to the Jacobites. Tartan had become a symbol of Jacobite rebellion and the Stewart Dynasty, and was outlawed. Then when George IV (the flamboyant King of Britain) arrived in Edinburgh in 1824 bedecked in tartan, it was suddenly alright to wear that type of dress again, and that is when "fake" commercial kilts (so beloved of Scots unaware of the history, and those outside Scotland) came to be.

To call the modern kilt "an invented tradition" should be a comment on the cultures who have appropriated the kilt. In Scotland it has always been a traditional garment, whether worn in the traditional manner, or symbolically in the modern guise.

Excuse my overlong elaboration.

Basically: take any webpage that decries tradition with a feckin huge pinch of salt, as it's usually a half truth.
posted by fire&wings at 6:18 PM on January 10, 2006

Bat Mitzvah's are relatively new, as is the whole concept of very expensive, lush, bar and bat mitzvahs.
posted by kalimac at 6:19 PM on January 10, 2006

The U.S. observation of Thanksgiving, which dates back to the 1920s.
posted by adamrice at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2006


Clocks are only a few hundred years old, portable watches are more recent, and cheap portable watches that can tell time down to the second are even more recent. The ability to accurately determine day, month, and year was once a source of power and authority. Now it is part of second grade.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:24 PM on January 10, 2006

"In God We Trust"
posted by interrobang at 6:31 PM on January 10, 2006

How about weekends without work?
posted by shallowcenter at 7:15 PM on January 10, 2006

Sticherbeast - yes, something like that.

Also, ("modern") nation states, the idea that you belong to a certain nationality, and that that is somehow important (a la f&w).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:09 PM on January 10, 2006

i've got a good one: zero. the concept of zero has only been in common use for like 400 years. aristotle, plato, the ancient egyptians, pythagoras, archimedes, the romans, al-kwharizmi, all worked without zero. read about it. yup.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:13 PM on January 10, 2006

zadcat, you're correct. The popular heart-hands-crown claddagh ring is Victorian. And I can't find my reputable link amongst all the romantic stuff. Grr.
posted by desuetude at 8:49 PM on January 10, 2006

Germ theory and daily personal hygene.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:13 PM on January 10, 2006

- A consistent view by the Catholic Church that all abortion is murder, and deserving of the severest sanctions. As described here, only in 1869 was the distinction that the Church had long drawn between an "inanimate" and an "animate" (or "ensouled") fetus eliminated.
- The concept that acting is a logical stepping-stone to higher elective office
- The concept that any native-born American male is capable and deserving of the Presidency, based on name recognition alone
posted by rob511 at 12:47 AM on January 11, 2006

cosmetic surgery on teeth (still seems odd to me, a snarly toothed brit, but americans seem to have no separation between healthcare and cosmetics for teeth; this can't be more than a generation or two old)
posted by andrew cooke at 3:11 AM on January 11, 2006

Also, as discussed here at various points, the notion one should wash one's hair daily seems to have started in the 1960s.
posted by zadcat at 7:47 AM on January 11, 2006

Government conspiracy theories, the rapture, convenience stores, slurpees, fast food, drive-thrus, ATMs, Credit Cards, Space Travel, Income Tax, Budget Deficits, Consumer Debt
posted by blue_beetle at 9:34 AM on January 11, 2006

Seems there are a number of religious notions that are only recently put into people's minds, but seem like they come right from the Bible and biblical times. There's the aformentioned "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance's "under God", but what about specific religious doctrination? Anyone think of any particulars?

(What about the one referring to striped, peppermint candy canes being created to remind Us of Jesus' crucifixion? ... or something)
posted by UnclePlayground at 11:46 AM on January 11, 2006

posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:06 PM on January 11, 2006

posted by dhruva at 3:03 PM on January 11, 2006

Not quite so recent, but if you're interested in traditions that claim to be old but are actually more modern, then I think you'd find "The Invention of Tradition" by Eric Hobsbawm a good read - it looks not just at the traditions themselves, but also at why they were invented and what social/political/cultural effects they have. (And yes, it deals with the controversial kilt question).
posted by greycap at 1:22 AM on January 12, 2006

Oops, I see zadcat has already linked to a reference to it - will teach me to read the thread in full.
posted by greycap at 1:24 AM on January 12, 2006

Kind of late, but the idea of buying presents/flowers/chocolates/jewelry/cards for Valentine's Day?
posted by like_neon at 1:25 PM on January 12, 2006

Chocolate-chip cookies -- since only the 1930s. No, really.

Backpacks. Since they were used in a war, I think (I don't remember if it was WWI or WWII) -- before that, kids used bookstraps.
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:50 PM on January 13, 2006

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