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The media like to claim that millennials are the most narcissistic and overall useless generation in history, but it turns out that all the silly and/or self-centered pastimes they supposedly invented have been around for generations. So the next time someone gives you crap for doing one of the following, dig out the fuzzy black-and-white photos of their grandfathers doing the same.

6
Selfies

Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

If there's one habit that perfectly sums up the narcissism of social media, it's people taking pointless pictures of themselves making stupid faces at the camera. It's not enough to tell us what they're doing; they have to include a picture of their big, stupid faces in the process, camera in an extended hand or pointed toward a bathroom mirror.

Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
The Instagram filter is set to "douche."

But It's Been Going on Since ...

So how far back does this fad go? How about to one of the people who invented the freaking camera, photography pioneer Robert Cornelius? While the name makes him sound like a gruff industrialist who spends his spare time thinking up new ways to exploit child laborers, Cornelius was actually an amateur chemist who helped make important refinements to the daguerreotype (film's cooler-sounding predecessor). And what did he do with his great innovation?

Via Library Of Congress
"Going to hit the big frat party tonite!!!!1 #SWAG #YOLO"

The Library of Congress believes that this is the first portrait taken in America, and it might be the first portrait taken ever. So of course it's a selfie, featuring Cornelius (Bobby C-Dawg to his friends) sitting with his arms crossed like he's trying to casually look all badass. But OK -- if you're taking the first portrait in history, we understand why you'd want to be in it. Unfortunately, Cornelius started a trend that's carried through the ages to create the terrible flash-in-the-bathroom-mirror shots we all know and loathe today. Here's a woman from 1900 using the mirror trick:

Via Wikipedia
She then tweeted it to her friends by attaching it to a messenger pigeon.

And here's an Australian soldier from 1917 who looks like he's taking the World War I equivalent of an online dating profile picture:

Thomas Baker
"I'm just a fun-loving guy who likes music, sports, and not getting shot by Ottomans."

Even old-timey celebrities got in on the action. Below you'll see 13-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia showing off the 1913 equivalent of duckface: abject terror face.

Retronaut, via The Atlantic
When you gaze long into a selfie, the selfie also gazes into you.

Presumably she then took pictures of her lavish meals and that's how the Russian Revolution started.

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5
Staging Viral Stunts for Photos

Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

Remember planking? When the Internet decided that for some reason everyone should lie down in weird places and have their picture taken? Yeah, we didn't get it either.

Erin Nekervis, via Wikimedia
"This is the best possible use of my time!"

We're guessing that most plankers didn't quite understand the point, but they went with it anyway because all their friends were doing it and they wanted to participate. That's the power of the Internet, the same power that's fueled every dumb fad from icing your bros to the painfully overdone Harlem Shake.

Christopher Clabaugh
"We're only the 3,000th group of people to do this, so it still counts as original."

Once again, it's such a perfect sign of the times, proving that our young people are so bored and hungry for fame that they feel the need to perform some stupid stunt just to get strangers to look at them. Our great-grandparents must have had better things to do, right?

But It's Been Going on Since ...

Nope. It turns out you don't need the Internet to spread a silly fad. The earliest and most prominent example is flagpole sitting, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Via Yourememberthat.com
It was a simpler time.

That's Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, who started a national craze by sitting on a flagpole for 13 hours and 13 minutes. Yeah, as usual, our predecessors are way more hardcore than us: Unlike planking, which half the time just looks like an excuse to take a nap, flagpole sitting requires you to, you know, climb a flagpole.

Chicago Daily News, Inc.
"And now I'm going to Mary Poppins this shit."

Kelly eventually set a record of 49 days and one hour, which is about 49 days and 50 minutes more effort than anyone's ever put into an Internet fad. Tragically, the novelty wore off and Kelly died in poverty, so maybe someone should make sure Leeroy Jenkins hasn't killed himself.

Then, in the 1950s, college students decided to stuff as many people into telephone booths as they could, presumably as part of an elaborate plan to get back at their mean old deans.

Joe Munroe, Life Magazine
The poor guy on the bottom just wanted to make a call.

There are 22 men in that booth, all of whom became intimately familiar with their friends' genitalia. That photo was featured in LIFE magazine, and Saint Mary's College held both a 25- and a 50-year anniversary re-creation. That all sounds like a bit much for a weird college gag, but it turns out that cramming people into things not designed for people to be crammed into has a long and storied history. Women students also got in on the telephone cramming:

Corbis, via Mentalfloss
Which led to the inevitable porn parody, Booth Crammers.

And here we see 37 young men shoved into a single outhouse, with the smarter ones making sure to keep their heads out of what has to smell like Satan's jock strap:

Corbis, via Mentalfloss
"There's no way we've got enough toilet paper for everybody."

What else were these bored, flexible, and very-comfortable-with-their-personal-space students forcing themselves into, you ask? Well cars, of course.

Bettmann/Corbis, via Mentalfloss
Later they'd realize they unintentionally offended their friend who was 1/4 clown on his mother's side.

And how about a goddamn tree?

Corbis, via Mentalfloss
This counts as Lord of the Rings Rule 34.

Man, our modern Internet fads look pretty lame in comparison. If the next viral hit doesn't combine precarious balancing, endurance, and turning random objects into clown cars, you can count us out.

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4
Prank Calls/Delivery Orders

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

When modern kids want to play a prank on the grown-ups, they trick Papa John's into delivering a bunch of unwanted pizzas to some unsuspecting victim's house. It's not a terribly creative prank, but kids these days get bored because somebody passed a bunch of damned child labor laws that won't let us send them to the coal mines.

bodnarchuk/iStock/Getty Images
Minor, miner ... same difference.

And it isn't terribly new -- if you grew up before caller ID technology became common, you've made at least one prank call in your life. It used to be a teenage rite of passage: You get a bunch of kids together on a sleepover and somebody gets the idea to call a department store and ask them to page Heywood Jablome.

But It's Been Going on Since ...

The telephone's been around since the 1870s, so we suppose that on some level we always knew that old-timey hooligans were using them to mess with people. But at the same time, we just can't shake our image of folks from that era as being a bunch of dour, serious people who only phoned each other to trade tips on purging impure thoughts from their minds. That's why it's surprising to discover that the earliest known prank call occurred in 1884. How do we know? It made the goddamn news:

Via Tech Dirt
"Literally nothing else interesting happened today."

A "malicious wag" from Providence was calling undertakers to request freezers, candlesticks, and coffins for "persons alleged to be dead." While today people don't think about undertakers outside of the context of suplexes, back then they were a vital part of society. Making a phone call asking them to take care of your departed loved ones was serious business. So this was basically the 19th century equivalent of sending a dozen pizzas to a stranger's house, except much, much creepier. And thus the proud tradition of ordering a bunch of shit that no one needs was born.

The newspaper goes on to note that "In each case the denouement was highly farcical, and the reputed corpses are now hunting in a lively manner for that telephonist." That's a delightfully old-timey way of saying that a bunch of undertakers and their would-be customers were pissed about having to lug a bunch of coffins and associated crap around town. Loading up your horse full of funeral equipment is a much bigger commitment than driving a pizza across town and stopping halfway to get blazed in the backseat.

Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
Sadly, there are no records of old-timey deliverymen delivering an "extra-large sausage."

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3
Roller Skating

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

Roller skating as we know it is largely a product of the 1970s, a heady time when people didn't give the tiniest fuck that all that stood between them and having their spine turned into a jigsaw puzzle were two cheap shoes with wheels glued on. Skating is still a popular pastime today, at least among people who aren't cool enough to skateboard and keep falling off bicycles.

Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images
She has to wear the helmet when she doesn't have skates on too.

But It's Been Going on Since ...

Roller skating is indeed a product of the '70s -- the 1770s, to be exact. John Joseph Merlin invented both roller skates and the attitude that safety equipment and the ability to brake are for pussies when his first demonstration ended with him crashing into a mirror and seriously injuring himself. He was also playing a violin at the time, which makes us wonder exactly what he was trying to accomplish. Maybe drive-by violinings were a thing back then.

Skates started to look more sensible after Merlin inadvertently held the world's first X-Games. The first in-line skates were patented in 1819, and skates from 1863 don't look much different from the ones we have today:

Smithsonian Institute
We bet the wooden wheels really brought those cobblestone streets to life.

And then, for some unexplained reason, roller skate designs started to look like something lifted out of a satirical cartoon:

Masons News Service, via Daily Mail
"Yakety Sax" inexplicably plays whenever you're wearing them.

These 1897 monstrosities are road rollers, which were used by Victorian businessmen to quickly get across London so they could maximize their time spent being dicks to the working class. Skaters could reach the breezy speed of 16 mph, hopefully while ramping over exploding horses. It's going to be hard to take A Christmas Carol seriously now that we'll picture Scrooge awkwardly sitting on the roadside and tying these to his feet so he could get to the office every morning.

Fast-forward to 1905, and the world was treated to these bad boys:

Via Library of Congress
Pictured: Edmund James Hamburglar Sr.

He looks like he's going to skate into a bank, grab a sack with a dollar sign on it, and skate out while shouting that they'll never catch the Four-Wheeled Bandit. However, first prize for sheer hilarity has to go to these pedal-powered skates from 1910, which resemble something that Tony Stark would have invented had he been a teenage ruffian.

Via Library of Congress
Go ahead and take care of that erection of yours, steampunk fans. We'll wait.

You actually had to pump air into the tires before each skate, which may explain why the Age of Lunatic Skate Design soon ended and the world went back to models sane people would be willing to wear. But not before old-timey skaters filmed their ridiculous exploits:

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2
Foxy Boxing

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

Modern women fought for their right to fight each other, and thanks to stars like Gina Carano, we now take women's martial arts for granted. But women's boxing used to be a poorly sanctioned fringe sport, and in the 1970s and '80s it was largely restricted to scantily clad women ineffectually swatting at each other in grimy bars while lonely men watched and worked through some weird issues they had with their violent mothers.

But It's Been Going on Since ...

While we tend to think of foxy boxing as having a history no longer than that time our dad became a big fan after the divorce, women have been taking part in the sweet science since 1722, when the first recorded boxing match between "two of the feminine gender" took place in London. Boxing soon became a popular sport for lower class women, who often fought stripped to the waist, because hey, free tits.

Police Gazette, via FSCClub.com
But since fighters weren't required to wear corsets, street fighting was the safest pastime a 1700s woman could engage in.

If that sounds condescending, consider this -- boxing was still bare knuckle then, and female fighters could also kick, scratch, and throw. Women actually fought (and sometimes beat) male contestants, and it's hard to think of these fights as sexy considering that they kept fighting after suffering broken jaws and noses, smashed teeth, and swollen eyes. Oh, and sometimes they fought with swords and freaking quarterstaves. Can we bring that back? To, like, everything?

It seems like women's boxing has always been torn between being taken seriously and being a form of erotic entertainment for men who get turned on by head trauma. This video from 1931 presents women's boxing as a comedy routine:

Via YouTube
In heels. Meanwhile, you're going to trip trying to stand up after reading this.

While this video from the '40s features two women who, despite being scantily clad, are clearly taking the fight seriously:

Via YouTube
Although we suppose it's possible that they start making out moments after the film ends.

Remember, boxing used to be one of America's three big sports. It makes perfect sense that women would want to compete and male advertising executives would want to exploit their fellow man's love of boxing and boobs.

Via At Her Discretion
"And in this corner, a teenager furtively masturbating!"

But then boxing stopped being popular, and most of humanity collectively forgot about the time when women used gloves for something that didn't involve cooking or cleaning. Sure, there was definitely a sexualized aspect to a lot of old-timey women's boxing ...

E.F. Kropp, via Vintage Sleaze
"Remember, kids, always fight women for sex."

... but there were also female boxers who look tough enough to punch their way through time and deliver a knockout blow to patriarchy's chin.

Via FSCClub.com
"I see you. Don't make me come over there."

So with women's fighting getting popular again, let's go for more old-timey badassery and less borderline pornography. And seriously, let's bring back sword fighting.

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1
Parkour

YouraPechkin/iStock/Getty Images

The "Modern" Fad:

Parkour is all about getting from one place to another in the most dangerous and awesome-looking way possible. The art of running up walls, vaulting over obstacles, jumping to ledges, and confusing nearby old people was developed in France in the 1990s and has become increasingly popular in recent years. We've seen it in advertisements, movies, and hilarious YouTube videos. And it really does seem like a very modern mode of transportation, because it's hard to imagine stuffy old people vaulting over Model Ts in their three-piece suits.

Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
You must look at least this cool to participate.

But It's Been Going on Since ...

Unfortunately, Assassin's Creed wasn't a documentary, and our distant ancestors weren't back-flipping around the Holy Land. But parkour still goes back further than we realized, because the following video shows sweet stunts being pulled off in black and white, the official colors of old things.

The first half features Italian-American stuntman John Ciampa and begins with him being powered by his mom's spaghetti, because it was 1942 and so every Italian was either a jackbooted fascist or a predecessor to Mario. After Ciampa fuels up, he scales a tree like he's a coked-up cat, jumps between building ledges, and climbs up drainpipes while crowds of people look on.

Via YouTube
Not pictured: the giant gorilla throwing barrels at him.

In his most impressive feat, Ciampa "walks" up a narrow brick alleyway with his hands and feet, then does it again while carrying a kid on his back like he's a sack of flour he needs to get back to his apartment.

Via YouTube
Suddenly, giving your kid a mere piggyback ride was no longer acceptable.

Ciampa then climbs onto a moving tram, runs across its cars, and dives into the water, at which point he presumably drowns, because the video switches to German stuntman Arnim Dahl. Dahl starts by taking an even more ridiculous dive off of a harbor crane:

Via YouTube
We're gonna go ahead and reclassify this from "stunt" to "early attempt at human orbit."

Then he crashes out of a window ...

Via YouTube
"See you later, fuckers!"

... before rolling between a row of oncoming cars, climbing onto one while it's still moving and jumping between them.

Via YouTube
"Ugh, can't a guy just nap on the freeway in peace?"

This is just scratching the surface of their accomplishments -- Ciampa was once arrested for climbing up the exterior of the Hotel Astor, while Dahl did a handstand on a railing of the Empire State Building's roof. If all of this sounds super dangerous, well, it was -- Dahl supposedly suffered over 100 fractures in his life and also broke his freaking spine, which added up to four years spent in the hospital.

Ciampa and Dahl were the most famous of a generation of men who treated skyscrapers like staircases and reminded gravity that the only things keeping them rooted to the ground were their gigantic testicles. Vaulting over fences seems pretty lame in comparison, although to be fair, trying any of these stunts today would get you arrested faster than if you walked into a police station and started pissing on the nearest cop.


Raoni draws his power from beer and the tears of fanboys. You may follow him on Twitter. If you like reading about crazy old-timey inventions, Adam is writing a book about this very subject. Follow him on Twitter to find out more. Like many others, Dylan has a Twitter.

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Related Reading: For some more modern trends that are older than you'd think, check out this photoplasty contest. And hey, did you know the Persian Empire had air conditioning? Because they totally did. High heels also date back to ancient Persia. Go figure.

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