Nuclear war. Global warming. ISIS. There are a lot of very serious things that people worry could destroy civilization. And, to be fair, a lot of times that concern is justified.
But then there are the other times. The times that society has had total freak-outs over things that now seem completely innocuous. It is almost like we constantly need something to be panicking about, proving that the next generation is going to be so much worse than ours is. Bring some of these up next time your grandma insists that selfies are a sign of the apocalypse.
4The Postal Service
While the only people who use the post office today are eBay buyers who are too cheap to spring for actual shipping, there was a time when the whole idea of regularly delivered mail was considered revolutionary. At least it was until it became clear women were going to ruin everything.
This is basically how corresponding worked before countries started nationalizing the postal service: A woman would write a letter and then give it to one of her parents or her husband. If they were rich enough, a servant would then be dispatched to deliver the letter. Or if the recipient lived far away they would give it to a guy on a fast horse, and the person on the receiving end would pay for the letter. Why all the hassle? Because this system ensured that everyone knew who women were writing to at all times.
That all changed when author Anthony Trollope, while working for the newly formed postal service in the United Kingdom, had pillar boxes installed all over England. These, along with newfangled "stamps," meant that suddenly women could correspond with whoever they wanted. And everyone knew that the people they really wanted to exchange letters with were men of questionable character who were going to get them to do sex stuff before marriage.
Just stick your cock in there and be done with it.
According to people in the 1850s, allowing a woman to write a letter and then post it without anyone in her house ever knowing was going to throw the whole world into chaos. Women obviously could not be trusted to contact only respectable people, and once they started sending letters unchecked, who knows what kind of things they would get involved with (sex things). Even Trollope, the guy who pioneered the pillar box revolution, regretted it the second he realized it was going to give women a tiny bit of (probably sexy) freedom.
But this was nothing compared with the utter destruction of society that the post office was going to bring to America. In Britain, even if you managed to mail a letter in secret, the reply would be delivered to your house and you could be found out. But women in America picked up their letters at the post office, even renting boxes there just like we can today. Obviously, this meant they were all going to become prostitutes.
Women find sorting machines unbelievably erotic.
According to one pseudonymous writer at the time, having "clandestine correspondence with unprincipled men" was already affecting "a thousand schoolgirls a week" and opening their minds to "abnormal channels." He claimed madams had started hanging out in post offices specifically to lure these ready and willing stamp-sluts into a life of prostitution.
It sounds insane, but respectable ladies turning to whores all because they had control over their correspondence was such a common concern for men that when Congress was debating implementing home delivery like they had in England, one of the arguments in its favor was that women would no longer need to go to the post office (and, presumably, that their husbands or fathers could once again see who they were getting letters from) thus stopping all that civilization-ending, postal-related sex they must be having.
Plush Studios/Bill Reitzel/Blend Images/Getty
It seems bizarre to us today, but for most of human history people were really uncomfortable. Furniture was usually made by the family out of whatever wood they had available, and even if it was purchased, the only place you could get really comfy was in bed. So, of course, comfort became associated with sex, and as we saw in the last entry, sex is usually what people think is going to ruin the world.
The modern sofa was introduced to the West by Thomas Chippendale in 1748. And while his name might make you think of sexy, sweaty guys now, his designs don't exactly scream, "Let's do it!"
Someone is getting an ornate carving in the ass.
But Europeans had heard about these exotic sofas before and knew that the second people got a little bit comfortable outside of the bedroom they would never stop fucking each other ever, and that would be the end of civilization. They had all the proof they needed. After all, the Ancient Greeks and Romans had sofas, and look what happened to them. A common theme on Greek pots and cups was men reclining on couches, pulling prostitutes toward them for non-procreation purposes.
As if that wasn't enough, a popular book called The Sofa: A Moral Tale was published in French and English in 1742. The plot revolves around a man from the Middle East who is turned into a sofa and the seven couples who proceed to have sex on him. The message was clear to Westerners: Comfort leads to sex, and we are not having that here.
As scary as the possibility of the world ending in a giant orgy was, rich people really liked being comfortable, so sofas eventually caught on. But leaning back on a couch also meant that it was suddenly necessary to have a place to put your feet, and so the ottoman was also introduced to the West. Suddenly, women's shoes went from clunky things to more like ballet slippers with heels, the better to show off their shape and ankle when they propped them up. And just like that, feet became the new sexy body part of choice for men.
Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino.