5 Stupid Things You Won't Believe Have Been Around Forever
This particular era of human society, along with all of the stupid things that surround us, will probably have the shelf life of bagged lettuce, right? This isn't "the good old days." This isn't "history." This is a bunch of jerks just wingin' it until something better comes along, right? Right! Except absolutely everyone in every era before now thought the same thing. It turns out we've not only always been this dumb, but have also been dumb in this exact same way for a staggeringly long time. Behold honored and ancient traditions like ...
Giving Someone The Middle Finger Dates Back 2,500 Years
The next time someone flips you the bird, consider that you're now part of a tradition stretching back millennia. The act of raising that particular lone digit to insult someone was first documented in ancient Greece, where it appears in a play written by Aristophanes in 419 BCE. Around that time, philosopher Diogenes the Cynic (who would undoubtedly be prolific on Reddit today) used his middle finger to express disdain toward an Athenian politician -- a moment that has been immortalized in at least one statue.
For context, the middle finger was supposed to represent a penis, with the rest of the hand being some very deformed testicles. More specifically, in ancient Rome, the finger became synonymous with the anal penetration of men -- literally "Fuck you." The Romans even had a special name for the middle finger: digitus impudicus, which translates to modern English as "the indecent finger" or "the unchaste finger." Either way, great names for punk bands.
The middle finger eventually managed to find its way to America through Italian immigrants. The first documented use in the U.S. (and the first ever picture of someone flipping the bird) was in 1886, when legendary baseball player Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn decided to give the camera the old Bronx salute while posing with a rival team.
So technically, when you give someone the finger, you're citing the works of ancient Roman philosophers. Ain't you a classy motherfucker?
People Were Walking Into Walls While Staring At Mobile Gadgets In The Victorian Era
Mobile phones have placed the world at our fingertips ... at the cost of making us the most inattentive generation ever. This is how mankind ends: not with a bang, or a whimper, but by wandering into traffic while looking at pictures of kitties. But this is not a new problem at all. Urbanites of the Victorian period were also constantly walking into walls while staring at the hottest new mobile device of the day: the kaleidoscope.
Invented by Sir David Brewster in 1816, the kaleidoscope quickly became a must-have item for all age ranges and professions, plunging Victorian England into a "'mania' the like of which had never been seen before," according to newspapers.
As a result, it was common to see people bumbling along like finely dressed zombies, walking into walls and bumping into cyclists. That's right, some asshole in 1800s England shared the exact same pain as you when you wandered crotch-first into a drinking fountain because you were too distracted by something shiny in your hand.
People Have Been "Photoshopping" Themselves For Over 150 Years
Photo manipulation has skewed our perception of human beauty, be it an aging actor's wrinkle-free face or a beloved porn star's immaculate asshole. But this is nothing new. Photo manipulation actually predates the digital age. William Henry Fox Talbot laid down the foundation for photo fakery in 1841 with the calotype, a process that yielded multiple negatives. In 1846, Talbot's friend Calvert Richard Jones made history's first altered image by removing a Maltese Capuchin friar who was spoiling the composition of a group photo.
Over the following decades, personal portraits gained popularity, but also allowed the masses to see their defects like never before. The masses didn't like that, and cosmetic photo manipulation became commonplace. Retouchers physically altered images by drawing, painting, powdering, or scratching away at the negative. Pencil strokes could remove freckles, the sign of the devil:
Etching knives were used to literally cut out undesirable aspects ...
... or just to diminish muffin tops on ladies "whose embonpoint may be too apparent":
And like today, retouchers had to be careful not to overdo it, lest the trickery become obvious. Like the photo on the right here:
By 1930, a special retouching machine was developed which backlit and vibrated the original negative while a retoucher erased imperfections with a pencil. Retouching a single portrait, like Joan Crawford's Laughing Sinners publicity photo from 1931, could take six hours of work. And that's for a subject who was already pretty.
The desire to hide humanity's flaws grew exponentially throughout the 20th century, judging from the arsenal of retouching tools detailed in the 1946 guidebook Shortcuts To Photo Retouching For Commercial Use. Which means that no, millennials aren't the shallowest generation; they're just the ones who got caught.
The First Charity Single Is A Hundred Years Older Than You Think
By the time Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie assembled the musical Avengers for "We Are The World," charity singles were already century-old news. In 1890, a public scandal erupted in England after it was discovered that many who participated in the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade" (in which hundreds of unprepared British soldiers were sent to be massacred by very prepared Russian forces) were now destitute beggars. A fund was established to help these vets, and Colonel George Gouraud agreed to assist. Rather than organizing a fun run, Gouraud used his connections to produce a collection of wax cylinder recordings. Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, recorded a personalized message to the veterans, while Lord Tennyson read his famous poem, The Charge Of The Light Brigade. It wasn't exactly a Beyonce track, but same concept.
The third and final recording consisted of one of the actual trumpeters recreating the bugle call heard during the charge. A nice thought, but there's no way it didn't make every single vet leap behind the nearest chaise when they heard it. A further fundraiser put the original bugle on display in London, which managed to raise 5,000 pounds for the aid of soldiers' widows and orphans. A fad even developed wherein people paid extra to kiss the bugle "for charity's sake," which honestly isn't that much weirder than the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Overall, these seemingly trivial, faddish efforts to raise awareness for homeless veterans were successful, pressuring parliament to make pensions available to Crimean War vets. And all of this roughly a century before "Do They Know It's Christmas" ran the concept into the ground.
Leaked Nudes Of "Professional Celebrities" Were Huge ... In The 18th Century
A professional celebrity is someone who is famous simply for being famous, or for knowing someone famous (usually in the biblical sense). We're talking folks like Paris Hilton, or the Kardashians, or Kitty Fisher, who became a celebrity across mid-18th-century Britain just for sleeping with the right people. Polite society might've called her a courtesan, while impolite society was too busy wrestling with 18 pairs of underwear trying to jerk it to a painting of her.
Fisher's debauched affairs with the rich reeled in the tabloids, while extravagant stories about her personal life kept them interested. Casanova (yes, that Casanova) spread the rumor that she once ate a 1,000-guinea bank note, which was enough money to buy a large house at the time. According to him, they never had sex because she didn't speak French, but most other sources claim she spoke it fluently. Yep, she shut down Casanova. The moment that really catapulted her to fame was the 18th-century equivalent of a sex tape, when she fell off a horse and exposed her underwear to passersby. Whole books were written about the incident, while lewd engravings of it spread like wildfire. Crumpled, mysteriously sticky wildfire.
But Fisher wasn't being exploited by the media -- the media was being exploited by her. She wrote a public letter complaining about the media's obsession with her, which historians now believe was a carefully coded advertisement designed to drawn even more public attention to her image. Her very first portrait was commissioned by Fisher herself and soon began showing up in print shop windows, while pamphlets concerning her sexual misadventures flooded London's literature market. Meanwhile, stuffy old entities like Fox indignantly complained about Fisher's influence on the young people (Lady Caroline Fox, the noblewoman). Another critic called Fisher an untalented and uncivilized floozy, and generally despaired over the downfall of Western civilization. And yet here we all are, still kickin' today. So take heart, we'll survive Kim Kardashian. P-probably.
Gareth is from England, but currently lives in the middle of the Hungarian countryside, where he is trying to live self-sufficiently. You can read more about him and his wife on their website.
Eh, couldn't hurt to teach yourself some Photoshop, even in this day and age. Try Photoshop for Dummies.
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