5 Garbage Trends That We Need To Leave Behind In 2021

We really like to believe that trends are fleeting, that what's trending today will be tomorrow's crumpled up newspaper stoking the next dumpster fire someone somewhere decided to create. But that's just not true for a lot of things (that matter) because we humans like our patterns way too much; if we don't consciously get off the hamster wheel, we'll keep trying to outrun the same cycle over and over again, until we're nothing more than dead rodent meat, probably being used to stoke another dumpster fire.

So, on that wonderful and joyous note, can we please stop endorsing ...

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5
Brands Capitalizing On Traumatic Issues

Remember how 2020 kicked off with Planters killing their mascot, Mr. Peanut, to have him come back as the soon-to-be juvenile Baby Nut? Not only was it a real WTF moment, but it was also the most ill-timed stunt because, mere days after the fictional death of the brand icon, we actually lost a real icon in Kobe Bryant. And for the next day or so, we all watched in horror as both #RIPKobeandGianna and #RIPMrPeanut trended alongside each other on social media like some kind of twisted cosmic joke. Not to mention how bizarre it was that we were even expected to care about the death and funeral of a fictional slave-owning capitalist only to now, after 11 months, have a version of him that's simply living off his former self's fortunes. 

Planters
It's like Elon Musk's dream diary became a marketing stunt.
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It also didn't help that Planters said they were basically capitalizing on the Internet's response to Tony Stark's death in Avengers: Endgame -- because apparently, nothing makes money like carefully designing an emotion that'll break people's hearts and open up their wallets. We're going to come out all controversial and say that it's a problem when brands try to relate on a deep level and tackle real, traumatic feelings without having anything substantial to say about it. Case in point: Brand accounts pretending to have mental health issues. Last year, the Sunny D Twitter account kicked this trend into high gear when they posted tweets in an ill-conceived attempt to be humorous and relate to their audience:

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That tweet, as many have speculated, was supposedly about the low-scoring Super Bowl, which would've made sense if context were given but, as always, the band of brands jumped on the wagon to give us this:

Twitter/Sunnydelight
Twitter/Sunnydelight
Nothing like your orange juice having a depressive episode.
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In 2020, Olay decided that they needed your attention more than your actual depressed friend on social media:

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As did Vitaminwater:

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Look, it's one thing to chip away at the stigmas of things like loneliness, anxiety, and mental health issues, but it's quite another to insinuate that it's a trendy, relatable thing to do on social media when you are a freaking brand. The same goes for companies who decided to post black squares on their social media accounts this year to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and then ... nothing else. Not a mission statement or a corrected course of action to actually support POC and promote diversity. Just a black square that ended up clogging the movement's hashtag. Worse, brands like L'Oreal thought they could easily get away with firing one of their Black models in 2017 for speaking out against racism, and then post a black square this year with some wordplay of their slogan to show everyone how supposedly supportive they are. 

L'Oreal
Not if you fire people for it, L'Oreal.
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You can't just "Baby Nut" your brand and think it'll erase your questionable history. A hashtag isn't some magical way to create change. It creates a trend, and issues like death, depression, and social injustices deserve more than being an algorithm's flavor of the week.

Speaking of Baby Nut ...

4
Can We Stop With The Babyfication Of Every Other Adult Character (And Also Ourselves)

Baby Groot, Boss Baby, Baby Yoda, Baby Nut, Snapchat's "Baby Filter" that let people turn themselves into hot babies like some kind of infant thirst trap. (We blame "Santa Baby.") What in the hell, you guys? It feels like we've gotten to a point where everything feels so out of control that people simply want to make gaga-noises and have someone else take care of their poop pants. That's ... alarming. And boy, has it been the decade of pop culture babies. Sure, science has shown that humans respond with a caring, nurturing nature when we see something cute, which is all good when you're face to face with an actual baby, but fictional ones? It feels like just another justification to get really precious about our pop culture, then throwing our money at it because we can't help ourselves when it comes to consumerism.

Walt Disney Studios
"Add a few extra eye highlights.  We're trying to sell some dolls of this thing.
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Of course, the babyfication of characters isn't a new thing. Japan's culture of "kawaii" has been successful in selling cuteness for decades, focusing on creating marketable characters that are vulnerable, cute, shy, and childlike. The turning of a character into its infant self goes back to the 1980s, a time that saw The Flintstone KidsMuppet Babies, and Tom and Jerry Kids. It makes sense when your target audience is actual kids (since it's arguably more relatable to them), but adults throwing money at baby merch feels somewhat regressive. Growing up is hard, we know. Being an adult is weird and can suck and doesn't come with a manual or a pat on the head. But we seriously need to learn to cope with our nostalgia knee-jerk to what we think of as "simpler times," or "I wish I still had baby skin like this filter app." If we don't, the world being out of control will stay out of control because everyone is sitting in front of their screens in their poop pants, stroking their Baby Shark pillows, and buying Baby Sonic pajamas on Amazon.

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3
Overhyping And Unreasonable Expectations When It Comes To Our Pop Culture

Google "overhyped movies" right now, and two of the most common films that'll pop up in your browser are Avatar and La La Land. The one dominated the highest-grossing film chart for a full decade before Avengers: Endgame knocked it off its top spot. The other tied with Titanic and All About Eve for having the most Oscar nominations ever. And yet, few people would call either of these two movies the best in cinematic history because while they might be entertaining, both their ideologies undermine the realities of their core themes. They're just not as relatable as some might think they are. Thanks to the hype, however, they soared. And we're pretty sure that all of you reading this will have your own list of movies you think were overhyped and that, in the end, left you disappointed.

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Huh, wonder who put a random TENET video here. Weird.

Games are probably one of the best examples here. No Man's Sky, Final Fantasy 14, and the release of Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt Red are just three games many people were looking forward to before getting, uh, punked by bugs, graphic problems, and all sorts of disappointing elements when they finally got to play it. Before Cyberpunk dropped, some fans were so delusionally excited about the game that they launched an attack on a Gamespot reviewer who gave the game 7/10, because they were so clearly convinced by the very questionable pre-release reviews that it would be the game of all games. The one they've been dreaming of, even though they hadn't played it yet.

CD Projekt
Also, Keanu deserves nothing less than 12/10.
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We do this all the time. We take flimsy historical data mixed with hearsay and maybe a cool trailer and throw our expectations at it one hundred percent. In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, you couldn't blame people for thinking that the makers behind The Witcher games would be able to pull off a good version of the Cyberpunk series. On top of that, they won so many awards even before the game was commercially released! Clearly, our expectations weren't unreasonable! We never disagree with awards, you guys! 

Only, it clearly was an unreasonable approach because if we looked closer at the data, we might've been more cautious in our excitement and more reserved in our expectations of actually getting a finished game delivered to our consoles. The alarm bells were there. It's just that everyone seemed to ignore it. Look, we're not saying it's unreasonable to expect a full, finished product we were promised. But it might be to our advantage (mentally and financially) to refrain from full-heartedly trusting corporations who spend an insane amount of money on marketing to get you to buy into something long before you actually get to see what that something really is.

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2
Making Social Media The Same Across All Platforms

We've written before about how Twitter's roll-out of the retweet (which saw troll armies emerge ala Gamergate) directly caused Facebook to create their mobile share button in its Newsfeed, and boy, what a garbage fire that was. The latest synchronization of the Social Media of Things seems to be Stories, a feature you might either know from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or even LinkedIn, that recently rolled out on Twitter as Fleets. The idea behind Fleets is to provide users who do not like their tweets out in the open to have a bit more privacy in circulating whatever it is they want to on their Twitter platform. 

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The problem with Twitter, though, is not its public nature but its abusive culture. Anyone, at any time, can be a target of harassment on the platform, and it's doubtful that Fleets will stop this from happening. Any rando who can see your Twitter profile can automatically see your Fleets, and while normal tweets have comments, you can only respond to a Fleet through DM -- which is arguably a bit too private for some, especially women. And while these Fleeting tweets only last 24 hours, screenshots exist. Oh, and you don't get a notification when your tweets are shared in someone else's Fleet, which on a platform like Twitter can easily mean groups can privately planning harassment campaigns against their targets.

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Moderating these Stories features across every other platform has also proven to be way more difficult, what with the whole 24-hour window period, and it's not like Twitter can do with any less of that. The point is that, just like Facebook wasn't the right platform to unleash the share button (from a privacy and a socially conscious point of view), adding Fleets to Twitter is an equally questionable move.

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1
Can We Stop Falling For The Same Hoaxes And Conspiracy Theories Over And Over

The beginning of 2020 saw yet another viral hoax challenge because this is what life is like with the Internet. This one was called the broomstick challenge and suggested that broomsticks would be able to stand upright by themselves come February 10, all thanks to a special gravitational pull that was supposed to happen on that day. The viral Twitter challenge alleged that NASA provided the science for it all, which of course, they goddamn didn't. 

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Thanks, NASA. We guess.

But this hoax is just a spin on the Zero Gravity Day hoax that has plagued society for decades now. In 2015 this hoax made the rounds (under a fake NASA account), claiming that we'd all experience the magic of weightlessness that comes with zero gravity on a specific day, thanks to some planetary alignment. But it's really just a joke that was first made on April Fool's Day back in 1967 during a radio broadcast ... that people took seriously, and now we're stuck with it until the Earth explodes. The "Magic Broom" myth itself is one that's been circulated every year since 2012 because apparently a lot of people just don't know how brooms work. 

Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Reveal your secrets, oh, magical stick!
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While these viral hoaxes may seem harmless, the people at NASA point out that it shows how, instead of breeding a culture of fact-checking, people will jump onto a viral craze and either promote some pseudoscience or straight up reject actual science for the WTF's and the OMG's. And this brings us to conspiracy theories, a phenomenon deeply rooted in politics that, more often than not, rejects science. Many hoaxes have led to full-blown conspiracy theories (see Dog Brothel in NY in the '60s, or those damn "monoliths" we saw this year), and these conspiracies seem to emerge from a unitary "conspiracist" worldview that, basically, there are things some people aren't telling us, and that shadow networks, the government, and scientists are out to mess with us. Which at its core is an understandable and, arguably, a reasonable thing to be worried about. After all, some historical conspiracy theories have turned out to be true.

WNYC Studios
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However, the problem is that a lot of our modern conspiracies seem to have removed the "theory" part. And with the help of the Internet, anyone with an agenda can now take people's worries and fears and blow them way out of proportion, getting millions of people to believe that everyone is out to kill or maim or control them in some way. It's maybe a good idea to point out here that Qanon, for instance, was mostly the result of three random people from across the planet who saw an opportunity to ride the algorithm and make some money, in essence capitalizing on people's fascination with anything cryptic anyone says online.

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That "Wow!" clearly stands for "We obey waffles!" Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.

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None of these conspiracies are new. Anti-vaccine conspiracies can be traced back to the 18th century when people first claimed it to be the devil's work. Today people are calling the COVID-19 vaccine the "mark of the beast." Qanon is rottenly made up of old conspiracies, from the 1st century BCE anti-semitic legend about blood libel to the "Satanic Panic" conspiracy we saw in the '80s. It's the same narratives used over and over to put the fear of God in people and get them to turn on whoever has an opposing view at the time. But the target is usually science, and today science is drowning under a sea of voices spreading fear and disinformation because that's what the algorithms like. That's what gets the most shares, comments, and retweets. That's how propaganda gets to thrive while expert analysis struggles to escape the avalanche of everyone declaring their own truth.

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And now measles is back. And we're in a supposed "Plandemic." And Bill Gates wants to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant us with little Bill Gateses or whatever. If we could stop the same thinking (and by thinking, we mean hysteria) from recurring over and over, we might just break this very dangerous and very irresponsible trend from claiming lives where we could save them. Because this hysteria and mistrust stem from an existential truth - that survival is a fickle thing, and you can't always trust people - and it's something that's relatable to everyone. Fear is normal, and questioning is good. But stubbornness and getting all hysterical won't solve anything. If we can't break this cycle of falling for the same conspiracy rhetoric over and over, then, well, we don't know. Maybe we were the Baby Nut all along.

Follow Zanandi on Twitter. 

Top image: Shyntartanya/Shutterstock, Planters