At the end of every year, I look at trends from different industries and try to predict how they might impact popular culture in the year ahead. 2024 is looking…interesting. Political scholars have called this moment in time a “carnival of madness,” and while that might sound a little hysterical, the world definitely feels a bit off-kilter or, as my grandmother used to say, cattywampus. There are three trends that stand out to me right now, and what I find particularly interesting is while they are occurring in completely different contexts, they are clearly pieces of the same pop culture jigsaw puzzle.
You know how people are always talking about how busy they are? Well, we finally know where all that time is going. It’s pickles. Americans consume 20 billion of them annually, which means that most of us are eating nine pounds of vinegar-soaked cucumbers EVERY YEAR! That is just…so many pickles. It’s so many that if pickles were stacked end-to-end, it would take four billion of them to reach the moon. That means our one-year pickle intake could get us to the moon and back multiple times. (I’m not sure why we would do that, but it’s comforting to know the pickles exist if we have the urge.)
Some might say this is proof that Americans are deeply weird, and perhaps we are, but we aren’t alone in our pickle mania. We actually lag behind India and Germany in consumption (don’t get me started on Germany’s passion for relishes). The French also eat their fair share of pickles, but when they do, it’s adorable little Gherkins the size of your pinky. Fun fact: The French word for pickle is ‘cornichon’, which is also their slang word for ‘idiot’. You can see how wars get started.
So, people around the world love pickles, and guess what? Over the last year, our relationship with them evolved. In fact, I think future historians will refer to this time as “The Great Pickle Shift.” Before I go further, I think it’s important to share a little about the history of these salty cukes.
Our love affair with pickles is ancient and can be traced back 4,000 years to Mesopotamia. That means the dawn of civilization and the advent of pickles occurred at the same moment, in the same location, and once they arrived, pickles were impossible to pry from our brine-covered fingers. Fast-forward a few thousand years to the English Renaissance, and you run into William Shakespeare, who made the first recorded reference to pickles in “The Tempest.” (“How camest thou in this pickle?”) In other words, a guy who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, a man whose words and ideas are woven into the DNA of popular culture four hundred years after his death, was thinking about pickles. That should tell us something.
Other historical pickle bitches, as pickle enthusiasts call themselves, have included Cleopatra, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, George Washington, and Napoleon. (To be clear, ‘pickle bitch’ is a contemporary term. I’m pretty sure Cleopatra never referred to herself as one, and George Washington didn’t voice any concerns about pickle bitches seceding from the union.) During WWII, the U.S. government commandeered forty percent of the nation’s pickles and put them in the ration kits of the armed forces.
Now, let’s turn back to the present day, where our pickle passion has exploded into a wildfire that is burning out of control. The dials really started to flash red at the end of 2022, when Yelp reported that searches on the term “pickle” had increased by more than 55 percent. Then, in the first four months of 2023, searches for pickles on Google skyrocketed by 3,800 percent. Google processes 2 trillion searches every year, which means that millions (maybe billions) of searches were performed on pickles last year. Over on TikTok, if you type in “pickle,” you’ll be greeted with almost four billion videos, and the hashtags #pickle and #pickles have a combined 9.6 billion views. In addition, food delivery platform Grubhub just reported that more than 6.9 million pickles were ordered in 2023.
As Shakespeare would say: How camest we in this pickle?
The answer is simple. Pickles have transcended. They are no longer a mere garnish. Instead, they have taken center stage to become a lifestyle and are now woven into nearly every aspect of our existence. As a result, it’s now possible to buy pickle-infused products like:
- cologne and body spray
- breath mints
- lip balm
- air freshener
- humor novelty footwear (aka socks)
- bandages that look like pickles (to suggest you are adding “dill to your ill”)
- earrings that look like tiny pickles (which, I assume, are modeled after Gherkins)
- A ‘Picolas Cage’ Christmas tree ornament (a plastic pickle that has Nicholas Cage’s image embossed into it.) (Sounds to me like someone is trying to displace Jeff Goldblum as the internet’s boyfriend. The quirk is strong in this one.)
So, what or, more accurately, who is driving this shift? All signs point in one direction: GenZ, the generational cohort that followed the Millennials. These Zoomers are currently 11-26 years old, and they have reinvented the pickle. Remember how passionate Millennials were about avocados? (They spent $453 billion on them in 2018 alone.) That’s how GenZ is about pickles, and the reasons for that include a love of all things spicy (think Sriracha and hot sauce), a desire for unique and healthy plant-based foods, and an appreciation for absurdist humor (Google ‘viral pickle sweatshirt’).
This is my main reaction to pickles and Zoomers: Before the criticism ramps up, as it always does when a new generation starts to put its stamp on popular culture, let’s agree to leave these people alone. We’re living during a time when actual Nazis have once again arrived on the global scene. If young people are doing nothing worse than embracing pickles (and I’m sure pickle hugging will become a thing), we are in good shape. Honestly, there is nothing less problematic than a pickle. Nazi’s on the other hand…
Here’s to a Nazi-free, pickle-filled 2024!
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Unless you’re a social media influencer, in which case it’s paved with monkeys.
If you are a regular consumer of TikTok, you know what I’m talking about. More than 15,000 Americans own pet monkeys right now, and most of them seem to be posting videos on social media where they do commonplace things like apply make-up or go through a Starbucks drive-through, but they do them alongside a monkey. “Hi, I’m Lindsey,” a dewy-eyed young woman will say as she gazes into the camera. “Get ready with me and Roderigo, my squirrel monkey. We’re going to teach you beauty hacks, like the secret to supermodel skin. Rodrigo loves tinted lips!” (Rodrigo also thinks bed bugs are a delicacy, so take his beauty endorsements with a grain of salt.) Next, Lindsey puts on her makeup while Rodrigo, adorned in a tiny diaper and red beret, sits on her shoulder and watches, occasionally attempting to shove an entire lipstick into his mouth. By the end of the video, Lindsey looks gorgeous, we know how to create “juicy” lips, and Rodrigo needs a diaper change.
Videos like this are popular – like millions of followers popular. Forget belts, bracelets, or brooches; monkeys are today’s must-have accessory, and people are taking them everywhere – grocery stores, coffee shops, the DMV – everywhere. That’s because acquiring a primate has become very easy, and aspiring social media influencers have learned they can make a good living sharing videos of themselves cohabitating with one.
Yet, while monkeys have main character energy, they are merely a footnote in a much larger narrative about our growing reliance on emotional support animals. An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that a psychologist says is part of a person’s mental health treatment plan. When that happens, the animal is allowed to live with the owner, even if their housing has pet restrictions (like apartments that don’t allow pets.)
People have used this as an opportunity to misinterpret the law and take their emotional support animals into places like stores and restaurants and on public transportation. Unfortunately, because emotional support animals are not considered service animals, like seeing-eye dogs, no training is required for them or their owners. That means virtually any animal can be an emotional support animal, and their owners often get away with bringing them into many environments outside their home.
Adopting an animal to improve one’s mental health is a great idea, but no one anticipated scenarios where somebody would acquire an alligator to treat their depression and then bring it to a major league baseball stadium to meet the Philadelphia Phillies. (Yes, this really happened. No, the emotional support alligator was not allowed in the locker room.)
“The emotional support alligator was not allowed in the locker room.”
My friends, how did we get here?
Well, for one thing, the COVID era has done our mental health no favors. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse increased by a massive 25%. Understandably, many people turned to pets for comfort. During the first twelve months of the pandemic, 49% of Americans adopted a dog. In the last three years, more than 23 million American households – that’s nearly 1 in 5 – adopted a pandemic pet. To be clear, I’m not criticizing this, but I am questioning why people went from adopting dogs and cats to bringing apex predators (like alligators) into their homes to reduce their anxiety.
During the first years of the pandemic, the results of the increase in ESA’s were, predictably, chaotic. Incidents involving emotional support animals occurred in grocery stores, airplanes, restaurants, theaters, doctor’s offices, and many other places. Airplanes, in particular, were a magnet for emotional support animal mayhem. For instance, one passenger tried to bring a four-foot emotional support boa constrictor on a plane in her carry-on bag. Another was kicked off a flight because her emotional support pig defecated in the aisle and “howled” when it was tied to an armrest. Yet another was asked to leave a flight after being told she could not fly with her squirrel. She ended up in a standoff with police who told her, “Either you walk off the plane, or we’re going to arrest you for trespassing, AND WE WILL TAKE THAT SQUIRREL.” The woman eventually left the plane and marched through the terminal, clutching her squirrel’s cage and defiantly extending her middle finger at bystanders who were applauding and recording the incident with their phones.
Other in-flight incidents – and there have been thousands – have involved emotional support turkeys, peacocks, chickens, more snakes, and a duck that was trained to put its feet on its owner’s chest when she (the owner, not the duck) was about to have a panic attack. Non-airplane incidents have involved an anteater, a slug, and a kangaroo that was asked to leave a McDonald’s because it made customers feel “uneasy.”
(Sidebar: A little about kangaroos: They can grow as large as 6ft-5inches tall. Half of their body mass consists of muscle. Scientists say their cognitive abilities are “advanced” and advise against attempting to communicate with them because when angered, they deliver a “bone-shattering kick.” My question: What sort of person reads a description like that and thinks, “That’s what I need to reduce my stress – the animal equivalent of Mark Wahlberg?” And why would they bring it along to purchase a McRib?)
I guess it’s not surprising to hear about people acting out on an airplane or in a fast food joint, but it’s also happening in environments that are designed to foster rationality and common sense, including some of our most esteemed institutions of higher education. For example, senior administrators at a university brought a petting zoo to campus to help students cope with the stress of finals. Unfortunately, rather than bringing puppies and kittens to campus, which is a common practice, the university opted to instead bring a two-month-old bear cub for students to cuddle. The bear, named BooBoo, immediately launched an attack on more than eighteen students, resulting in bites, scratches, and a rabies panic. This incident occurred at Washington University, which is ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world. You know, I remember having a lot of worries during college finals but contracting rabies was not one of them. (And, for what it’s worth, I went to a small state college.)
Just to recap: People have been disconnected from each other for more than three years. During that time, to cope with their isolation, anxiety, and depression, thousands of them began voluntarily living with snakes, monkeys, tarantulas, alligators, peacocks, raccoons, turkeys, dolphins, camels, wolves, and pigs. Then, they began bringing the creatures into public spaces where large groups of people congregate. I don’t really have any solutions to offer, and the idea of coming face-to-face with a huge snake while reaching for a box of Ding Dongs is very unsettling.
Frankly, I did not anticipate having this conversation at this point in my adulthood, but apparently, this is the reality of living in the third decade of the 21st century.
Something interesting is happening in the world of design. That matters because design is one of the most powerful forces in existence. It’s a form of communication, a tool for evaluating present conditions and offering a vision for what’s to come. Right now, a design trend is occurring across multiple industries, and it’s telling an interesting story about our collective state of mind. The industries in question are fashion, home decor, and graphic design
When you think of high fashion and haute couture, what words come to mind? Is one of them “stinky”? Because that’s the aesthetic fashion designers have chosen for 2024. “The greasy, oily, disheveled look is the fashion world’s favorite right now,” one trendspotting newsletter proclaimed. “Hairstyle,” said another, “is now about creating a look that deliberately appears like your hair hasn’t been washed in a while—think greasy, stringy hair.”
That’s gross, but maybe not entirely bad. This shift toward being less groomed is a rejection of perfectionism, which is good news because perfectionism is unhealthy and has been plaguing society for a while. Research says it began increasing in the 1980s and quickly became a “dangerous obsession” and a “hidden epidemic.” Social media, with its culture of comparison, certainly hasn’t helped.
Fortunately, many people and industries are starting to find joy in embracing their flaws and celebrating their failures. In addition to highlighting greasy-haired models, the fashion industry has been celebrating imperfection by doing things like publishing images of smeared dinner plates and wine-stained tablecloths and, according to one journalist, “plenty of unfiltered crying.” Even GQ Magazine has gotten in on the act by putting Kim Kardashian on its cover, eating a bag of Cheetos, and licking orange dust off her thumb.
I can’t help but wonder if this is all related to the recent trend of A-list celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Brad Pitt (and Cameron Diaz?!) bragging about how they only take showers every few days and only wash some parts of their bodies occasionally.
2024: The year that may stink in a very good way. Also the year I may gift everyone, especially Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz, a loofah.
Remember Maria Kondo, the world-renowned tidying expert who taught everyone to declutter their home a few years ago? Well, early in 2023, on the heels of giving birth to her third child, Maria announced she was “kind of giving up” on keeping her home organized. In response, the world breathed a sigh of relief and launched the #cluttercore design trend, which quickly accumulated 83 million views on TikTok and 30,000 tags on Instagram. Cluttercore is described by experts as “positive chaos” and is all about filling your living space with things you find comforting, even if it means your environment seems messy and disorganized.
A number of graphic design trends are predicted to grow in 2024. Anti-design is one of them. It’s an aesthetic that embraces chaos, imperfection, and even ugliness to create impactful visuals. It throws away the old conventions of design and encourages the consideration of new ones. Ultimately, anti-design is an invitation to a conversation where users are asked to reconsider what constitutes beauty and usability. Anti-design often looks like this:
Designers say anti-design offers a refreshing visual alternative that jolts viewers out of complacency and, if done well, conveys a sense of satisfying, liberating disequilibrium.
Does a “sense of liberating disequilibrium” feel the same as “waking up from a nightmare screaming”? If so, then I agree because that’s exactly how some of these images make me feel. I’m mostly kidding. As unsettling as these images are, they do suggest a kind of multi-dimensionalism to me, and their lack of conformity and constraint is comforting in a weird way.
‘Weird comfort’ is an odd vibe to bring into the new year, but honestly, after the last four years, I’ll take whatever kind of comfort is being offered, even if it’s of the slightly weird variety.
Everyone is doing whatever they can to deal with the trauma of living in the world right now. Whether we formally label it ‘trauma’ or not, a huge segment of the world’s population is undeniably experiencing trauma-like symptoms (stress, burnout, sadness, anxiety, confusion, etc.). What we are experiencing is also extreme, and people are choosing correspondingly extreme solutions, like adopting alligators to ease their loneliness. (By the way, trauma also impacts executive brain function, which then causes confusion and an inability to think clearly about the future. Would that result in someone, say, putting a python in their suitcase? Maybe?) Ultimately, people are doing whatever they can to find comfort in this chaos and to be nurtured by nature. (Sometimes, that even involves pickles.)
Research has repeatedly shown that times of chaos and trauma are usually followed by explosions of creativity. That’s happened again and again throughout human history; innovations follow crises. People engage in crisis-inspired creativity because it’s a way to reflect on and come to understand what they’ve experienced. They also do it because they are trying to develop solutions and innovations, which I think is a fundamentally positive behavior. If you’re not hopeful that change is possible, then you don’t waste your time exploring ideas that might lead to change. The trends in the design world – the acceptance of imperfection, the desire to fill living spaces with objects that bring comfort rather than strict order, and the embrace of visual design that encourages us to reconsider how we define beauty – are all, in my view, signs that many people want to shake off old beliefs and rules. There is widespread discomfort with the status quo. What comes next? The discovery of something new.
Another way of saying all this: I think humanity has, in some ways, transitioned into a kind of feral state, and that’s not a bad thing. To be feral is to be untamed after escaping from captivity. It is to be unsocialized, which is being made to behave in a way that is acceptable to a particular society. The current systems, structures, processes, and beliefs of modern society have become unacceptable to many people, and they are looking for improvements and replacements.