Definition of Bandwagon
The term bandwagon applies to a common effect in which someone adopts a trend or belief because the majority of people already seem to have adopted it. Certain beliefs and trends become more popular as they spread because everyone wants to “hop on the bandwagon.” Though we’re all familiar with the spread of trends in popular culture, the bandwagon effect can also produce a fallacy in reasoning when someone does or thinks something just because everyone else is doing it. It can be a powerful and dangerous propaganda tool for just that reason. As a fallacy, the definition of bandwagon is the same as that of the Latin phrase argumentum ad populum, which means “an appeal to the people.”
The term bandwagon originated in American politics in the mid-19th century when an entertainer and clown named Dan Rice campaigned for President Zachary Taylor. Rice brought his circus bandwagon through American towns, encouraging townspeople to literally and figuratively “jump on the bandwagon” of Taylor’s campaign. Decades later, the bandwagon became a popular campaign figure, and the term became derogatory, indicating someone who hadn’t given any thought to the beliefs of the person they were supporting but only supported whomever seemed most popular.
Common Examples of Bandwagon
The bandwagon effect is common in many different aspects of life from stock prices to fashion choices. It’s a familiar gripe for fans of sports teams to complain that newer fans become “bandwagon” fans after a team starts doing well.
Examples of the bandwagon effect are most ubiquitous in politics, however. In the American primary system, Iowa gets to cast their votes for presidential nominees via caucus before any other state. The primary season last few months, allowing—or perhaps forcing—voters to “get on board” with the candidate who is already enjoying successful returns. Even in voting systems that are not as prolonged, it is an easy tactic to influence voters’ opinions simply by making one candidate already seem like the more popular one. This can also be an example of a self fulfilling prophecy.
Certain fitness and health trends are also examples of the bandwagon effect. These are trends that become prevalent regardless of whether they are appropriate for an individual. Recent bandwagon examples include certain diets such as gluten free, vegan, paleo, and so on. Supplements like ephedra were popular without enough attention to proper dosage, and, in this case, the bandwagon effect caused fatalities.
A 1927 song named “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong” compared censorship in Prohibition America and the seemingly free attitudes of Paris in that day, in a classic example of bandwagon thinking:
When they put on a show, and it’s a hit
No one tries to censor it
Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.
And when a book is selling at it’s best
It isn’t stopped; it’s not suppressed.
Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.
Significance of Bandwagon in Literature
There are two primary avenues in which the bandwagon effect can be seen in literature. The more insidious examples are when an author tries to use his or her literature as propaganda to persuade the reading audience to believe the author’s ideas because they’re popular. The other way in which we find the bandwagon effect is when an author describes a scene where characters are getting carried away with the popularity of an idea, and all jumping on the same bandwagon. This kind of example of bandwagon thinking in literature has the opposite effect as the first example, because it shows the danger of being influenced by popular opinion.
Examples of Bandwagon in Literature
The three hens who had been the ringleaders in the attempted rebellion over the eggs now came forward and stated that Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon’s orders. They, too, were slaughtered. Then a goose came forward and confessed to having secreted six ears of corn during the last year’s harvest and eaten them in the night. Then a sheep confessed to having urinated in the drinking pool–urged to do this, so she said, by Snowball–and two other sheep confessed to having murdered an old ram, an especially devoted follower of Napoleon, by chasing him round and round a bonfire when he was suffering from a cough. They were all slain on the spot. And so the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones.
(Animal Farm by George Orwell)
In George Orwell’s allegory Animal Farm, one pig Napoleon takes control over the other animals by subtly convincing them that anything he says and thinks is right. The animals, a trusting group, all go along with his version of events because it’s the popular thing to do. In this excerpt, however, the bandwagon effect takes a gory toll, as Napoleon convinces the animals that they might have been guilty of wrongdoing without even completely realizing it. Many animals confess, and the more popular the confessions become, the more animals confess. All those who confess are slaughtered.
ABIGAIL: I want to open myself! (They turn to her, startled. She is enraptured, as though in a pearly light.) I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
(As she is speaking, Betty is rising from the bed, a fever in her eyes, and picks up the chant.)
BETTY, (staring too): I saw George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!
PARRIS: She speaks! (He rushes to embrace Betty.) She speaks!
HALE: Glory to God! It is broken, they are free!
BETTY, (calling out hysterically and with great relief): I saw Martha Bellows with the Devil!
ABIGAIL: I saw Goody Sibber with the Devil! (It is rising to a great glee.)
PUTNAM: The marshal, I’ll call the marshal!
PARRIS is shouting a prayer of thanksgiving.
BETTY: I saw Alice Barrow with the Devil!
The curtain begins to fall.
HALE, (as Putnam goes out): Let the marshal bring irons!
ABIGAIL: I saw Goody Hawkins with the Devil!
BETTY: I saw Goody Bibber with the Devil!
ABIGAIL: I saw Goody Booth with the Devil!
On their ecstatic cries
(The Crucible by Arthur Miller)
Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible is another allegory, this time a representation of the McCarthyism of the 1950s via a lens of the Salem Witch Trials. Girls accused of being witches take up the cry of accusing others, and by jumping on the bandwagon early enough they spare their own lives.
Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
The sad truth at the heart of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird is that the trial central to the plot could never be fair. A black man was accused of a crime in front of an all-white jury. Bandwagon thinking meant that no matter the evidence, the jury would never acquit Tom Robinson.
Test Your Knowledge of Bandwagon
1. Which of the following statements is the best bandwagon definition?
A. An effect in which the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends increases the more that they have already been adopted by others.
B. The incorrect belief that separate, independent events can affect the likelihood of another random event.
C. An argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.
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2. Which of the following statements about the bandwagon effect is true?
A. The more people believe something, the less plausible it is.
B. There are examples of the bandwagon effect in many different areas of life.
C. If something or someone is very popular it’s likely to be because of manipulation.
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3. Which of the following quotes from George Orwell’s dystopia 1984 is an example of the bandwagon effect?
Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid, which appeared to take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester. He did not remember the raid itself.
It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.
The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
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