Growing up a child of the 80s was like living inside of a corporate experiment. Children’s television went from being about teaching and entertainment to being about selling toys. Entire cartoons were based on toy lines. Some pin this shift on Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of media, others on George Lucas’ turning every inch of the Star Wars saga into a product. Still others blame Michael Jackson turning himself into an action figure/one-man ad campaign. Me? I blame inevitability, capitalism being what it is.
But as a child victim of Pavlovian consumption screaming “I want that!” at the TV more often than leaving the house, I was ripe for another 80s experiment most likely called “Operation: Who Wants Candy?”
I do! I do!
Of course I did. As with most of my generation, I liked shiny things, things that went vroom, and high fructose corn syrup. Certain candy companies took that as their cue to see just how far we kids would go. They challenged our human tolerance not just to various lab-made sugars but to fear of death itself. In a way, thank god they did because if the Baby Boomers taught us anything it’s that kids can’t survive on ribbon candy alone. Ribbon candy leads to rebellion. All other candy leads to obesity. But a select few trial and errors lead to near death experiences. These are the top five. Let us count them down for Halloween, shall we?
V. Charleston Chew
“Charleston Chew is chewy Louie … but not too chewy!” Or so went the commercial. And it lied. Charleston Chew was more than too chewy. One bite of that was like wrestling with a bottle of super glue. One would think that candy makers would have learned from the great Atomic Fireball debacle of 1954 not to concoct a candy that could chip a tooth. One would be wrong.
Or would one?
Perhaps they did learn. Maybe their answer was to go a step further and develop a candy bar that extracted teeth. Previous generations choked on candy; mine choked on candy-coated teeth. If I were an idiot making a vague pun I’d say Charleston Chew made a real… impact. Luckily, I am not.
However this mouth monster birthed into existence, it is what today’s kids call Epic Fail.
IV. Flaky Puff
Some candies have sugar in them. And then some candies HAVE SUGAR IN THEM. Flaky Puff HAD SUGAR IN IT DISGUISED AS FRUIT. There’s a reason other puff pastries survived the 80s and Flaky Puff didn’t. Flaky was delicious but just think of all the glorious processing that had to occur to get this thing to remain flaky and puffy in its plastic bag as it sat on a store shelf awaiting the greasy paws of an innocent victim. Even Twinkies cringed at the sight of Flaky Puff. It was too delicious for its own good. Fail.
First introduced in 1978, it was relaunched with caramel in 1987. Is that a candy bar sequel or a Tim Burton reimagining? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is why this delicious hunk of turd made the list: Its ad campaign dumbed down a generation’s funny bone.
The 1980s ad campaign for Whatchamacallit played like a modern day “Who’s on first?” Except unlike the “Who’s on first?” routine, there wasn’t a trace of funny in the commercials. Being impressionable youth, we didn’t know that. We laughed, some of us, we laughed hard and then we bought the new-and-improved chocolate-covered diabetes. More tragically, our comedic retardation resulted in a drought of stand up comedy, which made it okay for a parade of white men in thin neckties to stand against a brick wall and fart observations at us for money. Observations like, “Hey, you ever notice how the thing with the thing does the thing? Weird, right?”
Weird? Maybe. Funny? No. Thanks, Whatchamacallit. You killed comedy.
II. Nik L Nip
First of all, what is that? Remember those small wax soda bottles filled with candy syrup? That’s what that is. Sure, there have been other wax products filled with syrup but they were usually something innocuous. Like lips. Red, fertile womanly lips. That kids sucked on and ate. I’m just sayin’.
Picking up where candy cigarettes left off, this was a crossover candy preparing young, fertile brains for a lifetime of soda pop toxins. Think of Nik L Nip like Nickelodeon Snick House Video Pick, which promoted music videos by LFO, Baha Men, and Mandy Moore to groom children for MTV. Nik L. Nip groomed them for Pepsi, Coke, and Tab.
Maybe not Tab.
Plus, what’s in the wax? Is it edible? Are you even supposed to chew it? The wax bottle makes up 99% of the product. Inside awaits a syrup. A syrup that is clearly one ingredient of better candies. In other words, we have a solitary ingredient masquerading as an entire candy entombed in questionable wax. That’s just plain lazy and cynical and they didn’t expect us to think about it because we’d be too busy trying to figure out what Nik L Nip meant. I think it’s code for “Eat me.”
I. Fizz Wiz
I’d be willing to bet you assumed Pop Rocks would rank number one… and you were right. Fizz Wiz was unleashed in 1979 but didn’t catch on until the 80’s. Or did it? Because Fizz Wiz is actually Pop Rocks in disguise.
Pop Rocks has a long and storied past. It’s the only candy I know of with a mythology attached to it. A mythology of death. Eat Pop Rocks with soda, the legend goes, and your stomach will explode. Fun for the whole family.
Even its beginnings are auspicious. Pop Rocks were invented in 1956 by chemist William Mitchell.
That’s right: food by a chemist.
But the candy wasn’t unleashed on the public until 1975. Its reign of terror ended in 1983, but as we know, Fizz Wiz overlapped it in ’79. It’s like the candy makers were slowly indoctrinating us into something while covering their footsteps. I don’t know what that means. Like any good conspiracy, I can’t know what that means. All I know is that its ingredients were sugar, corn syrup, lactose, and “flavoring,” whatever that is.
Those ingredients are in most candies yet none of the other candies explode in your mouth and ricochet off your teeth causing Uncle Post Trauma to flashback to ‘Nam and threaten the family with a carving knife until the police arrive to calm him down. None of those other candies are rumored to do anything other than taste good.
Pop Rocks? Fizz Wiz? Whatever you are, you are The Beatles of craptacular death foods. I salute you.
Until next Halloween, reader… I’ll see you at the dentist.