Some generations ago, parents often threatened to wash a child’s mouth out with a bar of soap as a punishment for swearing. Being punished with soapy water in your mouth was something you’d keep to yourself, and would not upload on YouTube for millions of presumably smarter and more discreet people to watch. Of course, You Tube didn’t exist and really, most of the time, the mouth washing was just an empty threat to keep children from spewing out profanities.
A viral trend on social media is usually the exception rather than the rule. The more outrageous it is, the more likely it’s a hoax. So, imagine my reaction when I came across the trending videos of teenagers — an often unfairly vilified group — actually biting into and eating pods of Tide laundry detergent.
I have to admit that out of morbid curiosity, it was impossible to resist the urge to watch these videos of Tide pod-chomping kids. I didn’t think the pods might actually taste good just because they look like candy — only a toddler would think that. But I have to concede I’m complicit at some level. I’m adding to their total view count, and giving them maybe just a few extra seconds of their Andy Warhol-granted 15 minutes of fame.
Then I remembered, “we are an idiocracy, not a democracy,” to borrow the title from Mike Judge’s social satire. The dumbest but most popular ideas rise to the top. Remember, these aren’t just soap pods, like old fashioned bars of soap. These are concentrated chemical detergent containers that are highly toxic if ingested. Ironically, it’s this toxicity that probably is the whole reason it has become oddly popular.
At first I thought it might be just “a bored American thing” until I remembered the “rooftopping” phenomenon in China. That’s exactly what it sounds like it is: Young people taking selfies while posing in precarious positions from the tops of buildings. That’s just as dangerous, but I guess it does take actual skill. Someone needs to tell the Chinese government: why bother seizing atolls and building fake islands in the South China Sea when you get more views from hanging off of a 400-foot skyscraper?
But seriously, people have died from both rooftopping and eating Tide pods and all society has to show for it is high “view counts.”
No matter how dumb or dangerous your stunt may be, you’ll still probably never get more views than “Gangnam Style” or “Katy Perry’s Fireworks.” So unless you're Psy doing pull-ups off the ledge of the Burj Khalifa with a Tide pod in your mouth, it’s not worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, risking your life can absolutely be worth it if you have a chance of making a difference in the world. Examples would include running into a burning building and saving someone, or rescuing someone from drowning. Those people take real risks, but with a real chance to make a positive difference. Those are the stories that deserve more attention.
Finally, I’ll admit that every generation is guilty of doing very stupid things. I remember driving recklessly and even riding on the tops of cars down the street at night. Pretty stupid. But it at least makes a funny story for those of us that survived.
I find it highly unlikely that someday, a grandpa will be relating his stories of reckless youth invoking the time he had to call poison control for ingesting poisonous detergent. Kids of the future probably won’t even be able to drive their own cars, and they might not even have to wash their own clothes, but let’s hope whatever they do, it’s not as dumb as this latest viral craze. So people, please don’t hang off the ledge of tall buildings without safety gear. Don’t text and drive. And certainly don’t drink and text...or drive. And lastly, don’t put Tide pods into your mouth. Which reminds me, it’s time for me to do some laundry, I just hope my neighbors haven’t eaten the detergent.
A self-confessed news junkie, Joseph Meyers is a longtime resident of Guam.