Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 9, 2013

Pop-culture boundaries: Continued push for shock factor brings new low

Ten years of my life was spent immersed in pop culture. From 1990 to 2000, I was Lifestyles editor at the Daily Telegraph. During that time, I became an expert on things relating to trends, fads, food and fun.

The hottest shoes. The hottest fashions. The hottest barbecue fare.

My business was to know what was trending. I could not cook but I could run the “Culinary” category on “Jeopardy” like a young Julia Child. I recall the husband once asking, “What the heck is couscous?” when I answered a question relating to it correctly for a fictional $500 payoff. My response to the husband’s question was a rolling of the eyes. Sure, we were not a couscous type of family, but I knew how to cook it (that is, if I cooked), and the best foods with which to serve it.

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Back in the day, trends and fads, for the most part, were bright and shiny. I grew up in the era of pet rocks, Pop Rocks,  Rubik’s cubes and Cabbage Patch dolls. And during my tenure as Lifestyles editor, pop culture continued to be ... well, for the most part, happy.

Sure, some of the fashions were shocking to those in the older generations. I still recall my mother’s look of horror when she first saw me wearing high-heeled combat boots with a dressy skirt — but, to be fair, the ensemble did not cross the line. My skirt was calf-length and my combat boots as tasteful as combat boots could be.

To my mother, a must-wear-lipstick child of the ’50s, there were no tasteful combat boots. We agreed to disagree, and I reveled in my rebel-without-a-pump lug soles.

Other trends of the day focused on color, culture and emerging communication. Many decades ago, Appalachia was isolated from the rest of the world. In the ’90s, the emerging Internet was connecting us to big cities, other small towns and foreign nations.

We were no longer a mountainous island, sheltered from metro trends. I recall doing stories on tattoos, piercings and other oh-my-gosh topics.

Once, after doing a story on body art, I broached the idea of getting a tattoo — a small dove, perhaps, on my ankle. My mother did not respond to the idea with words. Instead, I got a look — a raising of the eyebrows, a slight tightening of the lips — a look that forever quashed the possibility of a tattoo. Although past the age of 21 I did not push the issue.

My mother was old school. And I tended to follow in her footsteps.

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One of the biggest “omigosh” stories we did back in the ’90s was about lollipops embedded with dead insects.

Yep, crickets, grasshoppers and an array of other bugs were encased in clear suckers and sold at convenience stores to the delight and horror of shoppers. Then-Lifestyles writer Kathy Kish was the first to discover the oddity. She brought an array of insect-laden candy to the newsroom, and penned the story. Somewhere in the back of one of my rarely-used desk drawers is a tequila sucker — a clear candy confection with a worm inside.

To many of us at the Telegraph, the story of the insect candy was shocking. But, as children of Appalachia, we were a bit naive.

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I moved out of Lifestyles and back into the darker world of news in 2000, but I still attempt to keep up with trending topics of the lighter sort. And, last week, I realized twisted stories don’t just evolve from the news desk.

Following a link on a tweet, I ended up on a Time magazine story about a new offering for consumers — breast-milk flavored lollipops.

(Gag reflex kicking in. Wishing there was another woman around with a pony-tail holder in hand.)

According to the story, Lollyphile founder Jason Darling noticed his friends’ babies were calmed by breast milk. “Sure, the kids are all crazy cute,” the Time article stated, quoting Darling from a statement on the company’s website. “But what slowly dawned on me was that my friends were actually producing milk so delicious it could turn a screaming, furious child into a docile, contented one. I knew I had to capture that flavor.”

I am all about the benefits of breast feeding and mommy-baby bonding, but the thought of breast-milk flavored candy for the masses — children or adults — makes me realize our culture has devolved to a new, pop-culture low. The pops, by the way, are not made from breast milk but are, instead, a vegan treat.

However, I also learned from the Time article that there are other similarly bizarre offerings out there, such as breast milk cheese, breast milk jewelry and breast milk ice cream.

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At times, I find myself longing for the days when tattoos and bug-laden candy were outrageous trends. My once-shocking combat boots are tame in comparison to the fads of 2013.

Lifestyles was once a happy place — a section where cupcakes, cute kids and happy puppies ruled. Now, our culture has fallen to a level where news about the most shocking of fare is sometimes barely noted before being passed to hundreds of others via a tweet and link.

Yes, it’s a new age, but I hope I am not the only person grossed out by the thought of breast-milk flavored lollipops. And I hope I am not the only one saddened by the desensitization of our society.

If we continue to push the limits of trends and fads to gain the shock factor, where are we going to end up? The cultural boundary of right and wrong can be crossed, but sometimes it shouldn’t be.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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