home Arts & Culture How to Spread Bad Ideas Fast: Meme Power and the Forbidden Fruit Challenge

How to Spread Bad Ideas Fast: Meme Power and the Forbidden Fruit Challenge

Rocco

They look delicious, [but don’t] eat them.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to talk about Tide Pod memes. You’ve seen the images with Gordon Ramsay gazing upon a plate of Tide Laundry Pods exclaiming “Delicious. Finally some good F*cking Food!”, or the popular Tide Pod hot pockets as shown above. Google search “Tide Pod Memes” and you will have the lion’s share of detergent obsessed pictographic attempts at humor. It’s a moderately funny joke, I laughed at my fair share of Tide Pod memes, as have millions of people around the world. While Tide Pod memes are typically nothing but harmless fun and games, recent events indicate that the tides have turned.

Over the past few months, the internet has been teeming with videos of young adolescents putting Tide Pods into their mouths and biting down on that sweet sterile detergent, only to be surprised(?) by an intense burning sensation tearing through their taste buds. Notwithstanding the many videos across the internet of scrunched up young faces and mouths struggling to spit out highly concentrated detergent, and Tide’s public statement exclaiming that Tide Pods are not edible,[1] young people continue to take on the challenge.[2] What could possibly explain this madness?

“While Tide Pod memes are typically nothing but harmless fun and games, recent events indicate that the tides have turned.”

Some might suggest that the science of visual food stimuli explain the irresistible appearance of these tide detergent pods.[3] The research suggests that variety in colour and appearance tend to correlate with increased intake. Yes! We love to try new and exciting foods, and what could be more exciting than brightly coloured, candy Gusher-like pods of detergent!?

There is even a bakery which attempted capitalize on this scientifically delicious design. Wake N Bake Doughnuts re-created the Tide Pod appearance in the form of a Tide Pod Doughnut.[4] Indeed they bear the signature red and blue crests on a bed of white icing consistent with the famous Tide Pod appearance. This isn’t all; Lofty Pursuits also have a “Forbidden Treat” hard candy simulating the Tide Pod design.[5] This is great and all, though in my humble opinion, the sugar-free original Tide Pods look far more appealing than their doughnut/hard candy counterparts. (I’m on a cleanse anyways. Sweets are off-limits)

Joking aside, what are the risks associated with ingesting Tide Pods? YouTuber Chubbyemu explored the effects of Tide Pods by retelling a medical case study about one teenage boy who ate three pods.[6] Among the most terrifying consequences explored is the effect called “Liquefactive Necrosis” occurring on the inside of the esophagus. To break down the medical jargon: “-osis” means abnormal, “necro-” means death, and “liquefactive” means that as the tissue dies, it sluffs off into a liquid pus which would roll down the esophagus and into the stomach. To make this even more terrifying, this process kicks off all within one second of contact. If you, or anyone you know, are contemplating taking on the “Forbidden Fruit Challenge” I highly recommend checking out chubbyemu’s video.

To cap off this article, I want to take a broader look at our culture. It goes without question that memes in the form of captioned .jpeg files are among the most popular form of humor we consume. From the perspective of memetics, this is a narrow view. Richard Dawkins defines memes as units of information that “propagate themselves in the meme-pool by leaping from brain to brain via imitation”[7] Memes as Dawkins conceptualizes them are more than images stamped with hilarious text; they are information. Under this definition, anything from the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, to the idea of Canadians’ frequent use of the word “sorry”, all the way to the idea that spoons are good for scooping are memes. Memes have existed ever since we as humans were able to have ideas. Successful memes catch our intrigue and replicate through sharing between individuals. Historically this would have occurred through word of mouth, drawings, and writing, among other various forms of communication.

In the 21st century, we have the internet to spread our memes with a global reach, with a few simple clicks on a computer. Furthermore, our ability to create memes has been amplified through technology that allows us to easily generate media (and memes) in all forms, images, audio, video, and text. With this ability, we can now create novel memes with little effort. And the memes that dominate become viral, instantiating a global influence. In fact, memes do not even need to make sense for them to dominate. Eating Tide Pods are a case in point. It is a joke, but it is premised on a testable question: are Tide Pods delicious? Now, this is not to suggest that people actually believed that Tide Pods would necessarily be delicious. However, the creation of this question cries out for someone to provide an answer. And hence, we have the Forbidden Fruit Challenge. The thrust of this phenomenon is this: there are no ideas too stupid for internet memes, and often times, the stupider the better. Furthermore, there is no limit to what ideas can be popularized by internet memes. Eating Tide Pods will likely not be the last stupid idea to go viral and influence behaviour.

I will leave you with the following: Internet memes are as powerful as they are mysterious. We cannot quite explain why some memes like the Tide Pod challenge took off, while selling laundered carrots by the bundle never attained traction.[8] While this is not the first time the power of memes has shaped the world, this will not be the last. I challenge all of you to be mindful of the memetic content you consume and ask how it may be subtly or obviously influencing your everyday life.

Oh, and [don’t] eat Tide Pods.

[1] “Gronk knows that Tide PODS® are for DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DrC_PF_3Lg.

[2] TIDE POD CHALLENGE: TEENAGERS ARE RISKING DEATH TO FILM THEMSELVES EATING DETERGENT

<http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/tide-pod-challenge-deaths-risk-teens-eat-detergent-videos-what-is-happening-a8156736.html>.

[3] “Colour, pleasantness, and consumption behaviour within a meal”. <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666314000129>.

[4] For photos of the doughnuts, see the Instagram account alexmguarino <https://www.instagram.com/p/BeRVUGGARSY/?utm_source=ig_embed>.

[5] “tide pod candy Forbidden Fruit Candy made at Lofty Pursuits” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEbrOy7xGqQ>.

[6] “A Boy Ate 3 Laundry Pods. This Is What Happened To His Lungs.”

<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmibYliBOsE>.

[7] Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print. p. 192.

[8] < https://i.pinimg.com/originals/dd/7d/c7/dd7dc70c48822635bf4fb174d72880be.jpg>.