The taste that’s gonna move you!

I’ve never been a regular gum chewer.  Oh sure, I have a pack of peppermint gum sitting next to me while I’m typing this but that’s because I had serious onion breath the other day and went out and bought said pack so I could talk to people in a professional capacity without killing them.  But really, I’m not a regular gum chewer.  It might have something to do with the fact that from the third grade on and off until my sophomore year of high school, I had braces; however, I like to think that it’s because I am ultimately disappointed that I never had the experiences that gum companies promised me in the 1980s.

Commercials for gum these days seem to hype the product’s taste, making it seem that chewing a piece of 5 gum will make your entire body shake from its awesomeness.  In the 1980s, however, gum commercials seemed less focused on how great everything taste and more focused on the amount of sex you could possibly have as a result of chewing said gum.  Extra promised that things would last an extra long time, you could get a “little lift” from Wrigley’s spearmint gum, Big Red allowed you to get a little closer and kiss a little longer, and Doublemint … well, they had twins.  But no gum was so focused on getting you some than Juicy Fruit, which had the taste that was going to move you …

Bottom half of this illustration: my “crew” in high school.

It really is the ultimate gum commercial and uses sex for its sales pitch so much that it’s practically a beer commercial.  You have a group of un-loving teens who are going water skiing on a lake somewhere.  And they’re not just any group of teens, but they are the type of group that I’m sure my father would have referred to as a “crew.”  For instance, “Yeah, that’s Jake Ryan.  He hangs around with Andrew Clark, Brad Hamilton–you know, that whole crew.”

I was never part of a crew.  You have to be popular to be part of a crew, and I wasn’t popular.  I did have friends, but the closest we ever got to being a “crew” was emulating the Car of Idiots from that Far Side cartoon.  We certainly never went water-skiing; I don’t think we ever event went to the beach.  I know that I was certainly embarrassed to take my shirt off in public when I was a teenager (although there wasn’t anything wrong with me, aside from my being skinny), and if you ever did catch me at a lake or at a beach, you’d probably find me with my face buried in a Star Trek or Star Wars EU novel.  Yeah, not exactly the type of person who belongs in a “crew.”

Funny thing, I kind of always wanted to be in a crew and I think it’s commercials like this that helped feed this desire.  That and it seemed like everybody water-skiied in the 1980s.  I remember being dragged to what seemed like an endless stream of barbecues, clambakes, and family parties (okay, it was probably two) where someone had a boat and a pair of water-skis and the entertainment for the evening was seeing how long various partygoers could stay on the skis before they completely wiped out.  Here, everyone seems to be an expert skiier and while some of them do wipe out on occasion, it seems that they all know how to  perform the type of stunts that you’d only see at Sea World.

It’s very clear that in order to be cool in the 1980s, you had to have mad water skiing skillz.

Plus, it was clear that everyone in this commercial was going to get laid after the skiing was over.

When I taught journalism and covered advertising, this was the commercial that I used to show how sex sells.  Juicy Fruit–which is a nice little double-entendre of a gum name–is the type of product whose commercials I wouldn’t get in trouble for showing, but this commercial has so much sexual imagery that it’s practically its own psych paper.

It does start out wholesome enough, though–the John Cougar Mellencamp-type music and the shots of the crew in their beach buggy, motorcycle, and jeep suggest that they are really going to have an all-American, great time.  They pull up to the beach, they hop out of their cars in a way that only cool people can hop out of their cars–nobody accidentally closes the door on a seat belt or has to stand and wait while someone else struggles to get out of the car or has to pop the trunk, they’re all just ready to go.  It’s really going to be wholesome, right?

But then the commercial takes a complete left turn with this:

Uh, holy crap!  They didn’t even try to be subtle here!  In the previous frame, you had a guy taking off his shirt, but this is something I’d expect during your average Baywatch montage, not in a gum commercial.  I wonder if the guy who storyboarded this and then pitched it was like, “Okay, there’s some Mellencamp playing, we’ve got some teenagers in a jeep and … BOOBS!”

But they don’t lose sight of the product they’re promoting; oh no, we’re reminded quite well that this is a commercial for gum:

She is popping it in her mouth, like the song says, so I guess it makes sense, even though I don’t think that anyone who saw that boob shot a few seconds earlier was thinking about gum.  They might be thinking about …

Again, subtlety took a swan dive out of that Madison Avenue window and landed splat on the sidewalk with this commercial.  This is almost subliminal, by the way, judging on how fast this guy’s crotch comes at you in the commercial before it immediately switches to a shot of the pack of gum.  In fact, it happens so fast (less than a second) that I had to play and pause it three times before I could find something to use in a screen shot. And I didn’t major in math or chemistry, but even I can figure out this particular equation.

We end our ad with more gum popping and water skiing and a sense that the day was a huge success and the partying continued into the night, and if you’re feeling exhausted after watching it, I don’t blame you.  If you aren’t interested in gum, that’s okay, too.  This commercial doesn’t make you want to do anything … except maybe find a crew so you can go water skiing (yeah, water skiing).  In fact, I am sure that you might know a “crew” like already.  They’re all probably in their forties by now, but they still go out and they’re still focused on having a good time and getting hammered, which can be awesome, creepy, or sad, depending on you think they’re great people or something out of the final verse of a certain Springsteen song.

But I do have to say that whenever I watch this commercial, I can’t help but think of what happened to this “crew,” because it was a night that ended in tragedy when one of the girls, Chrissie, decided that she wanted to go for a swim:

I’m pretty sure that because of Chrissie’s death, none of the “crew” talk to one another anymore and if they do, they certainly do not bring up that night.  Some of them, in fact, can’t even go near a pack of Juicy Fruit without thinking about what happened to Chrissie.  I’m fairly certain one of them filed a wrongful death suit against Wrigley’s, claiming that Juicy Fruit was a main factor in her death.  One of the “crew,” I’m sure, devoted herself to raising public awareness of the dangers of skinny dipping at night and even went as far as to slam Michael Stipe in a New York Times editorial for his glorifying of the activity in “Nightswimming.”  One of the girls is hated by all the rest because she has capitalized on Chrissie’s death with her best seller, Shark Bait: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Chrissie, although it’s kind of funny that the only time the “crew” has all been together was when the appeared on Good Morning America to challenge the author’s claim that the shark asked Chrissie if she believed in God.

As for the one person who was there, albeit passed out drunk on the beach (despite claims that he wasn’t drunk), he was never able to come to terms with the events of that night.  His life stopped the moment he found out Chrissie was dead, and since then it has spiraled into alcohol and drug abuse.  Once a year, he goes to that very beach, pops a stick of Juicy Fruit in his mouth, and cries about how he should have sobered up and saved her and that the taste was supposed to move them, not kill them.

On second thought, maybe I don’t want to be part of a crew.

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