A variety of the General Mills' Fruit Gushers. You always pick out the red and green anyway.
During my childhood, namely throughout 90s and early 2000s, kids’ snacks were evolving. As always, cheap and pre-processed goodies were easily available in every grocery store, strategically placed on lower shelves and in bright, eye-catching packaging. However, it seems that a new trend took hold, whereby advertisers and the companies producing these packaged snacks began to re-brand their products to appear healthier and more nutritional while still maintaining the appeal of ‘kets‘.
Of course, it’s fair to say that notable examples like General Mills’ Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Rollups, Fruit Gushers, and many more were and still are convenient filler items for packing children’s lunches or as a midday snack requiring no more effort than a quick trip back into the house. Despite their names, they are little more (or no less) than glorified and gelled candies. Read more
Weighing in at one pound and 2.25 inches, the Mega Jawbreaker is a candy ball made purely of sugar, is impossible to bite, and lasts for days. The game of it not fitting in a small mouth but has to be sucked to dissolve is what makes it loved by children. The Jawbreaker is a generic candy that can be found in candy stores today and it comes in varying sizes, shapes, and flavors. Ferrara Pan is one of the first companies to mass produce the candy in the 20th century, naming it the Jawbuster. Today they are sold by the pound and average about four dollars per jawbreaker.
Growing up, I was not allowed to buy this candy, but I would always find a way to get it when I was away from my parents. My friends and I loved to compare the different colored layers that we got. It was also a fun game to see who could eat their Mega Jawbreaker the fastest, which was usually a few days. Thinking back on it, the idea of sucking on the same piece of candy for days grosses me out.
According to Allison James, the Jawbreaker would definitely be labeled “Ket.” She uses this term to refer to sweets, especially cheaper ones that are usually only consumed by children. Some of the descriptions she gives ket are of having unnatural colors, blue, purple, green, yellow, being purely sugar with no real flavor other than sweet, and being sticky or messy. The Jawbreaker has all of those features. Since it lasts for days, children suck on it, put it away, and suck on it more leaving room for many germs to grow over the days. Its layers are all different colors of the rainbow and its only flavor is sweet. It is not likely that you will see an adult go into a candy store to buy a Mega Jawbreaker for themselves. From my experiences, I can definitely relate to James’s idea of Ket and agree that as an adult I couldn’t imagine trying to consume this icky candy.
Logo of Warheads candy as found on 24-7pressrelease.com
When I think about Warheads candy, I recall the days of elementary school throughout the 1990s and the sacred time after lunch: recess. My classmates and I would dare each other to put multiple Warheads in our mouths and see who could bear it the longest. Accepting the dare was customary and our faces would contort until they were relieved by the sweet flavor underneath the sour layer of the Warheads. Afterwards, we would be overcome by laughter and describe how it felt to have multiples of these candies in our mouths, as if they were actual war stories. Our parents never quite understood the appeal of these delightful and daring candies, but often conceded to buying them on occasion at the grocery store.
Warheads emerged in the U.S. in the early 1980s and are manufactured by Impact Confections. According to descriptions of ket from our class discussion, Warheads are a prime example of ket. The way Warheads are marketed is supposed to elicit the thought and feeling of a nuclear warhead going off in one’s head during consumption of the candy. This very real object (a nuclear warhead) is clearly not to be eaten; because the Warhead candy is eaten and enjoyed by children, it gains ket-like qualities. Warheads come in fruit flavors like apple, black cherry, and watermelon, but unlike fruits the candies have unnatural colors and textures. These candies are without nutrition and are extremely childish. Never have I met an adult who would even touch a Warhead without spitting it out. The sensational sour taste provides amusement for children while disgusting their parents. As my memory recounts, kids eating Warheads on the playground also provides the social aspects of this ket.
As far as I am concerned, Warheads “[belong] exclusively to the world of children” and are a fond memory of my childhood days (380).
As a child growing up in the early 70’s, I was surrounded by adults who smoked. Besides my parents, extended family, and neighbors, the actors and actresses on the television were smokers too. Everywhere you went, there were ashtrays and vending machines full of the major brands. Thinking back on this, I’m not really surprised that one of my favorite kets was candy cigarettes.
Kids could buy them at the convenience store right there with the other candy. They came in paper boxes that were printed to look like the real name brand cigarettes that our parents smoked. Winstons were my favorite because that was Dad’s brand. You got 10 in a box and the ends were painted red to look like they were lit. These white sticks were pure sugar and would melt in your mouth rather quickly. It was easy to finish a pack while you walked back home from the store.
All the neighborhood kids I played with, enjoyed “smoking” these candy sticks and pretending they were cool. I remember how we would mimic the way adults would hold the real things between two fingers and pretend to blow out smoke.
According to our class discussion about kets, these candies belong exclusively to children and have the power to disgust adults. In the case of candy cigarettes, kids felt empowered by pretending to engage in a forbidden behavior that was reserved for adults. It made parents real uncomfortable if you “smoked” in front of them, and there was always some comment about how you better never take up the real habit.
A 2006 Harris Poll Online survey claims that children who grew up eating candy cigarettes were more likely to become adult smokers. I personally disagree and feel it was simply a way for children to act out their fantasies about how it might look and feel to be older.
When I was younger I used to love all of the Trolli gummy candies. They were always my favorite type of candy – I loved gummies and I loved sour candy, so it combined the best of both worlds for me. They were sold everywhere and they were cheap. While there were always the classic “O’s” (apple, peach, melon, etc.) they also marketed their candy as bugs and critters for kids to eat. There were the Trolli “Brite Octopus” as well as the “Brite Crawlers.” Not only did they have these critter candies, but they also made “Brite Crawler Eggs” – they marketed the eggs of these critters. In theory, this is pretty disgusting to think about. However, when I was younger and I got these kinds of candies I never thought about what the gummies represented, I simply ate them because they tasted delicious.
I never really thought about it until I read Confections, Concoctions, and Conceptions by Allison James and we discussed it in class, but there really are a lot of gross candies that kids eat. Whether they are gory (fake blood), dirty (bugs and critters), or just plain gross (scab candies, feces candies, etc.), the people in the marketing of these companies may have struck gold. Kids tend to like and do what is usually not socially acceptable (eat bugs, not have good hygiene, etc.) simply because most kids find it somewhat amusing to see the reactions of adults when they do things wrong. These candies cater to this quality in the kids, however it is very subtle, as most people do not even think about it. Most people just think of them like any other gummies or candies, but they attract the kids’ attention by reaching the desire to rebel within them.
Everyone knows that with getting older, we are destined to grow and mature and have our tastes change. This is why as 21 and 22 year olds, we do not still play with Barbies, but have other hobbies. This is explains why, when we go out to dinner, our parents no longer have to order our food for us because we know what we would like to eat- vegetables and all!
Looking back at what I was into as a child and what I am into now… Wow! I would say that has changed most of all though, my sweet tooth. Because yes, I do still play Marvel Super Hero video games and I do have some Justin Bieber songs on my iPod. However you will not find Nerds Rope, Warheads, Sour Patch Kids or Fruit Roll-Ups anywhere near my pantry.
I do still love chocolate and the occasional cup cake, I’ll even drink a Capri-Sun when they are available. But I have definitely left the childish tart candies and sweets in my childhood.
Although in my job as a preschool teacher, I still love to reward children with these silly candies. The bright colors they turn tongues, some of them are now loud and crackle, some of them still take only the bravest to eat because of their severe sourness. I have not yet joined the rest of the adult race in viewing these crazy candies as junk, and I did not agree with all of the opinions presented in Allison James’ article: “Confections, Concoctions, and Conceptions”. I think that sweets such as the ones listed above, are what help add to the realm of innocence and fun of childhood. Halloween is one of the best holidays for youngsters, not necessarily because of the costume but because of all the candy that they get to acquire, and parents loosen their tight grip on the candy limit for one night out of the year.
Instead of labeling these treats with negative connotations, adults should just accept that children are going to be attracted to childish things. It gives them a sense of feeling cool, and even builds a small hierarchy when certain children have candies that other children do not have. Let them think the world of their Warheads and Airheads, and just make sure they brush their teeth every night!
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.