Let me begin by saying that I am not a “gum person.” Even as a kid, I didn’t particularly like the gum experience, except for the blowing bubbles part. I would inevitably end up sawing away at an increasingly tasteless wad — and then the unsightly disposal issue would arise, where no underside of a school desk was safe.
However, as someone who knows some members of the Gum Nation, and who walks through convenience stores from time to time, it’s hard for me not to notice the Gum Renaissance that is currently underway. Gone are the days when choices were limited to Wrigley’s, Beeman’s, Dubble Bubble, Chiclets, Bazooka, and those long cellophane wrappers with garishly colored (and horribly artificially flavored) gum balls. Now there are entire aisles and point of purchase displays devoted to all things gum. New brands like Mentos and Icebreakers have entered the market, along with artisanal gums, sugar-free options, and “natural” gums — and I suspect if I looked carefully enough I’d find vegan, lactose-intolerant, and gluten-free offerings. It’s as if the same competitive processes that broke the Budweiser/Pabst/Miller High Life dominance in the beer market have turned their attention to chewing gum. Are there “craft gum” competitions out there?
And gum is so popular that media-savvy companies like Disney are associating with it. One of the gum packages pictured above features a Frozen II character and is for a flavor called “Arctic Grape” — which seems a bit oxymoronic, by the way. And speaking of packaging, we’ve definitely moved away from the slim, white rectangles that slid easily into the pocket of your jeans. Now gum comes in bulky, bright plastic receptacles that clatter and clearly aren’t pocket friendly. Today’s gum demands attention and a special storage spot.
Yes, it’s truly a Gum Nation these days. Those of us who don’t partake just live in it. And school desks probably aren’t happy about it.
You’re getting ready for an important operation. You’ve read the literature about the risks and benefits, decided to go forward, and now you’re in the prep room. You meet your surgeon for the first time — and you notice, with a sharp and ugly chill running down your spine, that he’s chewing gum.
If it were me in this scenario, I’d say thanks, but I’ve changed my mind, then I’d leap from the operating table and sprint from the room, hospital gown or not. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that reaction.
With apologies to all the gum-snappers and bubble blowers out there, it’s because there’s something about chewing gum — the slack, open mouth? the rubbery jawline? — that just makes a person look stupid and and unprofessional and incapable. The very act is completely inconsistent with the perception of cool competence and steely unflappability that every surgeon wants to portray to the anxious patient who’s getting ready to go under the knife.
You wouldn’t vote for a gum chewer for president or choose one to prepare your tax returns or provide you with thoughtful counsel on a potentially life-changing decision. Your instincts tell you that the person sawing away away on a wad of Juicy Fruit doesn’t quite know what they’re doing and isn’t quite serious.
So why, then, do so many businesses allow the first person who interacts with their customers coming in the door to chew gum?
One of my friends at work has a unique talent for spotting chewing gum boxes that make you laugh. The box above, which has a prominent place on one of the bookshelves in my office, is a good example of his rare skill set.
I don’t chew gum, but you could send a pretty compelling message by simply, and silently, handing the box to someone who just wasted your time with a long, involved, and ultimately pointless tale.
When we were in New York City, we noticed many young women who were dressed to the nines. They were wearing breeches, and knee-high boots, and dainty short white coats, and scarves that were carefully tied so as to look as if they had been casually tied. A very strong high fashion vibe was in the air, everywhere — but then the whole look was destroyed when you saw the young lady, mouth agape, chomping away on a wad of gum.
You never see Vogue models with gum in their mouths. There’s a reason for that — the vigorous jaw workout that goes with gum chewing is neither attractive nor classy. You can put together the most attractive high-fashion clothing ensemble imaginable, one that would fit comfortably on the streets of Paris, and if you’re grinding away on a lump of gum you may as well be wearing ratty, ill-fitting sweats and walk outside with a bad case of “bed head.” It is simply impossible to look cool and fashionable when you’re chewing gum.
I find this curious. Anyone who pays as much attention to their appearance as these young women obviously do must be aware of how their unseemly gum-snapping is perceived. Do they just not care how they look to strangers on the street as they chomp away, and do they then dispose of their gum in some fashionable way when they reach their fashionable destination? Or is the gum an intentional statement that is designed to convey some kind of ironic message too subtle for me to comprehend?