the power of bazooka

There are the business stories that horrify; the business stories that make you despair; and then, every once in a while, business stories that make you think that there are few ticks left in the old capitalist heart.

Of the last is this story in the New Yorker about Topps, the bubble gum company that sells Bazooka bubble gum: “Last fall, a couple of candy men took a lunchtime stroll around South Street Seaport. The younger of the two was Paul Cherrie, a confectioner who had recently tripled the sales of Dubble Bubble and sold the company to Tootsie Roll Industries for a hundred and ninety-seven million dollars. The older man was Arthur Shorin, the chairman of Topps, which in 1947 created the iconic bubble gum Bazooka. "I am a bubble-gum maven," Cherrie said recently. "You can't help but be in awe of Mr. Shorin. There's only a few of him left."

They were wandering through the Seaport, eating hot dogs, when Shorin turned to Cherrie and said, "You know how good this thing could be." Cherrie knew that he was talking about Bazooka. Once Topps's prize product, the brand had lost its cachet. Cherrie responded, "Mr. Shorin, not only do I know it but I have been coveting this brand my whole career. Nobody understands the power of Bazooka better than I do."”

The power of Bazooka. Cold War culture was, also, children’s culture. It was only after WWII that it became the norm to finish high school. And all the technology build up was coming on line in the 50s, after being frozen out in the 30s and being shoved aside for military tech in the forties. TVs, the household appliance house, the drugs. The infinitely fine threads between world wide political struggle and millions of kiddies, with the intermediaries, the world historical myths, being superheros. The atom bomb was kiddified into atom balls, those little hot red balls of sugar; and the dogfaced GI’s weapon of choice, at least in the movies, the bazooka – that bizarre name – was kiddified into a bubble gum comic figure. But the kiddies knew they came from a scary world, no matter what they put in their mouths. Randall Jarrell's poem was the lullaby in their bloodstream, and many grew up to find, in Vietnam, that the lullaby was God's truth:

"From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

LI doesn’t totally understand the power of Bazooka, but we understand Cherrie. Obviously, the man has something all too rare in the business field: respect. Lack of respect is inscribed in the bones and knitting of the current age of the CEO. The top management is trained to have no respect from day one at business school. They aspire to the morals of a rabid dog, and the time horizon of a car accident victim. The economy they are building reflects those salient qualities.

“So Joe, who began life fifty-three years ago as a crewcut boy with an eye patch, sprouted a few inches. His blond hair grew out and became fashionably tousled. He kept the eye patch but started wearing his cap backward. To keep him company, Topps artists developed five new sidekicks, including an excitable German named Wolfgang Spreckels. "We want Joe to be beyond this Americancentric guy," Cherrie said. "We have aspirations for him to find his way across the world. What better way to accomplish that than with an exchange student?"

Another of Joe's new pals is Casey McGavin, a tomboy. She likes bleacher seats and watching "SportsCenter." DJ Change, who wears headphones around his neck, is a slouchy music snob. ("You've gotta have somebody who's into the tunes," Cherrie said.) Cindy Lewis is an environmentalist. She likes to hike and volunteer, and she hangs out at the farmers' market. Cherrie said, "A lot of little kids are like this.

"Approximately thirteen per cent of the American population is African-American," he went on. "We'd be foolish to ignore it. But we didn't want to have some stereotypical urban black kid." So Topps created Kevin Griffin, a science geek who travels with an iguana on his shoulder. The only old friend Joe was allowed to keep was Mort, with his spiked hair and trademark turtleneck pulled up over his mouth. "Mort is Kramer for kids," Cherrie said.”

LI finds few news stories, nowadays, that don’t point to the heat death of the civilization and a blankness as of death creeping over the culture. That’s because LI is a bit of a depressed putz. But this story cheered us up: a infinitesimal progress in the kid kulture. Bazooka Joe for a better tomorrow.


Bazooka Bob said…
As long as Bazooka Joe and bubble gum are around, all will be right with the world. To see some of the comics, try this site: Bubble Gum Comics.