Chewing gum is uniquely poised as a product of the modern age, straddling industry, science, the environment, foodways and popular culture. From the first, its disposability set it apart from other confectionaries, but creative and strategic marketing throughout the twentieth century reveal how integral chewing gum was to developing relationships between corporations and consumers. In marketing gum, disposability became tied to paradoxical notions: youth and frivolity set alongside mature indulgence and taboo; eroticism with naivety; disgust and health.
To tell the story of chewing gum is also to tell a story of how corporations, marketing and mass-consumption shaped notions of disposability. Why don’t we care about where gum comes from, or what happens to it after we chew? Arguably, marketing and advertisements shift our attention away from the problematic aspects of gum (making and disposing) and onto what makes it so appealing. The gum chewed by Americans was and continues to be popular quite simply because it is utterly disposable. We still chew gum because we enjoy the flavors, or desire to freshen our breath, or maybe we like the way chewing gum makes us appear to others. Moreover, recent interventions into the dangers of sugar by the dental industry have not stopped the Wrigley Company from being a multi-billion dollar industry. As it stands, approximately half of American households chew gum, but when it comes to the disposability of gum–where it comes from and what becomes of it– many don’t give it a second thought.
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