America’s latest cry for help

David Fong - Contributing columnist

We live in a nation that put a man on the moon, discovered a cure for polio and invented the airplane.

We’re also the nation that came up with the Tide Pod Challenge, apparently.

Recently, there’s been an alarming trend of people eating detergent capsules and posting the results on the Internet. As you might imagine, eating detergent pods filled with toxic substances is rarely, if ever, positive. At the very least, the person doing it looks like a fool, at the very worst eating laundry detergent results in injury and has the potential to result in death.

Shocking, I know.

Why do people do this? What possibly compels people to stick these laundry detergent-filled pods into their mouths and then swallow the contents? Don’t we spend our entire childhood not using foul language in an attempt not to have our mouths filled with soap? Why, exactly, are people doing this voluntarily?

I suppose it would be simply enough to dismiss this as “society is getting dumber.” And truthfully, considering the very nature of the act, I would be hard-pressed to make an argument against that particular theory. However, I can’t help but wonder if there’s not just a little more to it than that.

Some people — particularly younger ones — are in serious need of attention.

People are not doing this challenge in secret. It’s not as if people are finding unconscious bodies in dark alleys, streams of bubbles oozing from their mouths. People are making sure they are doing this in front of a camera, recording the results and then uploading it to the Internet for all of the world to see.

These people are are so desperate for attention — and, admittedly, some warped sort of fame and adulation — that they are willing to do anything, up to and including eating toxic materials, for some sort of fame. In their minds, any attention is good attention. They are dying — and the potential is certainly there for it to happen in the most literal sense — for our attention.

Of course, there’s a certain element of people out there who think this is something only kids are doing because, well, kids are dumb. For starters, it’s not only kids who are doing it. There are just as many adults out there doing the Tide Pod Challenge as there are kids and teenagers. And second, it’s not as if this is the first generation to engage in seemingly stupid activities in an attempt to get the attention they so desperately crave.

In the 1920s, there was something called “flagpole sitting” — which is exactly like what it sounds. People would literally sit atop flagpoles — some of which were affixed to tall buildings — for hours, even days, at a time. This was followed by games of “chicken,” in which two cars would speed toward one another until the loser swerved off the path. Russian roulette. Car surfing.

Whether we want to admit it our not, our history is riddled with incredibly dangerous — and yes, incredibly stupid — fads. The current generation hasn’t exactly cornered the market on the youthful desire to have people watching them or committing insanely ignorant acts in an attempt to do so.

The biggest difference, of course, is that YouTube and other such websites have given them the vehicle to broadcast these acts to the world. With a few simple clicks, millions are watching. And, make no mistake, millions are watching. Which, of course, is a large part of the problem. Every time we click on the latest fad, we are encouraging the current and the next stupid fad.

Which isn’t to say we are to blame. Obviously the people who are eating detergent packets are doing so of their own volition. Nobody is having them forced down their throats (at least not yet … hard telling what will happen next on the Internet).

That being said, these people don’t need our derision, simple as that may be. They need help. Clearly there is something missing in their lives. Tide Pods are simply the first cry for attention.

Who is to say what might be next?

David Fong wrotes for the Troy Daily News, a division of Aim Media Midwest.

David Fong

Contributing columnist