Pop Stars and Bubble Gum, Why Nostalgia Tastes so Good.

By John Fotheringham

Deliciously, everything you need to know about American pop culture could be told from the folds of a waxed bubble gum wrapper. Since its creation in the early 1900’s, the mark of that soft pink square is practically iconic to each and every decade.

From an early wartime provision that the army used to keep soldiers ever ready, to the comic book era that shaped a generation...

From a USSR’s Cold War ban and subsequent black market (where you could only buy Bazooka by the square millimeter), to the rise of Hollywood heroes and wannabe rebels who just wanted to “chew bubble gum and kick ass”...

From the epitome of cool to its gradual relegation amongst the tense, meddlesome, rural, and otherwise painfully human...

Bubble gum has always been front and center, but with an influence that's sinusoidal. Coming and going in waves. And therein lies a much greater story.

Ottawa Design Club

Photography: Rémi Thériault from House of Common

You see, gum—as much as any icon of pop culture—suffers from a curious problem. No matter how tantalizing it may be at first, after rolling around in your head for a while, it all becomes dull and tasteless. Gum makers have spent a century grappling with this bane, even supplying squeeze bottles of flavor, producing strips packed with slow-release flavor crystals, and playing with reactive chemicals. Yet, all for naught.

Real gum, the kind that you could make in your kitchen with a few basic ingredients—chicle, sugar, flavour extracts, vegetable glycerin, and good old-fashioned plant lecithin—doesn’t actually lose much of its flavour with time. Pop it out, come back to it in ten and enjoy the taste once more. The problem isn’t with the gum, it’s with us.

In truth, our senses simply rally to block out singular and unchanging stimuli. There’s a reason that Michelin chefs serve small and varied dishes, that vinegar is the greatest partner to fish ’n’ chips, that the best wines develop as the bottle empties. Faced with a constant, our brains tune out the repetitive and seek the new. True appreciation requires contrast.

Of course, there are fascinating biological reasons for it. Namely that the body has complex needs and evolved to always be seeking out what it craved, or feared, most. By extension, we were built to ignore resources that are ever present and divert our attention elsewhere.

Ottawa Design Club

Photography: Rémi Thériault from House of Common

I’m far more interested in the parallels to be drawn with pop culture though. It’s a perfect illustration of short-lived pop stories and our on-again-off-again affairs with enduring icons. We never really give up on the idols that filled our adolescence. The ones we binged upon to the point of obsession, then dropped suddenly—almost coolly and dispassionately—from our lives. We left them, opting to experiment with a new personality and grow into the person we were “meant to become”. But eventually—and perhaps quietly—we bring them back into our lives.

Now, in hindsight, it’s clear that we were always going to come back to them and probably will for the rest of our lives. It’s hard to admit, as much to ourselves as to others, but even when we’re 80-years old, we’ll probably still revisit the noise that we played as teenagers. Not every day of course, just the funky ones.

Deep down, I think that we come back to our trashy old favorites—be it gum, music, anything—because the relationship ended far too quickly. We wanted them to stay, to make them ours. We’d listen to the same album over and over again, put up posters, and hoard wrappers in scrapbooks. Yet, in the end, we were forced moved on and we didn’t exactly know why. Bricks of Dubble Bubble became tins of Anise de Flavigny. Britney’s Toxic became Etta James’ At Last. City punks become elitist foodies, but ones who still occasionally reminisce about the good old days.

There is great beauty hidden deep within this inexorable growth though—a gentle glow on the distant horizon. We may be forced to evolve as we move through life, but there will be days when we’re tired of the growing complexities and subtle nuances that imbue each new stage of life. And, on those days, we’ll choose comfort and support over luxury and self-aggrandization.

In reality, there’s a part of us that never really gave up on our old favorites—a warm reminder that we’re just big kids at heart. And, in those moments, after having held off for so long, we can come back to those blissfully simple moments and experience our old favorites as something new and exciting again.

They’ll still be there for us and, deep down, we’ll always crave a little more of them.

John Fotheringham

Get in touch:
E-mail: John_Fotheringham@bluelooninc.com

Ottawa Design Club

Photography: Rémi Thériault from House of Common

From the Team

Well look at that, Zine 0002 is finally here!

If you follow us on social media, you know getting this issue out in the world was quite the rollercoaster ride. Zine 0001 was all about creativity during a pandemic...and Zine 0002 was all about pandemic delays and challenges! Yes, this issue might be a bit late, but we hope you agree that it was worth the wait.

The theme for this edition was inspired by a submission we received for Zine 0001 (Quarant-zine). It was Hannah Drennan’s Harry Styles illustration. We had immediately fallen in love with the techniques and colour. While we decided not to include it in our first edition, we knew we would feature it eventually. As such, it became our source of inspiration for this second edition: Pop Culture. We were on a watermelon sugar high!

It’s one of the values we hold very closely at the Ottawa Design Club - being inspired by our community constantly, and allowing those experiences to influence our next steps. In this case, it was the impetus of Zine 0002.

We had a BLAST working on this issue. We received so many submissions and were left inspired, amazed and intrigued. Curation is always like a puzzle - finding pieces that fit together to create a coherent narrative. This issue has been curated by Rémi Thériault, Christine Mathew and us (Isabelle and Ariane). With our very different personalities, temperaments, and experiences, it was so interesting to discover how pieces resonated with us and how we connected differently to each artist and contributor. We loved the conversations it generated - for us, it was our favourite step in the process.

Our hope is that this little collection of pieces will do the same, foster inspiration, action, creativity in the goal of growing together as a community.

Isabelle & Ariane

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Listen to Our Bubble Gum Playlist - Stay Inspired

This project was featured on Design Rush under Best Nonprofit Print Design!
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