Culture

Junk Explained: What The Hell Are “Tide Pods” And Why Are People Eating Them?

We investigate this wave of stupidity.

What is a Tide Pod? Why is the US government telling young people to stop eating them? Why are new memes so confronting and confusing? These are all good questions, and we’re taking the time to answer them, so strap in I guess.

It’s extremely likely that while you’ve been wandering the lonely roads of the internet, or listening in on your chatty co-workers’ conversations, you’ve heard mention of some kind of baffling new online trend that focuses on internet kids eating detergent and calling it the “Tide Pod Challenge”.

It’s hard to work out if it’s real thing that’s actually happening, or one of those baffling ultra-specific cool memes or even just a fever dream you had. It sounds like a joke that you aren’t cool enough to understand, but folks, it’s an actual thing.

It’s like the ice bucket challenge has mutated from an annoying online trend into a deadly and useless gag. It’s that thing where everyone choked on spoonfuls of cinnamon on YouTube and laughed about it, except this time it’s literally a mouthful of poisonous chemicals. Jesus Christ, it’s the internet trend that our horrifying time deserves.

What Is A Fucking Tide Pod?

Tide is a US based detergent company. Tide Pods are small packets of detergent designed to dissolve while washing clothes. Each pod contains pre-measured, concentrated detergent levels. While Tide Pods themselves don’t exist in Australia, there are several equivalents. You can find them in the supermarket, with all of the other stuff you shouldn’t eat.

The outside wrapping of a Tide Pod is made of polyvinylalcohol (PVA), a water-soluble plastic compound. For the same reason that this packet dissolves in the machine washing laundry, it can also dissolve in a person’s mouth, leading to the immediate release and absorption of the contents.

Those contents are, to use a scientific term, a bunch of chemicals. If ingested, a Tide Pod can lead to life threatening breathing problems, damage to the oesophagus from the corrosive ingredients, burns, gastrointestinal problems and neurological symptoms, including loss of consciousness.

If ingested by a washing machine, symptoms include extremely fresh outfits.

What Is The Fucking Tide Pod Challenge?

The Tide Pod Challenge, as you’ve probably worked out by now, involves people chomping on a Tide Pod and being recorded or livestreamed and hoping to survive I guess?

While YouTube is (rightly) pulling most of the videos of the “challenge”, the fun seems to come from how gross a mouthful of toxic chemicals is, and how comical people look while they are spewing noxious liquids from their cry-hole.

It doesn’t sound like people would actually DO this, right? But not only are absolute dinks actually doing it, the trend is sharply on the rise.

There were at least thirty-nine reports of US teenagers intentionally misusing laundry pods in the first 15 days of 2018 alone, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Internationally, there were 53 cases of reported laundry pod mishaps in 2017, meaning the stupidity is spreading. Many of these cases have at some point been uploaded to YouTube.

Laundry pod related mishaps are not uncommon even when disregarding this bizarre trend, with various bodies warning parents of their dangers, due to the fact they look and smell like candy.

Why Is This Such Big Fucking News Right Now?

The good news is that part of the reason you’ve probably heard of Tide Pods, and the subsequent consuming of their delicious poisonous insides, is that people are taking the trend seriously, and are doing their best to nip it in the moronic bud.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has sent out some strongly worded PSAs against the whole thing, coining a mantra for the internet generation: “A meme should not become a family tragedy. Don’t eat poison.”

Weirdly, they have signed it off from “Human people united against eating laundry pods” which makes me feel like they are definitely aliens, and maybe we SHOULD be eating Tide Pods to escape intergalactic subjugation?

Tide itself is also trying to get teens to stop eating their product. Who said multinational corporations had no soul? They could have easily tried to capitalise on the whole thing, and rebranded into the lucrative meme confectionary market.

“Our laundry pacs are a highly concentrated detergent meant to clean clothes, and they’re used safely in millions of households every day,” the company said in a statement. “They should be only used to clean clothes and kept up, closed and away from children. They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance is, even if it is meant as a joke.”

I admire their restraint in not ending the statement with a giant “DUH.”

They also released this catchy video to try and halt the tide of poisonings (pun intended), starring American footballer Rob Gronkowski for some reason.

Along with this, YouTube has pulled every case of Tide Pod Challenge they can find on their site, hopefully reducing any reason for people to actually do this, saying in a statement to Fast Company that “YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm. We work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”

Where Did It Fucking Come From?

Hopefully these combined actions will prevent further consumption of the yummy detergent, but the question of WHY, WHY GOD WHY DID THIS HAPPEN still looms over us all. And the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.

According to Snopes.com, one of the internet’s premium debunking resources, there have been examples of YouTube pranksters chomping into pods all the way back to 2014, but as we know, YouTubers are generally the toddlers of the online world, renowned for putting anything and everything into their mouths. However, it seems that rumours of people accidentally eating Tide Pods has been around since at least 2013. An example from KnowYourMeme references a 2013 thread in the online forum called ‘Straight Dope Forums’.

But one of the first known examples of the idea of eating Tide Pods hitting the mainstream is in the 2015 Onion article ‘So Help Me God, I’m Going To Eat One Of Those Multicoloured Detergent Pods’, which is a humorous piece from the perspective of a small child. Yet another example of reality absolutely eclipsing and destroying parody.

From there, we have a few other comedic examples, mostly on YouTube, but things seem to really kick off when we get to College Humour’s March 2017 video “Don’t Eat The Laundry Pods”, which racked up more than 2 million views, and specifically deals with the forbidden allure, and ultimately deadly consequences of eating detergent pods.

After this, a Reddit thread popped up called “Bite into one of those Tide Pods. Do it.” proving that the IDEA of eating them for fun, and perhaps profit, seemed firmly concreted into the collective unconsciousness. But that still doesn’t explain exactly how it turned into the challenge we are confronted with today, but perhaps mankind isn’t meant to know everything.

The Evolution Into A Fucking Meme

Of course, while a lot more people than anybody is comfortable with are actually eating Tide Pods, a lot of the conversation is now around making fun of the idea. The challenge has turned into a meme, and the meme has mutated into almost unrecognisable iterations, as memes are wont to do. The memes are fun too — this is a ludicrous situation we’ve found ourselves in, a truly dumb timeline, a Black Mirror episode for absolute idiots. It’s worth poking fun at. But let’s not forget that the fun comes at a price, and that price is the devaluing of our entire civilisation.

The Fucking Poison Hotline I Guess

Hey folks, just… don’t eat the detergent pods? But if you do, here’s the Poison’s Information Centre hotline, you can call it from anywhere in Australia: 13 11 26