Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

A Mature Product?
David Simmonds

Do any of these images of chewing gum stick with you?

How about the prototypical American GI from the second war era, with the confident swagger and the can do attitude and the gum chewed rather nonchalantly.  Maybe, the 1959 Lonnie Donegan, skiffle-music song, “Does your chewing gum lose its flavour, on the bedpost overnight?” That last one suggested some sort of intense adolescent versus parent conflict over the disposal of partially masticated gum remains.

Perhaps you recall Britney Spears, in a 2003 interview with CNN, during which, like, you know, she spent time gathering her thoughts and rolling a piece of chewing gum around in her mouth. She was considering such weighty topics as her opinion of the righteousness of the Iraq war. She supported whatever President Bush said.


Gum chewing is on the decline in Canada, more in the USA.

Even if you said, “None of the above,” you probably already know that chewing gum is on the way down in North America. Wrigley Canada has decided to close its Toronto chewing gum manufacturing facility. A decline in sales of two per cent, for the third year in a row, is causing the company to shift its operation to a plant in Georgia. Only problem is US sales are declining at the same rate or faster. 

Why is that? Well, making chewing gum is a business. Business has business analysts. Business analysts offer reasons.

Concern over the disposal of used gum is one. It seems like very few people swallow either the remaining lump of gum or dispose of it in appropriate wrapping paper in a garbage bin. The undersides of school desks, church pews and park benches are not, it turns out, considered suitable places to deposit the remains of one’s gum. This is probably because of all the gum detritus built up in those places over the past century, so that there isn’t room for any more. 

Nor are sidewalks suitable for disposing of gum, as anyone who has walked on a busy urban thoroughfare with brand new sneakers can attest. Gum bonds strongly to both asphalt and concrete; removing it is a slow and costly process. Just ask the government of Singapore, which banned the importation of gum in 2004, unless it has “therapeutic value.” In a classic reply to a questioner, who suggested the import ban restricted free thought, the Prime Minister of Singapore supposedly replied, “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.”

Another suggested reason is that fewer people are smoking and therefore fewer people are trying to use gum to cover up smoker’s breath; there are mint breath fresheners competing for the gum dollar. As well, more products are competing for the snacker’s dollar and snacking habits are changing.

Let’s keep going. Another theory is that it is now more widely seen as unprofessional to chew gum in the workplace and socially unacceptable to chew anywhere. Gum is viewed, by a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia, as a “mature” product,” in the North American market, just further through its life cycle here than anywhere else in the world. Putting “chewing gum” and “mature” into the same sentence is not something that would have occurred to me, but that’s why I’m not a marketing professor.


The news about gum is not all gloomy.

The news is not all gloomy. The worldwide market for gum is increasing steadily with Brazil, Russia and Mexico posting solid numbers and China outstanding in its field. The projected size of that worldwide market, currently $24 billion, experts expect to rise to $32 billion over the next five years; that’s hardly something to sniff at. Why? Well, according to our marketing professor, gum is “gaining momentum culturally ... it has appeal because it is seen as North American and different.” If that were so, wouldn’t our Chinese and other foreign friends be learning that gum is “mature” North American product by now and therefore shunning it?

Certain types of gum, such as sugar free gum, are bucking the trend. A hot seller is a Toronto-originated gum product that is sugar free, chemical free, nut free, gluten free and vegan. No word on whether it sticks to braces.

Come think of it, there’s a fourth image I have, which obviously burned into my deep repressed memory because I’ve only just remembered it. There’s that Juicy Fruit commercial. It shows earnestly happy folksinger type, having just finished singing something such as, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” He’s extolling the musical virtues of the gum, when a couple of younger punks conk him on the head. Rendering their victim unconscious, the younger punks pop a couple of Juicy Fruits and agree the moment is “sweet.”

Now that’s tantamount to inciting violence against folksingers. If that incident encapsulates the market for gum, it’s definitely not mature. Funny, maybe, just not mature.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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