Teenage Angst: Maybe It’s Because We Tell Such Ridiculous Horror Stories About ThemI think it’s safe to say that teenagers are the last group in our society that one may hate without guilt or fear of opprobrium. Racial, ethnic and religious minorities have all in the last half a century dramatically raised the costs of attacking them, followed by women, the disabled and gays. For a while, it was socially acceptable to demonize the portly, but that social acceptance is melting before our very eyes. Demonizing the middle-aged or the old (who overwhelmingly occupy positions of power and wealth) is “ageism”, and thus likewise verboten. And so, the only significantly large group still left that we can safely pile on, burying them under endless mounds of our massive insecurities, denials and regrets, is those damned kids.
Teenagers represent a doubly attractive target:
One, because they are, in many respects, children and most of them are underage, they have very little influence over public discourse, and thus cannot effectively defend themselves against even the most ridiculous accusations; and
Two, since they are children, we are free to demonize them under the pretext of being paternalistically concerned for their well-being.
Which is why I was thoroughly ashamed for adults everywhere to read this rather unimaginative alarmist piece from KHPO-CBS5 about teenagers getting drunk by sticking vodka-soaked tampons into their snatches and injecting beer up their butts. It has all the indicia of an urban legend:
- Despite the story having been in circulation for almost thirteen years (at least according to the killjoys at Snopes), there has been no credible report of even one person having done this or seen it done by someone else;
- It is full of lurid detail meant to distract from the fact that (a) this is physiologically impracticable; (b) alcoholism develops in social, party-like atmospheres, where the idea is to bond, however dysfunctionally, rather than simply to get high; and (c) if you JUST want to get high, there are better substances than alcohol employed for that purpose;
- The story is contradictory because we are called upon to imagine teenagers as being keenly knowledgeable about chemistry and physiology, yet too stupid to realize that not having alcohol on one’s breath won’t do much to thwart suspicious parents if you are literally drunk off your ass;
- And finally, it is utterly dehumanizing to its subjects by inviting us, the readers, to imagine teenagers socializing while either on their backs, knees raised and fingers stuffing a wad of cotton into their orifices, or on all fours, or lying on one’s side with an enema or catheter inserted into the rectum.
This is not the first moral panic to center around utterly ludicrous claims about teenagers. In the early 2000’s, it was “rainbow parties”, supposedly torrid teenage get-togethers in which girls all wearing different colors of lipstick would perform fellatio serially on boys, so that their penises would end up decorated with a “rainbow” pattern. Despite a media hysteria and “experts” claiming that rainbow parties were an epidemic raging throughout the land, no one was ever able to confirm even one such party taking place. The origin of the “rainbow party” panic is traced to a book by Meg Meeker, a deeply conservative author and a religious fundamentalist, who claimed that a 14-year-old “patient” told her about such parties. The patient is, of course, unnamed in Meeker’s book, and thus there was no way from the outset to verify what Meeker was saying. Despite the extreme tenuousness of her claim, it was popularized by Oprah, and after that, the hysteria was on.
Shortly after it died down (from being starved of actual fact), and officious busy-bodies were once again hungry for something to provide them with a good source of moral outrage, it was “reported” that the newest, surreally potent drug that teenagers were enjoying was Jenkem, getting high on fumes from fermented poo. As in the “rainbow party” case, few in the media seriously questioned as to whether any significant number of people would spend their time enjoying the stench of shit, mainly because few in the media believe that teenagers are people. In at least one jurisdiction, a county sheriff issued an internal bulletin alerting the local law enforcement to the dangers of Jenkem and the details of its manufacture and use. Those details were taken from a website revealed to be a hoax soon after (the excrement-colored liquid shown on that website was actually a mixture of water, flour and Nutella). This did not stop numerous media outlets from reporting about Jenkem uncritically, hinting at an “epidemic” of Jenkem use among teenagers and going so far as to warn parents to regularly smell their children’s breath for shit.
And now this.
Let’s go over the practical aspects of this one, starting with the vodka-soaked tampon. This story is “broken” by two female reporters who, I can only assume, rely exclusively on maxi pads, because this cannot possibly make sense to anyone familiar with tampons. Not to elucidate the obvious, but it’s actually damned near impossible to insert something soft into the vagina, as any man who has ever had to battle erectile dysfunction can attest. A tampon comes encased in an “applicator” — a rigid cardboard or plastic tube which is inserted into the vagina. A second, smaller tube is then used to push the tampon itself out of the applicator tube further into the vagina and towards the cervix. After that’s done, the two tubes are removed from the vagina and discarded. (There are some tampons that you insert by wrapping them around your finger, but the idea is basically the same; and the dry, compressed cotton of the tampon makes insertion via this method possible.)
If a tampon were removed from the applicator and soaked in liquid prior to insertion, it would be virtually impossible to insert without the use of surgical tools. Moreover, since, contrary to rumors, your average teenage girl’s vaginal opening isn’t as large as the neck of a flower vase, most of the vodka would be squeezed out before the tampon is finally stuffed inside.
Inserting the tampon and then soaking it sounds no less complicated. I cannot see it done in any other way except by using a syringe or perhaps extremely unlikely acrobatics known only to the Thai sex performance industry. Coming of age in a poor, inner-city high school, I remember that most girls, including ones who were sexually active, still being very uncomfortable with using tampons even for their intended, plain-vanilla purpose — never mind performing the kinds of fits of ingenuity that the Vodka Tampon Panic would suggest.
Another theoretical option is to inject the tampon with vodka while it’s still in the applicator tube, then insert it into the vagina the usual way. There is a problem with this method as well. A tampon is made from a densely packed piece of cotton which nearly triples in size when it’s fully soaked. If liquid is injected into a tampon that’s encased in a cardboard tube, the cardboard will become wet and soft, thus no longer able to serve its function. A plastic applicator presents a different problem: as the tampon is loaded with liquid, its traction on sides of the applicator would greatly increase, making it difficult to impossible to extrude the tampon from the applicator and likely render the whole process really uncomfortable.
Butt-chugging — i.e. administering beer by injecting it into the rectum — sounds equally impracticable. I realize some people enjoy enemas, but (a) there are very few such people; and (2) they enjoy the physical sensation, not the alcohol. For most people, however, distending the rectum with liquid produces a strong urge to evacuate (after all, that’s how enemas work), and one usually evacuates much sooner than the body would have been able to absorb much alcohol, especially from something as low in ethanol content as beer.
The only doctor quoted in the article is not clear as to whether he is talking about actual patients known to have imbibed alcohol in one of these ways, or if he is answering a hypothetical question. It is telling, however, that he does not actually say anything on the order of “I get ‘x’ number of patients in my emergency room every week who consumed alcohol through their rectums or vaginas.” Likewise, the only law enforcement official quoted in the article has heard of such things, but has never actually busted anyone doing it. I would conclude by saying that it is wholly unbelievable that in the midst of this supposed epidemic, with those pesky teens abusing their orifices in such a lurid and complicated manner, not one parent has ever walked in on their kid or his or her friends doing this; not one school teacher or security guard has ever caught a teen “drinking” this way in the gym locker room; not one cop ever busted a single kid doing it behind a 7-11 or anywhere else. Between their intimate knowledge of biochemistry and physiology, and their uncanny conspiratorial skills, teenagers seem almost as good at coordinated dissimulation as … “international bankers”? I think the more reasonable conclusion is that, if teenagers do things like this, they happen far less often than the media and “concerned” adults would have you believe. And by “far less often”, I mean “almost never”.
In this age of Internet outrage, where every dissenting opinion is interpreted as extreme, I must add the disclaimer that I certainly don’t idealize teenagers. I am not saying teenagers never have substance abuse problems. I am not saying teenagers never engage in risky sexual activity. I am not saying teenagers never lie to their parents. Teenagers certainly have problems (though none as big, I think, as the sorry state of public education in this country), but making up nonsense about them and spreading ridiculous rumors — bearing the imprimatur of “responsible journalism”, no less — certainly will not help resolve such problems. If anything, media stunts like this hurt teenagers, as I am sure there is some poor soul somewhere who, after reading this alarmist piece, will end up in the local emergency room with very unpleasant mucosa burns sustained in the course of trying to give himself a bourbon enema.
I also am not denying that resentment towards teenagers is virtually irresistible on account of their annoying ways, attractive looks and opportunities not yet wasted. I understand, therefore, the urge to pile on them a little. But as rational, responsible adults with a sense of justice and fairness, perhaps we should draw the line at blatant fabrication — n’est pas?