Feature writing

Candy and culture

How Booze and Drugs Corrupted the Innocent Lollipop

The Daily Beast

June 16, 2017

What do we love about a lollipop? Apparently everything, because everything has become a lollipop. Or assumed its shape at least. Sure, you can still find the basic lollipop in candy stores and they can taste of mint or strawberry or something flavored meant to taste like those things, but you can also find them in restaurants, shaped into magnificent chicken-based starters, and also… in drug dens.

Behold, as reported by the Washington Post, this haul of meth lollies found by the authorities in Texas, and note the sinister mix of adult (the meth) and kid-like (the lollies themselves). These meth-infused lollipops are shaped like butterflies and flowers, Yoda, and R2-D2. They look so harmless, and some had surmised they were intended for children—although meth lollies, aimed in kid-like shapes, are often intended for adults.

Only the endlessly versatile lollipop could link chicken and meth. Even if they aren’t being recustomized by Breaking Bad wannabes, the basic lollipop is being sucked upon by adults, either keen to reclaim their childhoods, or for whom vaping has perhaps become passé. (There’s nothing like sucking and then biting through the shell of a Chupa Chups to find some bubble gum, or chocolate, underneath.)

This summer, beer and wine-flavored lollipops have hit the market, although they do not contain any alcohol.

This, for the makers, is a marketing plus: all of the flavor of, say, Chardonnay or Merlot, they claim, and none of the hangover. But they’re missing out the bit in between: the drinking wine bit, and getting a little warm and fuzzy, which if you like wine is surely the best bit.

In restaurants, the chicken lollipop is popping up on more and more appetizer menus. To prepare at home it’s a little gross, but the idea is to take a chicken wing, push all the meat down to one end and then do as you will with it—bread it, douse it in sweet and sour sauce, or both.

From the brilliant site Lollyphile, besides the wine-flavored ones, there are other boutique lollipops you can choose from: mimosa, blue cheese, chocolate bacon, pizza, absinthe, and even breast milk—which, considering where adult lollipop-attachment may be derived from, is perhaps the most acutely curated lollipop taste of them all. Where did our penchant for sucking begin, after all?

We should not be surprised at the lollipop’s versatility. Candyfavorites, America’s oldest wholesale candy company, informs via its website, “The first incarnation of the lollipop was probably created by cave people thousands of years ago who collected honey from beehives with a stick. Not wanting to waste the sweet nectar, they most likely licked the stick, thus inventing the world’s first lollipop.”

The lollipop has always been a practical and esoteric treat, as Candyfavorites makes clear: thousands of years ago there were fruit and nut confections that were “candied” in honey, then placed on a stick for easy munching. The modern lollipop came into being in 1908.

The basic lollipop—the sweet ones, the ones you get at the candy store or fairground—came with vivid swirls of color. But with the invention of freezers this humble item of confectionery, and its handy stick, became iced lollies, and the lolly became one of those few foodstuffs delighted in as an item of frivolity across generations.

Lollipops have been used to convey medicine to children, and even—alarmingly, a few years back—anti-vaccination parents were locating ones via Facebook licked by children with chicken pox.

As adults grow up with lollipops, they show no particular desire to grow out of them. Lollipops are as nostalgic and reassuring as macaroni and cheese, which might explain why they came to be pimped up so magnificently, including having insects and worms mummified in them. Or creating kobe hot dog lollipops in their shape. Or ones with fresh herbs.

The most outrageous of modern lollipops is perhaps the one the chef Heston Blumenthal made from dormice meat, in a nod to Romans who would eat, he says, dormice on a stick with poppyseeds and honey.

Blumenthal is famed for his inventive, scientifically challenging, technically dazzling, and visually discombobulating food: creations that look like one thing, and taste like another. The dormice meat on a stick, for example, is combined with chicken liver parfait and coated in white chocolate.

As a boy, Blumenthal remembers fondly the chocolate dormice he would eat.

His dinner guests are a little freaked out when faced with mice made into lollipops.

See the expressions on the guests’ faces when the lollipops are bought in, and before they know what they are made from. Just the sight of lollipops takes them back to being kids. They may have had them on the beach, at the fair, or just getting candy and licking lollipops—and hard candy lollipops don’t disappear fast, which is another brilliant thing—while chatting and messing around with their friends.

The meth lollipop haul in Texas isn’t the most direct assault on lollipop-innocence. Because of their associations with childhood, combined with the sensuousness of licking them, lollipops have also been sexualized, and even made creepy and exploitative.

Most notoriously, think of the poster advertising Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita (1962), with a young woman’s red lips making way for a red lollipop. In The Walking Dead, Gorman forced a lollipop, in a distinctly abusive fashion, on Beth. Lil Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’ (2008), which won Best Rap Song at the 2009 Grammys, included such lines as “Call me, so I can make it juicy for ya/C-Call me, s-so I can get it juicy for ya.” Lollipops are also recommended as a seduction aid by supposed experts, should you feel so inclined to leave a trail of them around the house.

But we also have Mika’s more joyous ‘Lollipop’ (2009), with the still-cautionary advice, “Sucking too hard on your lollipop,/Or love’s gonna get you down.”

In Miley Cyrus and will.i.am’s ‘Fall Down’ (2013) there is the promise: “You can be my lollipop, let me let me lick you up.” In Ru Paul and Lady Bunny’s ‘Lick It Lollipop’ (2013) there is the even more tantalizing promise of: “Cherry, grape, lemon, lime, lick it slow./Take your time./Strawberry. Kiwi. Peach./Tongues tied. Slur your speech.”

Don’t let this swirl of sex, meth, dormice, and Stanley Kubrick fully tarnish your association with sweet and innocent lollipops. There has also been Shirley Temple’s ‘On The Good Ship Lollipop’ (1934), with its talk of a “sweet trip to a candy shop,” dancing bonbons and lemonade stands, and the Chordettes, whose 1958 version of ‘Lollipop’ stormed the charts.

There is nothing controversial here, just innocent mention of “candy on a stick,” and a lot of repetition of the words and syllables of ‘lollipop’ itself. In 2017, alongside Temple, it sounds like a song valiantly, and ever-so-sweetly, trying to hold on to the besmirched innocence of the lolli- lolli- lollipop.