Posts tagged ‘polio’

Candy Land: Fun for Kids? or Not. (New Publication)

Ever wondered what the board game Candy Land has to do with polio, Hansel and Gretel, and rotten teeth? Now, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Candy Professor Research Labs, all your Candy Land questions are answered.

You can read the full story in the latest issue of The American Journal of Play. My article is called “Polio comes Home: Pleasure and Paralysis in Candy Land.” Since you probably don’t have a subscription yet, here is a handy link to my article.

The article is a bit of an octopus, I start with the origins of the game and then spin out to make connections with candy, literature, parenting, cold-war culture, education, disease and health. It was fun to write (and my apologies if it isn’t as fun to read as this blog, it is a bit, ahem, academic).

I started researching Candy Land because of the candy, of course. But the candy is not the whole story. This game is one of the most successful board games ever. So why is it that most people find it so boring, not fun at all? I began my research with the small fact that Candy Land was invented by a school teacher who was recovering from polio. This led me to consider the connections between the game and broader ideas about childhood, safety, learning, and play. Despite the huge commercial success of Candy Land, I’m not convinced the game has much to do with real kids or fun. Instead, I think the game tells us a lot about adult ideas about children: what children should like, what they should do, how they should play safely.

Keeping kids safe seems to be the major theme of parenting these days. It is so interesting to me that Candy Land repeats this theme both as a game and in the candy image. Better to keep the kids busy with a board game and send their imaginary pawns on an imaginary adventure than let them roam the vicious streets! And better to keep they sated with imaginary pictures of candy than to let them eat the real stuff.

It isn’t just Candy Land of course. It’s helmets and padding and fenced yards and organic snacks and Wii. It’s “don’t” and “be careful” and “you might fall” and “no.” It’s adults who can’t just leave kids to be kids. Candy Land looks fun, but it is a totally fake kind of fun: nothing to do, and no candy to eat. Safe and boring. As far as I’m concerned, Candy Land is a perfect metaphor for the rip-off that is contemporary childhood.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear comments on this project.

May 18, 2011 at 11:09 am 6 comments

Candy and the Polio Vaccine

Vaccine on a sugar cube

Unless you’re over 50, you probably don’t have much experience with polio. It’s a nasty viral infection, which can in bad cases cause paralysis of legs, arms, and in the worst cases, your whole body. Polio gave us the Iron Lung (for paralyzed victims who otherwise would die of asphyxiation) and the March of Dimes, which started out raising money for polio research.

A vaccine pretty much eliminated polio from the U.S. and most of the developed world in the 1950s. And candy is part of the story.

In the late 1950s, polio researcher Albert Sabin developed a live virus vaccine to protect against polio. The vaccine had to be taken by mouth. The problem was that it was bitter tasting. Adults might swallow it anyway, but the primary intended beneficiaries of the vaccination programs were children. The obvious solution: put it in candy.

As early as 1959, scientists and confectioners in the U.S.S.R. had collaborated to produce a candy that could deliver the live virus. We don’t know what the confection tasted like, but it must have tasted pretty good. Over 1.5 million Russian children were successfully immunized by eating the vaccine candy.

Here in the U.S., Sabin’s live oral vaccine was approved for general use in 1961. Unfortunately, the Russian candy never made it across the ocean; instead, through the 1960s, the oral vaccine was administered to millions of adults and children as a sugar cube. The vaccine was effective; poliomyelitis is virtually unknown in the U.S. today.

A 1968 article in the New York Times makes the polio vaccine program sound like a party. “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” describes a festive event organized by the NYC Health Department at the George Washington Houses in upper Manhattan. With music, toys, balloons and free orange juice, public health officials hoped to draw in pre-schoolers who had not yet been vaccinated against polio. At the event, each child received sugar cube tinted lilac with two drops of the Sabin live oral polio vaccine. Some kids, loving candy, came back for a second piece.

Too bad every vaccine can’t be candy!

More: See my research on the role of candy in the 1916 polio epidemic in Articles: The Candy Prophylactic: Danger, Disease, and Children’s Candy around 1916

Sources: “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” New York Times May 22, 1968; “Polio virus Put in Candy” Science News Letter June 27, 1959: 405; “Polio Vaccine Given in Candy, Soviet Says,” New York Times Nov. 26, 1959.

October 12, 2009 at 6:20 pm 3 comments


Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

(C) Samira Kawash

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