By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“It kills your sperm,” says 15-year-old Hollywood High School student Oscar. “It shrinks men’s testicles,” chimes in his pal Louis, also 15. “It” is Mountain Dew, the strangely hued yellow-green soft drink that has fallen victim to one of the most ubiquitous, if spurious, urban legends in play today.
The San Fernando Valley Folklore Society’s Urban Legends Web site (www.snopes.com/toxins/yellow.htm) says the Mountain Dew penis-shrinking myth dates back to 1997. It’s primarily a high-school-guy thing, says Webmaster Barbara Mikkelson of Agoura. “This is more of a male-oriented health scare,” explains Mikkelson.
Judging by OffBeat’s purely unscientific survey, the myth is BIG in L.A. this spring. The focus of the alarm is a dye called Yellow No. 5, or tartrazine, which gives the Dew its distinctive chartreuse color. Legend has it that the dye, ingested in large quantities, can wreak havoc with a boy’s manhood, shrinking testicles, lowering sperm count and making for a puny penis.
So is there any truth to the stories? “This rumor is as believable as seeing Elvis in your local 7-Eleven,” said Bart Casabona, spokesperson for Pepsi-Cola of North America (maker of Mountain Dew). “We can’t control what is being said among consumers, but it is certainly an urban legend. All our products are deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.”
As a matter of fact, the FDA certifies more than 2 million pounds of tartrazine annually for use in medicines, beverages, desserts, processed vegetables and makeup. However, some people are allergic to it. A 1986 FDA advisory committee concluded that Yellow No. 5 can cause hives and rashes. Manufacturers who use tartrazine must list it on their labels.
Casabona says the legend has not hurt sales of the Dew, which last year eclipsed Diet Coke as the U.S.’s No. 3 soft drink (and No. 1 non-cola: Mountain Dew was the official drink of the recently concluded NCAA college basketball tournament). The Web has scores of pro-Dew sites, including Mountain Dew Anonymous (MDA), which extols the beverage’s mojo-enhancing capabilities.
“I was having such troubles with the Ladies in bed, I could never fully satisfy them, because I could never keep Mr. Happy to stand at attention for more than 3 minutes,” a Web-site tribute from “Peter Hawley” states. “After slamming ‘The Cube’ [Dew], I gave her the ride of a lifetime . . . instead of minutes, I’m now going for hours. And She keeps coming back for more. We both just can’t get enough . . . of Mountain Dew, that is. Thank You!”
But no FDA clearance or counterpropaganda is likely to stop an urban legend with the kind of hold Dew penis withering has in the schoolyard. Besides, the Dew myth is fun. Hollywood High ninth-grader Elsa says she uses it to twit her male friends. “I don’t believe it, but I like to bug people about it. It gets them nervous,” she laughs.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
What? Isn’t that the school with some of the best student test scores in the state? It is indeed, but it also turns out that Wonderland parents have overachieved when it comes to raising money to help the students.
Each year, parents, through a numbing array of fund-raisers, generate more than $130,000 to pay for photocopying, instructional aides, a physical-education teacher and a supplemental art-and-music program. Fifth-grade parents raised money for a field trip to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. But Wonderland, apparently, hasn’t followed all the school district’s rules for how and when to conduct fund-raisers.
While there is no evidence that any money was misused, district officials last week told parents at an emergency school meeting that they will need to fill out more forms, revise some procedures and set up a formal parent-teacher organization in addition to their already-existing (and legally organized) nonprofit group.
At the meeting, parents wanted to know why the matter was coming up now, when they had been doing things the same way, and quite openly, for years. One parent noted that the fund-raising provided children with services and experiences that enhanced their education — in some cases, things that the school district ought to be providing.
A sympathetic Larry G. Higgins, who oversees the cluster of schools that includes Wonderland, told parents that reform is sweeping the school system from top to bottom and that there is a new district superintendent as well as an inspector general armed with investigators. “The rules have not changed,” he explained. “Now they’re being enforced.”
“We would love to hear about accountability in how it affects the quality of our kids’ education,” said parent Rob Biniaz. Instead, “Our first experience in this new era of accountability is one of making things more difficult.”
ISN'T IT ROMANTIC?
On Saturday nights, self-professed vampire “Anne-Marie” holds court at the Bar Sinister club in Hollywood. Sitting bolt upright in a plastic chair, her hands folded delicately in her lap, the 57-year-old goth legend whispers to a steady stream of young men seeking her counsel on Columbine, erotic art and all things gothic. They are clad all in black (except for the one in the straitjacket).
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