“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
The new era of accountability has begun in the once-laggardly L.A. Unified School District, and one of the early targets is — drum roll, please — Wonderland Elementary School in Laurel Canyon.
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).
“It is a place for dark, romantic souls,” Anne-Marie says of her involvement in a scene filled with people half her age. As she speaks, she turns to show the black cross etched (in eyebrow pencil) on her cheek.
Anne-Marie’s position as club doyenne is the latest in a vampire career that has stretched from adviser to best-selling writer Anne Rice to appearances on ’80s TV talk shows. Rice acknowledged Anne-Marie’s research on 18th-century castrati in her 1983 novel Cry to Heaven. Anne-Marie also served as a key interview in L.A. film historian/documentary producer David J. Skal’s 1993 novel The Monster Show. (Despite her former notoriety, Anne-Marie requests that her last name be withheld so strangers don’t hassle her about her blood lust.)
This night, Anne-Marie is speaking to a more select audience — of fellow vampires, she says.
“I am looking for people who share my vampiric spirit,” she intones.
Several weeks later, OffBeat drops by Anne-Marie’s Hollywood day-residency hotel, threading our way past two transsexuals in the stairwell to get to her small, crowded room. She has been laid up with pneumonia for several weeks, but she cordially invites us in. Preliminaries out of the way, she begins discussing her desire for blood, which began when she was 3 and tried to taste her mother’s blood. (The mother, an alcoholic, had been scratched by her sister in a catfight.) “It is an erotic fixation that has been with me since I was a little girl. I was punished for it,” Anne-Marie remembers.
It wasn’t until she was 45 that she sought blood donors to feed her appetite. She attributes her coming out to Rice.
“I read Interview With the Vampire. It was a revelation,” Anne-Marie says. “I began to come out of the closet more, about my blood fetish.” For years, she drank blood sporadically, getting several friends to provide her with 10 cc’s of blood. She sipped it out of a syringe. At the time, she was also addicted to heroin. She kicked her drug addiction a couple of years ago, Anne-Marie adds.
“Human beings can’t nourish themselves on blood,” says Skal. “It is a symbolic thing.” Skal says that blood fetishists usually have one thing in common — a history of childhood violence. Skal says Anne-Marie told him she had been abused. “Blood becomes the overwhelming symbol of closeness,” he adds.
Anne-Marie was once a punk-music reviewer for the Los Angeles Star newspaper, but over the last 10 years has sometimes lived under a freeway overpass. Currently, she is subsisting on SSI, but has completed her own vampire novel and is shopping it to publishers.
To Anne-Marie, blood ingestion is an expression of the darker side of romanticism. “It is a consenting act between consenting adults. It is sacred and should be treated with respect,” she says. “You can’t have light without darkness. They are co-dependent on each other.”
Spotted at the Viper Room, on the shirt of the Peak Show singer Holland Greco: “Fuck the Olsen twins. I did.”