I recently tried a candy I'd never had before called Zotz. It was a pretty standard "new candy" experience: First, I finger-wrestled with unfamiliar packaging until I finally managed to rip it open in what is clearly the incorrect fashion, liberating the sweet and sticky detritus all over my lap. Then, I popped one in my mouth, mused briefly as to whether this was a "suck" or "chew" situation, and made the wrong choice for the second time in less than a minute. Finally, as the sugar and sour-dust exploded across my tongue, my brain ejaculated a single thought:
"This is an interesting take on the Warhead."
And that is the moment I realized that modern candy is bullshit. Why? Well, it's quite simple (you idiot) ...
The Candy Industry Sucks At Innovation
You don't need to conduct a comprehensive survey of the modern candy selection to see that it has stalled the fuck out, creatively. Don't take my word for it -- the entire industry is known for its inability to innovate. Most candies can be described in one of three basic categories:
First, you got your chocolate family, which starts with a chocolate base and mixes and matches nougat, caramel, wafer, and peanuts and includes Snickers, Milky Way, Reese's, and everything Hershey has ever done. Then you got your pure sugar candies, which are just wads of corn-syrup-paste of varying density and elasticity that all promise to be flavored after some kind of fruit or spice but really just include one tiny facet of the flavor they promise to deliver. This includes Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, etc. They come in two broad varieties: sour and not sour -- and sour is better.
And then, finally, you have your exotic candies, which might contain fruit or weird nuts you've never heard of and cost three times as much as normal candy so you buy them only when you're trying to fuck someone (Godiva, Toblerone, and so on).
To be frank, I find this lack of variety unacceptable. What if there were only three types of movies, and they were all re-releases of movies that first came out when your grandfather was a kid? You'd be furious. You'd ramp the gates of your movie theater in a motorcycle and rip the projection screen to shreds. You'd string the ushers up by their necks in the town square. You'd burn the Weinstein mansion to the motherfucking ground and burn a pile of Spy Kids DVDs in effigy. And yet, for candy, we endure this injustice.
Need I remind you that we are America? We put a man on the moon. And then we spent the next 50 years comparing that accomplishment to the pettiest bullshit we could think of.
We are a nation of equal parts innovators and people who will use innovation to shame other innovators for not innovating hard enough. And you're telling me that this is the best candy we have to offer? Really?
I had to know why. I had to know where we went wrong. So I began researching, and I discovered that ...
Your Favorite Candies Are Byproducts Of Prohibition
In early-19th-century America, candy was expensive. I'm talking gold-plated carriage, own-your-own-house, all-your-original-teeth expensive. The closest thing kids had to candy was molasses-sweetened pudding, which sounds like something Santa Claus would leave in the stocking of a serial killer. But in 1847, a pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a small hand-operated machine that pressed out sugar-lozenges. He had a bunch of sugar lying around because he'd been using it to hide the taste of the grosser medicines, and then he decided to sell his lozenges to sooth the throat or settle the stomach. He sold the machines, and candy became pretty popular: By the time the Civil War hit, soldiers were carrying candy in their pockets along with bullets and food, and we soon replaced the hand-operated candy machines with steam-powered ones to pump out those sugar wads faster.
Then, candy got its big break: Prohibition. After Americans' right to booze was taken away, we needed to find something else to shove down our throats, and we entered The Golden Age of Candy. Between 1920 and 1933, we saw the invention of Oh Henry, Charleston Chew, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfinger, Milky Way, Mr. Goodbar, Milk Duds, Mike and Ike, Heath Bar, Kit Kat (then called "Kit Cats"), and Snickers. Hershey's Kisses were invented in 1907 but exploded in 1921 because they finally figured out how to automate their creation. Basically, four out of five of America's favorite candies were invented as an alternative to getting drunk (M&Ms were invented in 1941).
Since then, our candy innovations have been few and far between. We saw a brief revival in the '70s, with the release of Nerds, Reese's Pieces, Sour Patch Kids, and Skittles (which, let's be honest, are really just bigger, chewier Nerds). But though the '80s and '90s saw the release of new candies, they've all failed to become iconic. Why?
You're not ready to understand yet. There's one more thing to explain.