Allee Manning recently walked into a candy store and came across a pack of gum that gave her pause.
After reporting on the history of this gum for The Outline, Allee joins us on the Dispatch with more details about the Fortune Bubble company and the persisting power of Asian-American stereotypes. Also, she surprised me with a stick of the racist gum for a live taste test.
Spoiler alert, it was awful.
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James T. Green (Host): Allee, thanks for joining us today.
Allee Manning: Thank you so much for having me.
James T. Green: So the reason why I was super interested in chatting with you today was the recent story that we had here at The Outline about this gum that you came across. Can you tell me a little bit about like what happened?
Allee Manning: Sure. So my mom and I were going to see Lady Bird and we stopped in a candy store nearby and one of the things I came across in this candy store which was mostly vintage candy, also some contemporary candy, was this stick of gum. That said Fortune Bubble on it and had this racist depiction of an Asian man wearing a conical hat, with a Fu Manchu mustache, chopstick lettering, the whole nine.
James T. Green: Wow. Was this like the only gum of its kind there like with like a bunch of other racist gum there?
Allee Manning: No as far as I saw after that I did kind of look around and make sure that that was it. But yeah that was the only one.
James T. Green: I mean it did seem like a lot of people were buying this gum? Was there a lot left?
Allee Manning: Yeah there were a lot left, so I wasn’t sure. I’d never seen it before. Obviously I figured it must be some kind of you know niche product but when I called back eventually later, I found out it was apparently quite popular at least in that location.
James T. Green: OK so so you’re in so you’re in this like candy shop and like you come across this gum. Like what was going on in your head? Because like I know like I’ve seen some pretty spicy things like I’m from the Midwest and I’ve gone to many place called Crackle Barrel and seen a lot of pretty racist items are still in stores like what was going on in your head when you saw this?
Allee Manning: Well I work in a museum part time and it just immediately reminded me of the artifacts room that we have. I just I couldn’t believe that this was something I was looking at right in front of me on that day. So you know I was like “what the hell am I looking at, what is this?” And I called my mom over to come check it out. And she was kind of like pretty nonplussed by it. But I was just so, I was pretty surprised because I grew up around here, and I had never seen anything like that for sale.
James T. Green: And have you heard about this gum? Like, what’s the history of this of this Fortune Bubble.
Allee Manning: Yeah. So it was really hard to figure out because R.L. Albert and Sons Incorporated, that’s the company that makes the gum, I found out, was not willing to speak with me about it.
James T. Green: Did they say why?
Allee Manning: Not really they said that they don’t speak with journalists as a policy.
James T. Green: Interesting.
Allee Manning: But when I did I got through them through e-mail a couple times and then I was calling and they were supposed to have someone call me back. Never happened. Last time I called they were very confused as to why I would be writing about something if I hadn’t been able to speak with the CEO. So I kind of told them more about the article I was doing the research had already done and they put me through. And that conversation didn’t get very far.
James T. Green: So so let’s back up a little bit so can you give me like a brief history about this bubble gum for people that have no idea what Fortune Bubble is.
Allee Manning: Sure, do you want to see it? I have a pack on me.
James T. Green: Oh really. Yeah. Oh yeah let’s let’s bring it out.
Allee Manning: I have to give it to my friend. I think he’s going to research it.
James T. Green: Oh wow. OK. So to describe it like as comfortably as I can, it’s like a stick of gum it’s about the size of like half of my palm and I have pretty large hands. It’s orange. The wrapper is indeed in like you can imagine like the most like racist typeface you could think of with the very like the most racist imagery to the left of it. “Fortune Bubble bubble gum and fortune”. I don’t want to open it up because I feel like you have to save this right?
Allee Manning: I do. Yes.
James T. Green: So I mean you can hear.
[FLICK OF THE PACKAGING]
Allee Manning: You know we can open. I just realized that they’re still selling it. I sent someone to check recently so I can always get another one.
James T. Green: Alright, so let’s let’s. So while you explain to me like this history I’m going to open it up and proceed to chew.
Allee Manning: Oh god I’m so sorry. Flick at first. That’s my recommendation. Feel hard it is.
James T. Green: Wow. It’s indeed.
Allee Manning: Yeah I know. I’m not going to assume it’s true, but it had some numbers on the side that made it seem like it might be quite old. I’m not sure. But regardless the original product was released in the 1980s. That much I could guess from looking at web forums and the online retailers you know like vintagecandy.com kind of places that were selling it you know “your favorite candy from the 80s.” It’s really hard to open.
James T. Green: Yeah it’s very difficult to open, while while I’m opening it up I’m realizing that there is only one stick of gum. I was actually really shocked. I thought it would be like like a Winterfresh situation where there were multiple sticks. There’s in fact one stick of gum.
Allee Manning: Super thick. Careful of your fortune in there.
James T. Green: Oh OK. All right. I’m sorry I cut you off.
Allee Manning: It’s all good. That’s right. You know that’s really all I’ve got. And I know it was sold in the larger New England area because a man from Springfield, Massachusetts emailed me after I wrote the article saying you know this takes me back to when I would purchase these kinds of candies in dime stores. It was actually nice he told me you know your article really made me think and maybe my nostalgia for this candy isn’t quite worth its implications.
James T. Green: Yeah and that’s actually like leads me to my next to the next question here. Aside from that like has it made you rethink like a lot of other things that maybe you’ve come across? For instance I was walking through Brooklyn, particularly the neighborhood of Park Slope, which for people who are not from the area you know like it’s very like family oriented. I guess you could say a lot of expensive shops...
Allee Manning: Kids and dogs.
James T. Green: Yeah lots of kids and dogs. Exactly. And I was looking through the window and I saw literally a mammy figure just like looking at me in the face. And and you know the stuff is pretty common. You would think like especially in like a very quote unquote liberal place like New York like that stuff would be gone. So like do you think that there will be any kind of change in this type of, I guess like quote unquote collector’s items?
Allee Manning: I hope so but I don’t see that being the case necessarily. You know the response I got to this from the people who were selling the gum you know in their store and the people who were manufacturing the gum wasn’t all that positive. They didn’t seem to understand what the problem was. And you know even me I had to kind of check myself when I was working on this and doing all this research thinking “am I going too far with this? Am I exaggerating here? Am I overreaching?” But you know speaking with scholars who talked a lot about orientalism and “yellow peril” and the connection with imperialism. No, it is a problem. It is a big deal. And what I kind of got from everyone I spoke to was you know it’s good that you’re writing about this. Hopefully people continue to call out things that they see like this so maybe you can go back to that store and have a dialogue with the owners or something...
James T. Green: Then you know it’s an emotional labor.
Allee Manning: Totally totally.
James T. Green: But yeah, and the reason why I found it’s like particularly interesting is because like in a lot of like especially modern culture particularly like Asian and Asian-American stereotypes seem to be very much like still “allowed” and in a way like there’s still jokes that are still being written at a lot of Asian folks’ expense. And it seems like this gum is like a physical representation of such.
Allee Manning: Yeah totally. I think a lot of it is on the fact that some Asian and Asian-American stereotypes tend to be you know quote unquote positive. You know the model minority myth. This idea of you know these very hardworking people. Not to say that that isn’t true but any kind of generalization you’re making like that is inherently harmful.
James T. Green: All right I will well I have my fortune here. So it says “smiling often can make you look and feel younger.”
Allee Manning: Oh see that was like half of the one I got on mine I think they recycle them a lot.
James T. Green: I have the stick of gum here. Do you want half of this stick?
Allee Manning: OK. Let’s give it a shot.
James T. Green: OK. Maybe it might crack on us.
Allee Manning: Yeah that’s a hard piece of gum right there.
James T. Green: Alright let’s try it. Wow.
Allee Manning: It might crack your tooth.
James T. Green: I mean, it just tastes like. Oh yeah that’s really bad.
Allee Manning: I wanna spit it out.
James T. Green: Thank you so much for joining us today.
Allee Manning: Thank you for having me.
James T. Green: Where can people find your work?
Allee Manning: Sure, you can go to my website, alleemanning.com, or my Twitter. Same thing.
James T. Green: All right great. Well hopefully talk to you soon. Maybe not about more racist candies.
Allee Manning: Hope not yeah.
The Outline World Dispatch is produced, hosted, and scored by James T. Green. Our theme is by John Lagomarsino.