Urban Legends about Candy: What’s in your Halloween Cache?

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, about the attractions of involuntary drug ingestion as a “problem solver” for frightened parents. It almost always rears its head around Halloween, but never really goes away completely. – PD

Unlike the peer-dosing scares of the 1960s, the 1980s and after saw the rise of malicious acid spiking against children and total strangers.

The Blue Star Tattoo Legend

This urban legend was one of the first—but one of the most durable— legends associated with involuntary LSD ingestion. And as such, it was a fairly extreme allegation, even in comparison with other antidrug panics. The rumor (often supported by photocopied flyer warnings) was that acid dealers were giving drug-laced tattoos to children, which they mistook for ordinary temporary tattoos, festooned as they were with appealing icons like Mickey Mouse, blue stars, or Bart Simpson. Upon contact, it was alleged, the drug would penetrate the skin and a kiddie acid trip would begin. Echoing the claims of Temperance ranters about the motives of grog sellers, this practice was attributed to the desire among dealers to create new customers through addiction. [….]

Involuntary ingestion would be unpleasant to a child in all likelihood—hardly something worth repeating. Finally, anyone who knows anything about retail illicit drug markets would recognize that risk and reward ratio here would be highly unfavorable. To engage in such activity would have to stem from sheer moral perversity, rather than a profit motive. However, many people who place great salience in such social malfeasance legends tend to believe that the mere existence of malign intent and bad actors in the world is enough to justify any scare story. [1]

As many debunkers have pointed out, some elements of the story probably were hatched from misunderstanding true aspects of retail LSD methods. Liquid LSD is often soaked into, and then dried, on blotter paper which is “stamped” row by row with little icons delineating individual doses. Visually, these papers may have looked like temporary tattoos, though they are often too small to be visually appealing to children.

But it is important to look at how this story fits into the drugging scares. It contains most of the major elements. The victims of the dosing are complete naifs—literally children, in this case. The stories often center around school buildings, suggesting that the kids were engaged in virtuous behavior—school attendance—at the time of the dosing. The drug “blends in” with acceptable recreational activity in that specific social context, literally hiding among kids’ peer culture of icons and tattoos.

Jean-Bruno Renard, who has studied the career of this urban legend in France and Belgium, notes that it shares with other contamination rumors the theme of a startling contrast: the tattoos are represented with iconic images that make the dangerous objects “between innocence and perversion” attractive to children.[2]

Various motives are actually attached to the warning. The most common is to foster addiction, as if the drug in question were not appealing enough on its own to voluntary drug-takers. The other, seen in some versions, is the malicious prank for personal amusement—wouldn’t it be funny to see children tripping? And here, of course, is the thematic displacement—if parents insist upon thinking that their own children have no interest in the drugs “out there,” then naturally any drug fear will be transferred onto a phantasmagorical, involuntary ingestion scenario.

[Excerpt from pages 114-116, Pamela Donovan, Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

[1] Footnote 58 in book. Pamela Donovan, No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends and the Internet, Routledge, 2004.

[2] Footnotes 59 in book.  Jean-Bruno Renard, “Les décalcomanies au LSD,” Communications, 52, 1990, 11–50.

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