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Marissa Lingen

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Journalism: you're doing it wrong. [Nov. 20th, 2011|12:17 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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I have a different question than timprov does about this Star-Tribune article in which teenagers are claimed to be inserting vodka-soaked tampons rectally in order to get drunk. The key line for me is, "Although no students have been caught in Minnesota as yet, no one doubts that kids are soaking Gummi bears with booze or finding other creative ways to get drunk."

We have no actual examples. But no one doubts that it's happening anyway.

Why not?

No one doubted that "teenagers these days" were having "rainbow parties" a few years back, either, and yet no one could find anyone who was doing it or even could make it work logistically.

We do not live in the Dubious Hills, people. Doubt is not a cuss word. Doubt is healthy. Doubt is, in fact, A JOURNALIST'S JOB AUUUUUUGH.

Okay. Okay, I'm okay. Really. Vodka-soaked gummi bears, whatever, this is not that different from Jell-o shots. So y'know. I hope the kids don't damage themselves too much with them. But seriously, gummi bears--how many of those would you have to eat to get drunk? Even if they're soaked in Everclear? That's kind of looking like a lot of gummi bears to me, and I have a really low tolerance for alcohol. But that seems reasonable as a thing people who are much more committed to alcohol than I am would do. So maybe the rest of the article is fine also!

Okay, maybe not. So here is their source for the vodka-soaked tampon thing: an emergency-room doctor in Phoenix has a nurse who has a daughter who has a friend who totally did that once and totally like passed out.


This is journalism? Seriously? They describe this ER doc as familiar with this behavior. But he doesn't claim to have seen even one case. Ever. He worries about vaginal walls (so apparently it's only boys who are inserting them anally), and about if the people doing this do pass out. But he cannot point to a single one. And honestly? I know teenage boys are more comfortable with tampons than they once were. They already were when I was a teenager more than my parents' generation had been at that age. But seriously, unless you can point at even one actual teenage boy who is willing to shove a tampon up his ass under any circumstances, I think that this is what we in realityland call not a big problem.

Also also also--and this is probably too graphic for some of you--but I am willing to admit it: I have in my life used a tampon. And I have flung it in the toilet after. And what happens to tampons when they get thoroughly, thoroughly soaked, such as being immersed in a fairly thin liquid rather than doused with a more viscous one? They expand. They do not magically stay the same pre-insertion shape when they are sopping wet. This is physics, people! This is, in fact, how tampons work at all! It's like people are faced with an object for dealing with menstrual blood, and they lose all sense of practicality relating to the thing.

It frustrates me because it's emblematic of journalism not doing its job. (I would love to say "any more," but we can all point at examples of various scares perpetrated by the press over the last hundred years.) But it also frustrates me because the attitude is that teens are dangerous and horrible in completely foreign and unfamiliar ways.

I'm having my favorite 17-year-old over for dinner tonight. Is she an angel, pure as the driven snow, with never an unkind or unpleasant thought in her head, much less deed in her life? Of course not. (Seriously, I already said I liked her.) But what she is? Is a good kid. And her friends--some of them are really together, and some of them have no idea where they're going and what they're doing, and you know what? That's okay. They're teenagers. They will screw up in utterly predictable ways, and they will come up with new ways to screw up, and both of those are part of life. But what they don't need is to have wacky teenage rumors supported by adults going, "Oh yeah, that's totally true, I absolutely believe what Britney's friend Aidan told her Josh's girlfriend's cousin did. I mean, Josh's girlfriend's cousin! That's reporting gold! Put that in the newspaper!" We need to teach them better standards of skepticism than that. They will have natural doubts. Sometimes it's our job to reinforce them.

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[User Picture]From: rikibeth
2011-11-20 06:24 pm (UTC)
Total TMI speculation: perhaps one could insert the thing and then use the string as a wick, in order to introduce the alcohol thusly.

I have no idea WHY one would do this, outside the realm of pure scientific inquiry, unless maybe absorbing the alcohol in that manner avoids the telltale alcohol on the breath?

I mean, when I were a lass, I heard stories that it was POSSIBLE to absorb LSD by putting the blotter paper in one's eye, but no adequate explanation for why one would choose to do so, and, AFAIK, nobody ever did. It was just one of those bits of trivia.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2011-11-20 07:55 pm (UTC)
I can see the party now. Everyone is sitting around with their pants down on bedpans filled with vodka, waiting for a tiny fraction of the vodka to creep up the string. "I think I feel something," one guy yells.

That is so much easier than just drinking it.
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[User Picture]From: weatherglass
2011-11-20 06:30 pm (UTC)
...vodka soaked gummi bears? Does gummi even absorb liquid? As you say, the physics of this really don't hold up past the "fevered imagination" stage of thought.
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[User Picture]From: markgritter
2011-11-20 06:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, gummi does absorb liquid--- if you leave a gummi bear in the water for a couple hours it can double in size. Plus get soggy and slippery, making it totally unsuitable as a stealthy alcohol-delivery device. But it might also just dissolve.

(Vodka jello shots exist; I would think that makes for a far more plausible stealth-vodka-in-school mechanism.)
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[User Picture]From: rachelmanija
2011-11-20 06:41 pm (UTC)
If you have vodka and you want to get drunk, why would you soak a tampon in it and shove it up your ass rather than, you know, drinking it?

Not to mention all your other objections, such as the fact that once its soaked, it can't be shoved up the ass! They're intended to be shoved FIRST, soaked SECOND.
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[User Picture]From: prock
2011-11-20 06:50 pm (UTC)
Vodka burps are more conspicuous than vodka farts?
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[User Picture]From: pnkrokhockeymom
2011-11-20 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'll tell you what--the teenagers I know, via my own? Pretty much, if they want to drink the vodka, they are just going to drink it.
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[User Picture]From: oursin
2011-11-20 07:20 pm (UTC)
Didn't there used to be a thing about teenagers dissolving aspirin in CocaCola to get drunk/high?

And on moral panic about The Young more generally, in 1961 in the UK it was chimerical yellow golliwogs.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2011-11-20 07:23 pm (UTC)
What the hell ... what the hell. WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2011-11-20 07:25 pm (UTC)

This is the best part

"We talked about it at our last meeting," said Ann Lindberg, chemical health coordinator for the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District in Dakota County. "I'm sure it is happening here to some degree. We just haven't caught anyone at it yet."


If it's bad, oh mercy, those kids are doing it. We just haven't ... caught them yet. But they are doing it for sure! No, really -- they are.
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[User Picture]From: wldhrsjen3
2011-11-20 07:54 pm (UTC)
I <3 this post so much. Well said.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2011-11-20 07:57 pm (UTC)
I'm going there with you. Imagine a vodka-soaked tampon. Now imagine an anus. Imagine inserting the giant, wet cotton ball in the anus. Yeah, it's not going to work. I hate it when journalists don't check stuff, or make statements in articles that are not backed up by the sources they cite or quote. It's like they think if they have sources cited and quote, and then they also make assertions of fact in the text, that no one will notice that there is nothing backing up their facts. But me! I notice!
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From: stfg
2011-11-20 08:08 pm (UTC)
I'm a family physician in Norwalk, Ohio. Our local hospital does a community health assessment every five years or so, and a booklet with the current findings was just published in September. They did anonymous surveys of teenagers and discovered that some of them were putting alcohol-infused tampons up their rectums. So it apparently really does happen and is not just a local Twin Cities phenomenon.

The teens in Norwalk said they were doing it to prevent their breath smelling like alcohol, though I'm not sure that makes sense. I think alcohol gets partially metabolized by the lungs, the products of which you breathe out? That's how breathalizers work. It makes more sense to me that the Star Tribune has it right and alcohol going through the rectal mucosa hits the bloodstream faster.
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[User Picture]From: markgritter
2011-11-20 08:23 pm (UTC)
Did the survey specifically ask about this behavior, or was it volunteered?

Somebody actually tried soaking their tampon in alcohol, and the results were predictable (and non-insertable): http://tinycatpants.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/in-which-i-debunk-the-vodka-soaked-tampon-myth/

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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2011-11-20 08:22 pm (UTC)
The overwhelming thing is the way the Star-Tribune is treating unsubstantiated rumor as fact. It's not anything like an innocent mistake. They want the (respectable, adult) readers of the newspaper to enjoy the thrill of regarding teenagers with fear and contempt.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2011-11-20 09:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's not just teenagers, they do that with everything.

I'm actually sort of surprised it wasn't a vodka-soaked newspaper. At least that would improve their circulation.
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[User Picture]From: minnehaha
2011-11-20 08:29 pm (UTC)

I recall a huge article about this deadly new drug called ice that was going to be the scourge of everything back in the 70s. Yup.

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[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2011-11-20 08:55 pm (UTC)
Please correct me if I am wrong, but regardless of the viability of the method of delivery, wouldn't exposing mucus membranes to a fairly high concentration of alcohol result in a rather un-mild stinging sensation?
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[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2011-11-20 09:19 pm (UTC)
One would think so. I mean, the last time I swabbed a paper cut with rubbing alcohol it was Not Fun, and when I try to scale that up from a cut half a centimeter long by less than a millimeter wide to something with the general area of the mucous membranes in question my eyes get crossed just thinking about it.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2011-11-20 09:49 pm (UTC)
Very bad journalism: check.

Possibly teens freaking the mundanes adults: check.

Apparent technical difficulties: check.

Already mentioned, but something that should be spread around among people thinking of applying alcohol rectally: it's absorbed much faster. That means that an amount of alcohol that you can chug down and survive, can kill you if delivered as an enema. (The quantity a tampon will absorb isn't at that level; but once people are talking about this new way to get drunk, they need to know this. And regardless of whether or not they were before, they will be now. With luck, not doing anything about it; but talking about it.)
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[User Picture]From: magentamn
2011-11-20 10:34 pm (UTC)
I think the Strib is desperate for Important Stories That Horrify People And Sell Newspapers. They've been flogging the stories about synthetic cannabis for some time now. Since nothing else is happening, like major nationwide protests or widespread poverty or police brutality, they have to find something to print. /snark
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-11-20 10:49 pm (UTC)
Well, but with the synthetic drug stories, they have actually been able to find people to say, "Yes, I use that," or, "Yes, I sell that," or, "My child ODed on that." I was actually thinking of those stories, because those are the stories they write when they can find even a few actual people with experience in the matter. And this...wasn't even to that level.
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