A few years ago, we learned that teens were challenging each other to do dangerous things, film the dangerous activity and the results, and post the video on YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram. One of the first of these well-known instances of pure stupidity was known as the “Tide Pod Challenge,” where kids were “challenging” each other to eat laundry detergent pods.
Doing completely useless and often dangerous things to yourself for attention was not new at this point. Before the Tide Pod Challenge, You Tube featured the “100 layers” challenge. Completing this one required the participant to choose a cosmetic item and apply one hundred layers of it. In some cases, this can be dangerous. Choosing something that goes all over your face, like moisturizer or foundation, and rubbing a hundred layers of it around your nose can cause you to inhale a great deal of it. Mostly that one is simply a stupid waste of money.
Other challenges have been a bit more interesting, and designed to impart somewhat useful ideas and information. The “worst rated” challenge urges participants to find the worst rated businesses in their hometown, and give those people some business with the goal of learning if the low rating was well deserved, and advising readers/audience members to avoid it, or if the low rating is unfair, and giving that business a boost.
Sending around formal “challenges,” filming yourself carrying out the challenges, and posting the results online are of course a product of the internet age. Before we were able to create our own YouTube channel, post videos to our personal Facebook page, and tell our own video stories on Instagram, filming yourself doing something and sharing it with others took a lot more effort. Cameras were much heavier and bulkier, you needed to have a tape in them, and there was no option to shoot a little extra footage, or even a whole video, on your laptop, tablet, or phone. To share footage, you had to hand or mail the video tape to someone else, or invite them over to your house to watch it.
The challenges themselves are nothing new. People who really should know better have been challenging each other to do stupid things and prove they did it for decades.
In the 1950’s, teens challenged each other to see how many people could stuff themselves into a single phone booth at once. Some made rules that each person’s entire body must be inside the booth. Others allowed limbs to stick out. The whole point of this challenge was to take a picture and prove that you did it.
Using ouija boards became popular in the 1960s. There were no set competitions or challenges associated with ouija boards, but friends organized groups and urged each other on in communicating with what they believed to be the spirits of those who had passed on from the earth. Ouija boards are both psychologically and spiritually dangerous, even if the session does start out as a game.
The 1970s brought us a challenge that wasn’t even real. Most of us who were alive in that decade remember the Life Cereal commercial featuring “Mikey,” the kid who shocked his siblings by happily eating the healthy cereal they wouldn’t touch. When the actor who played Mikey was not recognized in any future commericals, an urban legend began to circulate that he had died as the result of eating Pop Rocks candy while drinking soda, only to learn that it was a lethal combination. Kids were warned not to challenge each other to take a drink of soda while eating Pop Rocks. Those who did it anyway quickly learned it results in nothing more than a hollow feeling in your stomach as all those bubbles go down.
The 1980s did not so much challenge, but warned us to be vigilant for Satanism. Satanic cults were said to be everywhere. Kids, teens, and adults were warned to watch out for Satanism in their music, in videos, in movies, and even during the course of their ordinary day. Benign neighborhood businesses were said to have been taken over by Satanic cults. This sounds like it should have been funny. It wasn’t. Although there was absolutely no credible evidence that Satanic cults were anywhere near as widespread and far-reaching as the rumors suggested, many lives were ruined due to baseless accusations turning into gossip.
During the 1990’s, everyone was given one big challenge. We needed to prepare for the end of life as we knew it. As the decade progressed, more and more people sounded the alarm about computers. It seemed they would not be able to read the year turning over into 2000, would malfunction, and everything from our bank accounts to our basic utilities would be lost forever, or at least until the system could be fixed. By 1999, people were storing food and water, taking their money out of the bank, and hoarding medical and other supplies in anticipation of a coming electronic shut down of society. The worst thing that actually happened were people getting past due notices from video stores and other businesses listing them as one hundred years past due.
Many of these challenges and calls to action have been dangerous. Others are simply wastes of time, energy, and money. Some harm others. A few, such as giving a low rated business a chance, may even be useful. But they would all make a great launching pad for a story. Choose one, and place your character in a situation where he or she has participated in or known someone who performed the challenge or heeded the call to action at the time. Or, set your story in the present day, and have your character look back over one of these.