Rambo bubble gum: First Chew Part II

PRODUCTS spinning off from ``Rambo: First Blood Part II'' have been encountering consumer resistance, particularly from parents who object to war toys at Christmas. As a public service, a veteran gum chewer -- and a reader of this newspaper -- volunteered to run a consumer test on one of the very latest Rambo byproducts, ``Rambo'' bubble gum. The report is just in, hand-delivered by Tester No. 1, as he refers to himself, who blew a very pretty pink bubble as he came through the door. His product evaluation, lightly dusted with powdered sugar, reads as follows:

``A waxed-paper wrapper featuring Rambo (with gun) against a crimson background makes the product stand out dramatically among its competitors on the bubble gum shelf. The package contains eight picture cards, one sticker, and one piece of gum about three-quarters of an inch wide by two inches long. ne ``The gum is as pink as a cat's tongue and gives off a pleasant sweet aroma upon first opening the pack. To the nostalgic sniffer, is there a nicer ambiance than that of freshly unwrapped bubble gum, spreading the fragance of childhood over a whole room? Shy rather than assertive -- this is the way one would characterize `Rambo' bubble gum, as distinguished from Rambo. Truly a pert little confection.

``Alas, the ambiance shatters upon first bite. The gum possesses the crumbly brittleness of most bubble gum sticks, dating back to the days of the first baseball cards -- and just maybe this `Rambo' batch does!''

And so the report goes. Tester No. 1 is nothing if not witty. He alludes to the familiar bubble gum phenomenon of ``instantly disappearing flavor.'' He coins the phrase ``used-tire syndrome'' to describe the consistency. But although the motto at the top of his report reads, ``You are what you chew,'' there are social ramifications of bubble gum -- in particular, ``Rambo'' bubble gum -- that an overworked tester simply has no time to explore. He must unstick himself from ``Rambo'' gum and clamp his mola rs into ``Star Trek'' gum and all the rest, leaving to others the text analysis of the gum cards.

``Rambo'' cards, numbered in the upper left-hand corner, relate the plot. It can be reported that the last cards in our test pack, No. 56, reads: ``Finally it's between Rambo and Podovsky as the two powerful men grapple with one another. Playing `dead,' Rambo manages to outwit his opponent and blasts him to bits!''

Blasts him to bits! -- now we're getting to the delicate essence of the product, and big pink bubbles are the least of it. Does this make ``Rambo'' bubble gum a war toy? Any answer except a basso Sylvester Stallone grunt would be drowned out by the ubiquitous war cries and bang-bangs that constitute the gum-card saga.

Rambo, Rocky, Road Warrior, Conan the Barbarian. These are the types of heroes that bubble gum franchises are built upon -- macho men whose eruptions of violence are merely hinted at by the pink sugary explosions of bubble gum.

Nobody is asking for ``Hamlet'' bubble gum, with card No. 14 reading, ``To be, or not to be, that is the question.''

Still, as our technology gets more sophisticated, should our concept of human nature keep getting more primitive? In our wildest bubble gum fantasies, do we want these hairy Neanderthal hands playing on the console of the Strategic Defense Initiative?

If all this seems like a tempest in a bubble gum pot, think of the numbers involved. Once the specialty of comic books, the cult of POW! BAM! ZAP! can now claim one of the largest audiences in the country -- a subculture of young males, 8 to 18, willing, indeed eager, to reduce history to a film-and-gum-card sequel of terrorism and counterterrorism.

What does it say about the sentimental education of the latest generation of American males that ``Rocky IV'' just grossed $31.7 million in its first five days of release?

All that Tester No. 1, or any of us, can conclude from gum analysis is this: Pay attention to those rubbery pink clouds, as to any storm warning. Some bubble gum is sending a signal when it snaps and pops. A Wednesday and Friday column

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