Turning into a banana is pretty terrifying.
Children's food advertising in the 1990s ran on pure fumes of lunacy and the genuine belief that kids desired to eat colorful things that would irreversibly mutate their bodies.
But while Reese's Puff commercials took kids on a peanut butter acid trip and Honeycomb Cereal commercials turned children into a bug-eyed Sonic the Hedgehog rip-off, nothing came close to the unfettered body horror of the Gushers commercials.
Imagine, if you will, a single piece of candy handed to you by Mikey, the coolest kid in school.
The candy is hexagonal in shape, a little sticky to the touch, with just enough give to squish between your fingers. Its color is wholly unnatural––a glistening, fluorescent red.
"What's this?" you ask with a feigned air of confidence, desperate not to seem like a loser in front of Mikey. His mom always buys him the coolest snacks. He is the coolest kid in school, after all.
Mikey runs a hand through his spikey, blonde-tipped hair. "Try it," he says.
You put the candy in your mouth and bite. Sweet, artificial watermelon-flavored juice gushes onto your tongue as you chew the gummy shell.
"Mmm, fruity," you say.
"It's a Gusher," says Mikey, popping an electric blue one in his mouth.
You're filled with the warm sensation of blood rushing into your cheeks––Or is it juice? You feel hot, so hot, like your brain is on fire. It's as if a giant gorilla were gripping you by the cheeks, its hairy monkey fingers clinging to the edge of your mouth as it stretches your face apart. You're sure of it now. Your head is expanding at an alarming rate.
You glance at him through teary eyes. Everything burns. Are you delusional from the pain? Perhaps, but you can't deny what you're looking at. Mikey's head has been replaced with a blueberry––a giant blueberry with eyes and a mouth.
The weight of your head has become too much for your fragile neck to bear. Your school papers fly in the air as you topple over head-first.
The blueberry monster who has replaced Mikey is laughing at you with its grotesque human teeth. "You're a watermelon, dude!" says the blueberry monster. A crowd is forming.
"Check it out!" someone says.
"This kid's head is a watermelon!" says someone else. "Take a picture on your Nickelodeon Nick Click!" As soon as you hear the snap of the Nickelodeon Nick Click, you know that your fate has been cemented. You will forever be known as the kid whose head turned into a watermelon.
All thanks to Gushers.
Every Gushers commercial revolves around children's heads––just their heads––turning into giant fruits with horrifying human faces.
1995 Betty Crocker Gushers Commercial www.youtube.com
The commercials present this experience as fun, but every now and then you catch a glimpse of terror in a child's eyes. It's in those moments that you understand deep within your soul that turning into a Gushers creature could not possibly be fun. In fact, it would hurt like hell. Even worse, some of the Gushers transformations have stomach-churning implications. For instance, after one little boy turns into a Gushers banana man, the banana, which is also his head, peels. Is this akin to degloving his face?
Or when a little girl transforms into a Gushers coconut lady and then removes the top of the coconut––which again, it must be repeated, is her actual head––and inserts a straw, is she essentially lobotomizing herself?
The Gushers commercials had an uncanny knack to dream up fresh horrors with every new limited edition variant, too. Galactic Gushers, which make no logical sense in the first place, featured a child eating a Gusher that turned his head into the literal Sun, complete with orbiting planets. One of those planets had its own face, which is presumably the head of another child who ate a Gusher and was subsequently decapitated.
Jurassic Gushers, which also make absolutely no sense from a flavor standpoint, turned a kid's head into a T-rex. A "Mystery Gushers" flavor, which hopefully never actually existed, turned a kid's head into a catfish. Oh, but let's not forget the other Mystery Gusher that literally f*cking blew up a boy's head.
At one point, Gushers stopped with the transformations entirely, switching instead to contortions. Apparently Sour Gushers cause your face to actually implode, which somehow does not seem like a fun way to snack.
But even boasting the grossest advertisements of the entire Nickelodeon era was not enough to save Gushers from becoming a relic of the past by the late 2000s. So in 2010, long past their head-transforming prime and with nothing left to lose, Gushers broke out their most ludicrous commercial yet: "Gusher for an Eye."
Gusher for an Eye Commercial with Todd www.youtube.com
"Gusher for an Eye" is less a "commercial" and more a "short horror film." The conceit revolves around a boy named Todd who, as the title suggests, was born with a Gusher for an eye. As a little girl sings the ballad of Todd, we witness Todd flirtatiously squirting Gushers juice out of his eye into another little girl's mouth, and then again into his own mouth. But lest we wonder how Todd came to have a Gusher for an eye, we quickly cut to his backstory.
As it turns out, Todd was born with a Gusher for an eye, a true freak of nature. Through its bizarre power of being so awful that you can't look away, the commercial exposes us to unforgettable imagery throughout the various stages of Todd's life: Baby Todd blasting his mother, who just gave birth, with a burst of Gushers juice; Toddler Todd falling off a seesaw and standing up with Gusher juice streaming down the side of his face like blood, followed by his father rushing over to lick him; A future Adult Todd, working as a surgeon but coming to an impasse in his career due to his frequent Gusher eye sprays.
Cut back to the present day. Todd is being propped up by his peers. They chant his name as he drenches them in a fountain of his Gushers eye goop. But while we momentarily revel in Todd's popularity, we're fully aware of the disappointment and heartbreak that he will inevitably face in the future. We've seen Adult Todd's career prospects, his dream of being a surgeon ruined by his physical deformity. Forcing us to consider the existential dread of journeying through life with a Gusher for an eye is the true horror of the "Gusher for an Eye" commercial.
In that capacity, perhaps we're all like Todd––broken, imperfect people trying to scrounge our way through the world, utilizing our talents to gain recognition as best we can, all the while avoiding the inevitability of disappointment. If Todd's story is reflective of the story of Gushers, then perhaps Gushers is reflective of the story of humanity. And if we're all Gushers, then maybe our heads really are just giant blood-filled watermelons, primed to burst with just a little too much pressure.