Blood, Butter, and Beheadings? Popcorns shady history you didn't know | Bailey Sarian
(mysterious music) (crow cawing) (thunder rumbles) - Hi, friends. How are you? I hope you're having a wonderful day today. Welcome to season two of "Dark History". (thunder rumbles) Hi, I'm Bailey Sarian.
Did you miss me? Maybe. Okay, great. If you don't know anything about me, I'm Bailey Sarian and I'm a curious person and I'm always going down some dark rabbit holes at 1 a.m., just trying to figure out where shit comes from. So that's what this podcast is, a chance to tell the story like it is and to share the history of stuff we would never think about. And let me tell you, this season we're gonna deep dive into topics like the history of marriage, graham crackers, Satan, (man laughing evilly) and one of my favorites, the dildo. Mm, yes, the dildo.
And, of course, we're gonna talk about some big companies and their shady pass, if they have one. I'm looking at you Coca-Cola. Don't hurt me, okay? I'll blink twice if I need help, all right? It's gonna be a good time. I'm very excited, and I hope you are too. If you haven't listened to season one, I suggest you do. But you don't have to.
But, like, it's cool if you do. But, like, you could, but you don't have, you know? Now, I know some of you are like, "Bailey, you got a D minus in history. Why in God's name should we listen to you and your history stories?" And Linda, listen.
Linda, I get it. But I'm learning along with you because, listen, on this show, we got researchers, lawyers, we reach out to leading experts on each topic to make sure, fact check, that we are giving accurate, unbiased information. And I'll be honest, sometimes the feedback we receive is pretty rough. They don't get my humor. The lawyers, they're so serious, you know? Anyways, once I get the feedback, though, we adjust it and make it right. So what I'm getting at is this podcast is the shit.
Thank you (laughs). Now, the experts aren't the only people on our team giving feedback. Let me introduce you to my co-host. Now, if you're listening on the podcast, you can't see them at home, but I'll describe. Some of you may remember, last season, the beautiful, the wonderful, the stunning Joan Craw-ford.
(applauds) Joan, Joan's here. Let's welcome her back to the scene. Hey, Joan. Hey, girl, how you been? Okay, great. Also, let's give a big round of applause for this man that you may recognize from my Instagram stories. His name is Paul. (audience applauds)
And Paul likes to party. He's over here. He's gonna be hanging out with us. He's got the sunglasses on, he's got a cigarette. Don't smoke or you're gonna end up like Paul. They're my friends, okay? So I don't feel so alone in this freakin' room. Anyways, all of that aside, just come on this journey with us and let's talk about that hot, juicy history goss, gossip.
So sit back, relax, and let's get into some dark history. I've opened my dark history book to the chapter of popcorn. Let me tell you how I arrived to this topic. So the last couple of nights I've been eating a lot of popcorn.
Honestly, it's because I'm too lazy to go to the grocery store and shop. So now, every night when I watch my television programs, I put a little bag of popcorn in the microwave, beep, boop, boop, boop, boop, magic happens. Popcorn appears. Smells incredible. I'm sure you're aware. Mm, that smell.
So I pour my little popcorn into my popcorn bowl, I get on the comfy couch, I snuggle up, and I turn on my favorite television program. I'm sitting on the couch with my buttery ass fingers and I pick the television program "Trading Spaces". Yeah, you remember that gem? That was a good one. Honestly, it wasn't that great. It's actually really cheesy.
I thought it was like so good back in the day, you know? That's beyond the point. The point is I got to thinking, because I wasn't paying attention to this show like, "Hey, I wonder where the hell, like, popcorn comes from." It's just always been there, right? I mean, think about it. You've eaten it all throughout your life or at least you've seen it all throughout your life and you, my friend, haven't even thought about it twice, have you? Like, "Who are you, popcorn? I don't even know you." Does anyone know where it came from? I didn't. Naturally, when I'm curious and a question comes to my noggin, I get to Googling.
Where does popcorn come from? And honestly, I thought it was just gonna be a simple, Mr. Popcorn invented popcorn, just something simple. But let me tell you, plot twist, this shit gets dark. Who would've thought, like, popcorn would be connected to human sacrifice and cannibalism, which is very on brand for me, I feel like. Popcorn. So naturally I wanted to know more.
I mean, hello? Cannibalism, popcorn, let's talk about it. And that, my friends, is how I went down a rabbit hole and got to today's story. So go ahead, grab that stale tin of holiday popcorn your boss gave you last Christmas, I wanna say the cheese one is always the good one, I think, and buckle up because it turns out popcorn is pretty hardcore. So if you are new to this planet earth, popcorn is corn. So to really get into the history behind it all, we have to start with corn. Now, corn, you know her, well, maybe, always been there for us when we needed it the most.
Corn has been a loyal ass bitch, not even kidding. That's not my own opinion. You can even look at ancient civilizations all across the world and they thought the exact same thing. So I'm not lying. During my deep dive, I discovered that corn is old as hell. Great. So it's very unclear, like, where it originally came from.
The information we do know is that corn developed from a certain type of grass in Mexico. Now, here's the big mystery that, like, kinda keeps me up at night is corn doesn't regrow on its own. It requires a person to actually physically replant it.
And that's weird, because if corn's been around for so long, like, who were the people planting it and taking care of it? Who was carrying the torch of corn? Aliens, people, animal, nature? So many questions, not that many answers, to be honest. Starting back in 1200 BC, many ancient civilizations during this time were farming corn. So you know how corn is a little seed and if you bite like into it, you break your tooth? Yeah, we don't exactly know how or why, but at some point somebody figured out that if you heat up this kernel it would explode into something that you could actually use or eat.
So for example, like the Mayans and the Inca, they would use corn for tortillas, tamales. I mean, they would even drink corn by grinding it with fruit and honey to make a sweet little drink. It kinda sounds good. I'll try it.
So corn was a staple to the ancient Aztecs, which are an indigenous group who, they were living in Mexico in the 1300s. Now you might be familiar with the Aztecs from some of their famous inventions, their fresh water system, their very impressive architecture. I mean, have you ever seen that? Ooh, they had structures, pyramids, ball courts, plazas, temples, and homes. Basically, we could do a whole episode dedicated to just the Aztecs. I mean, they're fascinating.
But in regards to corn, they, in my opinion, are the most interesting bunch because they freaking partied. Like, no disrespect to the other tribes, but the Aztecs were the most metal when it comes to corn. So the Aztecs actually viewed corn as sacred food. Sacred? I know. I thought it was like just something you ate while you're watching a movie.
But no, not in ancient Aztec land. Corn was a matter of life or death. The Aztecs considered corn to have a life cycle similar to humans. So it was their most important crop. And they ate so much of it that they believed corn was literally in their blood, like running through their blood. And Aztecs believed that when they ate the corn, they were eating the earth.
And when they died and buried, the earth then ate them. ♪ The circle of life ♪ So this is where the story gets real juicy. Because according to Aztec myth, there was a point where the future of the Aztec people were once in grave danger, oh yes.
They were about to be extinct like the T-Rex. (T-Rex growls) According to legend, the Aztec people were starving to death. People were really struggling. They know corn is on the other side of the mountain where they live, but they don't know how to get to it. They'd already asked their other gods for help, but these gods were unable to use their strength to move the mountains.
So they were becoming desperate and very hungry. And an Aztec priest turns to the god Quetzalcoatl, who, I'm just gonna call, Q moving forward 'cause Quetzalcoatl, as you can imagine, it's a little hard for me. So this god Q decided to use something more powerful. And what's more powerful than strength? Intelligence, his brain.
So here's what Aztec mythology says. Now, this is a quote. "Quetzalcoatl," or Q, "was transformed into a small black ant and made his way towards the mountain.
The path presented many difficulties, but one by one he overcame them, determined to move forward by the thought of helping the Aztec people. Now, after several days, Q arrived at the back of the mountains where he found the corn. And because he's an ant, took a grain between his teeth and began his journey back over the mountains. Once he returned to his people, he handed over the grain of corn to be planted," end quote. So this god turns into an ant and while he's an ant, he goes over the mountain, get some corn and then comes back. Okay, got it? Great.
It wasn't over, though. The ant comes back with the corn in his mouth, right? And you can't do anything. They have to, like, plant this kernel and grow it into corn.
If the kernel didn't sprout and the corn didn't grow, then the journey, the ant journey would've been for nothing, right? So the Aztec people were completely relying on this one kernel to grow or they could be completely wiped out. Great news, though, it worked. (applauds) The single kernel bloomed and blossomed into a beautiful heads of corn, which was now able to feed all of the people. And from that day onward, the Aztecs were devoted to honor plant and harvest, the very thing that, like, saved all of their people from starvation. So like this is a, it's just very important to them, right? And in honor of Q, their god, they built statues and palaces as a way to say thank you, because that's how you say thank you back then.
You're like, "Here I built this for you. Do you like it?" Which, if you haven't, just like on some free time, do yourself a favor and Google their temples because they went off, all the way off. Like, no one asked them to go that off, but they did it anyway. Off. They were like, "Let's go off.
All the way off." It's wild. Okay, so back to Q. They went off on those temples, and they also would hold annual ceremonies for the god, okay? So these ceremonies were designed to keep this god, and they had many other gods, happy, so they would continue to watch over the crops and keep the corn coming 'cause they don't wanna starve again, great. The Aztec people believed in over 200 different gods and goddesses. So they had a lot.
And they're all in control of different parts of their life. Like, there's a god for weather; there's one for fertility; farming; god for war; there's one god for going to the bathroom. Yeah, could you imagine being the god in charge of shit? Like literal shit? That's your job. That's shitty.
Ah, anyways, but since we're talking about corn here, I'm just gonna be focusing on the corn side of things, right? To the Aztecs, their four most important gods were in charge of the different stages in corn's life. So this lined up with the seasons of the year pretty much. And for each cycle, there was a ceremony that went along with it. So let's say it's spring, the flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing, and Aztec farmers have just planted their corn seeds in the ground. It's like, "Yay!" But to make sure that they're gonna sprout, they have to do something, right? And I know what you're thinking. Yeah, just water.
You water that shit, right? There you go. That's it. But for the Aztecs, have you ever watered plants with blood? (dark music) Because that's what the Aztecs did. Oh yeah, they would legit take a knife and cut themselves and then just, like, bleed all over their corn. I know it's a lot. But listen, it was actually seen as like a gift to the Aztec goddesses to make sure that the corn seeds would sprout. And to them, blood was symbolic of life.
So to the Aztec people, they were giving part of their life to the food to keep the corn alive. It's kinda beautiful, if you think about it. Come on. Right, Paul?
Great, glad you agree. He agrees. Shut up. So if you think that's gory, just wait until fall shows up. You know, our favorite season, fall. Yeah, they weren't bobbing for apples; they were chopping kids' heads off.
But first, let's pause for an ad break. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices there are out there? Whether you're shopping for cereal or toilet paper, there are so many different options. It's hard to know, like, what's best for you when it comes to pretty much anything, right? (chuckles) Yeah. Okay, great. So when it comes to finding skincare products that actually work, it's even more overwhelming. Don't even get me started on that, okay? Recently, I've been having some really bad breakouts due to stress, okay, and I wanted to find a product that could help.
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and click Begin Visit, then use code Dark History at signup and you'll get your first visit for only $5. A big thank you to Apostrophe for sponsoring this episode. Now, let's get back to the story. Hi, we're back. So when the harvest time came in fall, the Aztecs wanted a good supply of corn. So in order to make sure, like, this happens, they would hold a big ceremony for another god of theirs, the goddess Chicomecoatl.
Girls, young girls would make garlands out of popcorn and wear them in honor of this goddess, which is fun, 'cause I personally love a little like DIY project. And then everyone would come to this ceremony, literally everyone from the whole town, like all the people would gather and head to the statue of this goddess to celebrate her. So they all get together, they walk over, they would gather around this statue. A priest would step forward and then ask for a young girl to step forward with him as well.
Now, this young girl, plot twist, she was their offering. (gasps) I know, ugh. I don't know. We don't know if the girl knew what was about to happen to her, but either way she was about to go down. You know what I'm saying? And, like, this is where things get a little cray.
(chuckles) Okay? So the priest would, he'd be next to the statue, he's like holding this little girl, then he holds her against the statue; and then in front of everybody, he just whackerella, chop off her head. The young girl just removed. Again, I don't really know the details. I don't know if we need to know the details, but what we know for sure was that a head was removed in the name of corn, yeah.
Paul, can you look up what they did with the head? I'm dying to know. You get it? Dying to know, Paul? 'Cause you're dead. Okay, great. But then it gets worse. 'Cause listen, after chopping off her head, the priest then takes her body and pours her blood all over the statue. Again, to honor the goddess.
It gets worse. It progresses, let me tell you. The priest, again, the priest then takes the girl's body, he flays or peels the skin off and proceeds to put it on himself like a suit, a skin suit.
He's literally Ed Gein-ing this shit. He's Ed Gein before Ed Gein. But it doesn't stop there. During the same ceremony, after the girl is killed, another woman is also offered up to the gods. So it's a two for one deal. It's a BOGO. But this is a little different.
You see, it's already funky on its own, but now they involved this other woman and what they would do is they'd bring her forward, they would also kill her or whatever, but they would cut the skin off of her face, specifically her face, so the priest could wear it like a mask. Yeah, like a literal face mask, he puts it on. He's like, "Hey, guys. It's me, Barbara." The ceremony may sound a little extreme, because it does sound a little extreme, but this, again, is how they honored their god, by dressing up like them and saying thank you.
Think of like your Uncle Joe dressing up as Santa for Christmas. You're a kid and you're like, "It's Uncle Joe," but you're excited because it's Santa and he has presents. So it's like that, but with like murder and stuff too and, like, you know, same thing. Okay, so this is the kinda shady part, because, like, the second woman that was sacrificed, now it's believed that she may have been offered to the priest as a sacrifice by her husband. (dark music) Yikes. Imagine going to the ceremony with your husband and you're like, "Oh my God, babe," like, "I heard there's gonna be a sacrifice.
I hear it's Rebecca." And then your husband looks at you and is like. That would suck, you know? So if your shady boyfriend sacrificed you, or husband, excuse me, sacrificed you, it's a surprise. But again, sacrifices were just part of their religion.
It was just part of the whole thing. It was seen as a huge honor to, like, give yourself to the gods for the good of your people. So it could've been a way different experience for them. Like, maybe they died with honor and it wasn't like this terrible thing. Just an idea.
'Cause to us, we're like, "What the, chopping a girl's head off? Like, what the fuck?" But maybe they're like, "Yay, I get my head chopped off today." I'm just trying to see the positive here. There's gotta be some kind of positive. Okay, so this was all just a warm-up because there was a big feast that came in the winter to close out the life of corn.
Now it's time for the annual feast of the flayed man. Oh yes, thunder and lightning. (thunder rumbles) Oh, but we have to pause for an ad break first. Lately I've been really committed to my new morning routine to jumpstart my day. I wake up early. I know, look at me go (laughs).
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So the feast of the flayed man happens after the Aztecs have harvested last season's corn. Now, this is to thank the gods for that and ensure the success of the new crop they are planting. So the whole city, town, and community, again, they would come out to attend this big ceremony. I'm talking everybody came out, like rulers, commoners, prisoners, anyone and everyone.
This time it's to honor their god Xipe. He's like the winter god. Xipe was actually a very big deal because, according to the legend, when his people were starving, he actually, like, ripped off chunks of his own skin and then, like, fed that to the Aztec people so they wouldn't starve to death.
It's like, you know, (slurps) "Just here, eat this." This is what I'm imagining. But does this remind you of anything? No, Paul? Okay. Paul says no. But look, let me give you a visual here, okay? Think of you're eating corn the old school way.
You have to peel the outer skin, it's known as the husks, you have to peel it, it's pretty tough, and it's called shucking, if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, we're gonna have fun with that word. Okay, so you're peeling off the husk, the green leaves around the corn, and this was important because it represented Xipe's own skin being ripped off to feed his starving people.
Symbolic. Beautiful. It's almost kind of like they're shedding sins, a rebirth, if you will. Xipe, that's so sweet. You shouldn't have, Xipe.
So they peel, they prep the corn all to celebrate Xipe. And now they do a little reenactment. Yeah, we love dinner and a show. Someone, usually an enslaved person or a prisoner from a different tribe, was selected to once again be a human sacrifice for this big feast. So the priest, this poor priest, he was doing a lot of murder, they would kill the man that was being offered, cut and peel off his skin in large chunks, oh yeah, and then they would get like a little artsy and they would paint on the skin and wear it.
So, like, they would wear the skin so it looked like they were a living image of Xipe, right? Great. I kinda wouldn't mind being there. I would wanna watch and see. Fly on the wall, I would be. But the rest of the body, they didn't waste that shit.
The leftovers were cut up and passed out to the crowd to be eaten and shared. And again, this was seen as a very beautiful, great thing. Good for them. It's time to eat.
So naturally, of course, the wealthy people would get, like, the best body meats first because they're rich, like they would get, "I want a thigh," or like, "I want some meat titty meat." So they would get to eat more of it because wealthy people are always seen as more important for some sick reason. And it's just like same shit, different era.
Well, minus the body meat. Well, depending on who you ask, I guess. Then they would pass around whatever was left over to the rest of the people.
So organs, elbows, eyeballs, fingers, maybe if you're lucky you got some of that juicy booty meat. In return, Xipe would be pleased with their sacrifice and bring them an abundance of corn in the coming year. So the flaying man ceremony was all about closing out the year, shedding the skin, rebirth, and just going into the new year cleansed and new. This tradition was passed on from generation to generation and everyone really put their own spit on it. And it's kind of like, again, like Christmas, but you're just eating humans instead of ham, that's all.
So descendants of the Aztec, the Nahua people, also worshiped corn, but they had their own little twist on it. They believed that corn was an actual living being and you had to treat her with respect. Do not disrespect the corn. They believe that corn actually starts as a boy when it's growing.
And then once it's picked, it turns into a female. This is according to the Nahua legend. And this corn is picky.
They also believed that seasoning or flavoring the corn in any way was extremely disrespectful. If she was mistreated, she being the corn, she would seek revenge on the people. I'm talking natural disasters, famine, other bad stuff, just because you put a little salt on the corn. Oh, this was serious. Corn was serious. So now let's go to the indigenous people of North America, as we know, or we think we know, like really mastered the art of farming corn.
And by the time the settlers showed up in the 1600s, it's everywhere. Corn was like, made its way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and she's homebound. (vocalizing) (blabbers) If you know, yeah. So at this point, corn was no longer seen as like this god, something to be worshiped. It was strictly seen as food, which boring, but okay.
It's just here to provide for the people. So when the French explorers see the Iroquois tribe making popcorn from kernels for the very first time, they're like, "Okay, I see what you got going on there," like, they got some corn kernels in a big old heated pot. And then the Iroquois people, they're like swirling it around and then pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
The settlers were like, "Wait a second. What the hell is that noise?" It's corn. And now it's like morphing into this beautiful white flower and it's edible. What kind of witchcraft? But seriously, think about how crazy that first experience must have been for them to see popcorn pop. I don't know.
I mean, maybe, I would think, I would be impressed, right? So I guess the Iroquois, they teach the French settlers how to make this food known as popcorn. But if you've been listening to "Dark History", we know it's less teaching and sometimes more taking and like taking the credit. So allegedly, the Iroquois taught them and they were like super thankful for teaching them how to make popcorn. And they were like, "Thank you so much. That's so nice of you." And then they now carried it back to their place, their home.
Anyhoo, the settlers are super jazzed about learning this new food and they bring it back home to the 13 colonies. It's what's gonna become America. Honestly, I'm just saying that because, like, that completely left my brain. I've completely forgot about, like, the 13 colonies. Should we do an episode on that? I feel like that's kinda boring.
It doesn't matter. He takes it back home. They're like, "Look, popcorn."
And they really started to like improvise in the kitchen. They were getting really creative. They're making popcorn soup. They're having popcorn for breakfast with cream and sugar. It was like their version of cereal. Kinda sounds bomb.
I would've tried it. And popcorn becomes a big staple in their lives. And it's funny because, at least for me, I can't speak for you, but you always hear like in history class about America growing at this time, like the 13 colonies, yada, yada, yada, and who would've thought that popcorn was right there alongside the people. I just think it's cute. (chuckles) Popcorn. Come on, that's cute.
This thing was there. Anyways, by 1848, popcorn officially made its way into the American dictionary. So now it's like a real thing. And the question here is how did corn go from like this holy, sacred representation of life to a stale piece of popcorn you find in your bra after watching like (sighs), just binge watching a night of like "Love Island", specifically the UK version? Do you eat it? Sometimes I eat it when I find it, like it's warm. Anyways, more after this.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I get curious about super weird things like, I don't know, the history of graham crackers. Spoiler: It's really freaking weird, okay? So I always end up going down a weird like Google search rabbit holes that I would, honestly, be a bit embarrassed for anyone to find. I know most of you are probably thinking like, "Why don't you just use Incognito mode, Bailey?" Well, let me tell you something, Incognito mode does not hide your activity. It doesn't matter what mode you use or how many times you clear your browser or history.
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That's expressvpn, E-X-P-R-E-S-SVPN.com/darkhistory. Visit expressvpn.com/darkhistory to learn more. Now, let's get back to today's story. (mysterious music) And we're back. All right, it's 1885 and popcorn is now mainstream. Popcorn.
She's hooting, she's hollering, and now she's mobile. Mobile. Oh yeah, baby. Thanks to the invention of the stream-powered popcorn maker vendors can now take this machine and sell popcorn on the streets to everyday people. This was revolutionary, mostly because snacks back then they had like potato chips or jello. They needed a kitchen in order to make and sell these products or food. So steam-powered popcorn machines were a huge hit at crowded places.
Think like the circus. Lots of people are coming and going and they want some popcorn while they watch the sad animals and stolen humans perform before their very eyes. You remember the circus. We did a whole episode on that. Yeah, it all started with the man with a small ego who liked horse tricks pretty much. And that's a summary.
It always does. Popcorn at the circus. Great, they did that. And we can't forget about baseball. Turns out while watching the ball game, people loved having something to snack on.
And this is when we, as the people, were introduced to a new type of popcorn called Cracker Jacks. Yeah, if you forgot, Cracker Jacks are technically popcorn. And if you don't know, a Cracker Jack is popcorn drowned in caramel and salty nuts. Side note or a fun fact, some historians consider Cracker Jacks the original American junk food.
It also introduced American kids to sweet popcorn. And this inspired a lot of people to get creative. This is America, so naturally they start saturating popcorn into sugar and fat and they just go off.
We love it. Basically, what I'm getting at, popcorn, in all her different forms, is literally popping off. Everywhere you go there seemed to be a steam-powered popcorn machine and like a monkey in a tiny suit trying to sell you a snack. And everyone at this time's buying.
I mean, the people who are walking by are mesmerized. When they see that steam-powered machine on the streets, they're like, "What is this," first of all. Many would stop and be like, "What is this?" And then of course, naturally, the delicious smell. Bitch. They're gonna stop, they're gonna look, they're gonna get a little show because the popcorns seemed to be like dancing. Dancing 'cause it was like popping off like fireworks. So it's like luring people in.
They would stop, they would stare, they would sniff, all the yeses are covered. So we've got the circus, we've got baseball, we've got the mobile steam popcorn machine. But I know when we say popcorn, every single one of us today, well, I shouldn't say that, but most of us think of the movies, right? 'Cause that's what I thought of, of course. But what if I told you that popcorn was actually banned from theaters for a very long time. It makes no sense, right, 'cause they go hand in hand.
But the joke is on theaters because popcorn always seems to win. So back in the early 1900s, movie theaters were considered, oh, very luxurious. It was like a place for the highbrow, the high class, the bougie people.
And they were like, "No peasants allowed." So when you walked in the theater, it was very ornate, like a grand opera house. I'm talking velvet seats, ooh, gorgeous rugs, ugh, big old, beautiful chandeliers. Bitch, movie theaters back then, I wish I coulda just seen it once because based off of photos I've seen it just was grand, lush, velvet, gold, glamor all for a movie. The best way I can describe what it looks like is like, you remember the scene of "Beauty and the Beast" where Belle and the Beast are dancing? The end scene, she's wearing the gold dress? It's very grand.
That's what the movie theaters look like. ♪ Tale as old as time ♪ With all that being said, it's safe to say these theaters had spent a pretty penny on carpets, very fancy, expensive rugs, and they wanted to keep them in pristine condition. And you know what wasn't pristine? Popcorn. Fucking popcorn. It could be messy as hell.
And the movie theaters, they didn't like that. So movie theaters banned popcorn because of this, being messy. And also, because, hello, movies were still silent back then and popcorn, she's a little loud. Then the year 1927 comes around.
And for the first time, movies they get sound. That must've been really fucking weird actually. Like, to see a movie for the first time with sound.
You'd be like, "What the fuck? We're in the future, man." But, okay, sound comes to the theater, but these theaters they're still holding out. They don't want popcorn to enter their building.
They want to appeal only to the rich, rich, gorgeous people. And apparently, rich people don't eat popcorn. That's what I've gathered from this. Okay, so all that's happening. But then guess who enters the scene? Something called the Great Depression, the good ol' GD.
Everyone was out of work. Food was hard to come by and people, they really didn't have extra money or cash for entertainment, for fun, for anything really, except for the basics. So theaters, they end up taking a very big hit because nobody wants to go see a movie. So guess who comes knocking at the door to save the day once again? Knock, knock. Who's there?
It's me. Popcorn. The theaters realized that if they want to survive, they have to lower their standards, they have to lower their prices, and they gotta get off that little fancy high horse of theirs, okay? So movie theaters, they're desperate for money and they go against their own rules, and they're like, "You know what, let the popcorn in. Let it in."
But if you wanted popcorn, they were gonna upcharge to cover rugs and shit that you're gonna mess up. And honestly, it works. The smell alone brought patrons in and they loved having something to snack on while they watched a movie.
And because there was now sound in the movies, I mean, you can't hear the loud ass crunching popcorn noise. It was a win-win. People were going out to the movies because it was less expensive now. They were able to spend quality time with their loved ones and they were still able to afford, like, a little escape from reality with popcorn right by their side. I'm telling you, popcorn has always been there for us, like, when we need it most. And then theaters, again, saw another opportunity.
They knew popcorn was inexpensive to buy. Let's say, for example, like 10 cents for a bag of kernels. So the theaters would then mark it up to like $1.50 for a small bucket of popcorn.
Now, math isn't my strong suit. But that sounds like they're making a lot of money. You know what I mean? (cash register dings) And it seems like people are down to buy the popcorn despite the crazy markup.
I mean, I don't think they know the difference. And it still holds true today. You go to the movies, small popcorn, like, 25 bucks. And you're like, "What the fuck?" Why? It's just pure profit for the theaters. Can I just bring my own popcorn? It's not the same, though. It's not the same. You can't. You can't; it's not the same.
If it's $25, for some reason, it's better. So the years carry on, right? And then we get to the year 1941, when America joins World War II. Now this sucks obviously.
Because of the war, lots of people, they stopped going to the movies, again, due to like financial strain. And honestly, who wants to go to the movies when potentially your loved one might not be coming home? They don't wanna go. They just stop going. So because of the war, lots of things were being rationed and sent out to the troops, one of them being sugar, which a little shout out to the, remember the zoot suit episode? Zoot Suit Riot? Do you remember that episode? They were like having a ration for the war. Lots of shit was happening around this time.
Anyway, so if candy was like your go-to snack, you had to pivot to something else. People are just having meltdowns. Just like, "No, not my Mike and Ikes." Well, guess what, it wasn't being rationed and was super cheap, but pretty tasty.
Popcorn. Damn, popcorn. You are here for us. And by this point, Americans are eating three times the amount of popcorn as they did before the war. So eating popcorn at this time actually becomes viewed as being, like, very patriotic, a way to support and show support for the troops. Yeah, eating popcorn, like...
♪ I'm proud to be an American ♪ ♪ When I get my popcorn free ♪ Come on, it worked. In the years after World War II, two important things happened that really impacted our friend, popcorn. One, sugar is back in town, baby, which is great, 'cause I love sugar, but all the candy-deprived people want their candy and they need their sugar effects or there's just so much more you can eat with sugar. Need I say more? No. And then two, there's an economic boom and more Americans can afford to buy televisions. Oh yeah.
So they're like, "Why go to the movies? I'll just stay home, sit on my couch. I love my couch. And I'm gonna watch the two channels I have." Yeah, 'cause they had like two channels. Good for them. Sounds like a good time, honestly.
But you know what would make the home movie experience even better? I don't know, maybe, what if we brought popcorn in a bag to people at home? Huh, idea. (bell dings) Maybe perhaps popcorn in a bag ready in two minutes with all the buttery and yummy seasonings already in there. That's right, baby. The microwave blasts into the scene. So there's this guy, his name's Percy Spencer, which totally sounds like a dog name, right, Percy? Oh, Pocahontas, wasn't the dog's name Percy? I think so.
I could be wrong, but that's a dog name. So he invents the microwave. We love him. He's my best friend. Without him, I wouldn't be alive. So he actually used popcorn kernels as a lab rat to run his microwave experiments, because it gave like Percy a good estimate of cook time, microwave strength. The heat, the pressure, the air, everything.
And because of the popcorn and like the kernel popping, they learned how to create the best microwave. Science, waves, science. Popcorn was there helping them along the way. And by the 1980s, microwaves are being mass produced and they end up finding their way into American homes. Now, people can enjoy their favorite snack with maximum convenience. Microwaveable popcorn.
It's quick, it's easy, it's delicious. Just like me. But guess what, it'll kill you.
Also just like me. Okay, look, convenience, great. We love convenience.
But when we mess with the natural gifts from mother earth, it's just a matter of time before it bites us like right in the butt, right? So, look, in the year 2000, a doctor reported that eight popcorn factory workers became super sick with a very rare lung disease that became known as, maybe you've heard of it today, popcorn lung. Oh yeah, popcorn lung, real thing, real thing. It's actually called bronchiolitis obliterans, but I can't say that, so we'll put it on screen. Do you need to know how to say it? No, just look at popcorn lung. You're fine.
And four of the eight workers were so sick they had to be put on the lung transplant waiting list. Horrible. So, like, what was making them so sick? Turns out it was the vapor from the popcorn's artificial butter.
It's like a chemical known or called diacetyl. I think I nailed that one. The factory workers who are packing the bags of microwave popcorn were inhaling these vapors all day every day. And I mean, it must've felt like a really great perk at first, inhaling buttery popcorn smell all day. (dark music) If they made that as an air freshener, I would, I would. So it must've been kinda nice.
But really the vapors that they were inhaling? They were toxic. They were making them sick. These workers started coughing nonstop. They were feeling intense shortness of breath.
They were getting really sick. And this was the chemical vapor essentially tearing apart their lungs, slowly suffocating the workers to death. And scarily enough, the American popcorn manufacturers didn't stop using this butter chemical until 2007.
And it's not even like a banned chemical, it's in lots of other things still to this day, like vapes. I was kinda like thinking about this and I got the chills 'cause like, didn't the Nahua god punish people for messing with their corn? Chemical butter, messing with the corn. Look it, maybe the cob was angry. Bitch, just, I don't know. I don't know. Just thought about it. It was a thought.
Okay, so popcorn lung. There's no cure for the condition and there really still isn't. So I would maybe just suggest you stop vaping, just put your mango nectar JUULpod down and just walk away because it's not good for you, friend. All right, so that's all the story I have for you. Great. What did we learn today, friends, question mark? Popcorn has been around forever and it definitely has seen some shit, right? I mean, think about it. All throughout your life popcorn and corn has been there, but you never thought twice about it.
My curious ass just want to know, like, where the hell it came from. And boy, was it a wild ride. After this episode and after researching everything, I just have to tell you that I am obsessed with corn. I was in the grocery store and I was looking at the corn with the, 'cause it had the green stuff on it, I was like, "Oh my God, corn is life, corn is body." I was getting all weird with the corn. I am a changed woman.
Now, the reason I want to tell you this story in the first place is because one, I found popcorn to be absolutely fascinating; and two, I think the takeaway here is to look around, Barbara. Like, who would've known that popcorn woulda meant so much to so many people throughout time, right? I mean, for me, it's just sitting, minding my own damn business, and the next thing I know my life is flipped upside down and I'm obsessed with corn, sacrificing myself in the corner, wearing someone else's skin. It's the everyday things you don't notice or maybe even take for granted that might have the wildest story.
My suggestion here or my takeaway for you is to stay corny but, most of all, stay curious. And maybe next time you're chowing down on some popcorn, first of all, think of me, hi, and then say a little thank you to the children who lost their heads for your bowl of popcorn. Well, everyone, thank you so much for learning with me today.
Remember, don't be afraid to ask questions or just be curious because it's fun. I'd love to hear your guys' reactions or thoughts to today's story. So make sure to use the #darkhistory over on social media so I can see what you guys are saying, thinkin', vibin' with, I don't know.
Join me over on my YouTube, where you can actually watch these episodes on Thursday after the podcast airs. And while you're there, also catch "Murder, Mystery, and Makeup". I hope you have a wonderful day today. You eat lots of popcorn, make good choices, and I'll be talking to you next week.
Goodbye. Dark History is an Audioboom original. This podcast is executive produced by me, Bailey Sarian, Dunia McNeily from Three Arts, Kevin Grush, and Claire Turner. Writers: Allyson Philobos, Katie Burris, and Joey Scavuzzo, oh, and me too, Bailey Sarian.
Shot and edited by Tafadzwa Nemarundwe. Research provided by Ashley Spurgeon. A big special thank you to our popcorn expert out there, Andy Smith. Hey, Andy. Thank you.
And I'm your host, Bailey Sarian. Now go have some popcorn, goddamnit! (mysterious music)