THIS YEAR IN FEAR: 2003, when people were afraid of rainbow parties

Toward the end of 2002, pediatrician Meg Meeker published a book alerting us all to a heretofore unknown scourge sweeping the nation: Rainbow parties.

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No, silly, not those kinds of rainbow parties.

This kind:

[Allyson] had heard some kids were going to have a “rainbow party,” but had no idea what that meant. Still, she thought it might be fun, and arranged to attend with a friend. After she arrived, several girls (all in the eighth grade) were given different shades of lipstick and told to perform oral sex on different boys to give them “rainbows.” Once she realized what was happening, Allyson was too stunned and frightened to do anything. When a girl gave her some lipstick, she refused at first but, with repeated pressure, finally gave in. “It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever done.”

See, from our perspective as denizens of the year 2015, this seems obviously absurd and overblown (sorry). But in 2003, this was cause for much media handwringing.

Miles O’Brien on CNN:  “Do you know what a rainbow party is? If you’re parents, you better listen up. Your teenage daughter might know. She’s reading about it in a sexually explicit young-adult novel that puts an emphasis on ‘adult’ to say the least.”

Tucker Carlson on MSNBC: “Thirteen-year-old girls having oral sex? Everybody knows it happens. But according to a number of recent press accounts, it happens a lot. Not just in bad neighborhoods but in your neighborhood. Probably in your child’s school. Scared yet? If not, you don’t have a 13-year-old daughter.”

The panic reaches its 2005 zenith with the publication of the novel, Rainbow Party, by Paul Ruditis, in which the world’s weirdest group of teen girls plan an oral sex party. (Really?! Girls would plan this. Shelve this one under Fantasy, male.)

The craziness only begins to die down once people stop flailing their hands long enough to really wonder whether or not hordes of teenage girls across the country would be willing to band together and use their mouths to paint brightly colored stripes on a boy’s penis. And then that teenage boys, after receiving oral sex several times, would manage to sustain erections long enough to compare “rainbows” with each other. That this had ever happened, you know, here on planet Earth.

As Tamar Lewin of the New York Times wrote, shortly before this “phenomenon” started being reclassified as horse pucky, “Many say rainbow parties are just a new urban legend—suburban, actually—not much more trustworthy than the old stories about alligators in the sewer.”

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Actually, maybe even less.