Why Do We Believe People Will Slip on Banana Peels?

Photo: davidgoldmanphoto

The newest viral video sensation called the Banana Peel Challenge tests whether or not we can believe such authorities as Bugs Bunny or the makers of MarioKart when it comes to the slipperiness of banana peels. Since this is a better waste of teenagers' time than say, smoking chemicals from underneath the sink or huffing dangerous amounts of cinnamon, the popularity of this quest for truth has made us wonder why are bananas peels slippery and where did the ‘ol make-em-slip-on-a-banana trick come from?

We are not the first to wonder this. Two years ago a Japanese team won an Ig Nobel Prize (the spoof awards presented by Harvard) when it discovered why banana peels are slippery. Within the banana skin are tiny follicles that, when any pressure is exerted on them (for instance, a foot step) release a gel of polysaccharide molecules, which make it more slippery than other fruit peels.

So, why would anyone think of using an innocent banana peel as a fall-inducing weapon? According to Mythbusters, in the early 1900s, bananas became a widely popular fruit. Once eaten people, would discard their peels by simply tossing them on the sidewalk. If the peels sat there for long enough they began to rot and became even more dangerously slippery. Enough people started sliding on them that many warnings were issued about discarding bananas peels improperly. According to the book Bananas: An American History, Sunday Schools urged kids to toss bananas in designated receptacles because a victim of the peel would get a broken limb. The situation became so dire that local governments, like those in St. Louis, had to pass laws outlawing the throwing of banana peels on public walkways.

Despite how awful it is to see someone fall, it is still pretty funny. So naturally, after seeing enough people slipping and sliding on banana peels, the situation made its way into comedy. The potassium-loaded hazards became Vaudeville staples. From the stage the banana peel pratfall made its natural transition into comedy shorts and, of course, cartoons, the social commentaries of the day. Bugs Bunny vs Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner, all featured tumbles on a strategically placed banana wrapper.

So while it’s ubiquitous now, the banana peel fall has over a century of history behind it. And if you find yourself a party to the banana peel challenge, just know, the idea originally came about because we are filthy, slovenly people who just can’t figure out how to use a trashcan.

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