In this chapter, Gladwell explores two big epidemics—suicide in the Islands of Micronesia and teenage smoking. The chapter begins with a story of a young teenage boy in Micronesia by the name of Sima who experiences a misunderstanding with his father. One particular morning, Sima’s father orders him to go and look for a specific kind of knife in the nearest town. When the boy fails to come back with the knife, his father becomes angry and chases him away telling the boy never to return. Out of desperation, the boy leaves and eventually hangs himself. When this particular incident happened, suicides seldom happened in Micronesia. Gladwell proclaims that some years later, Micronesia experienced several instances of teenage suicides that originated from disagreements between teenagers and their parents or lovers. Suicide became the norm of the day with some anthropologists even arguing that suicide had become an integral part of Micronesia’s culture. Indeed, the aspect of teenage suicides has mainly been expressed in literature, film and music.
Gladwell compares the epidemic of teenage suicides with that of teenage smoking where traditional measures to combat smoking had proved futile. Just like smoking, suicides can be contagious, with high-profile suicides becoming the tipping points. What he means is that the first suicide case opens the idea to other teenagers to follow suit and commit suicide as well. Gladwell strongly suggests that imitators tend to copy the behavior, get influenced and choose the initial method of suicide. Suicide, therefore, becomes a language familiar to individuals sharing a subculture similar to teen smoking. As Gladwell explains, heavy smokers have certain behaviors that are adored by teenagers such as being rebellious and impulsive. Indeed, many smokers associate their smoking habits with certain personalities they see in pop culture.