Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eat Me!

It's that time again, everybody. It's time to call bullshit!

And who or what has drawn my ire today? On whom shall said bullshit be called?

Why, food marketing, of course!

Specifically, I call bullshit on the convention of creating sentient, talking mascots THAT ARE MADE OF THE VERY SAME FOOD YOU'RE TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO EAT.

Because eww.

"We were going to get married and start a family. But nevermind. You're snacky."

Don't get me wrong. I totally understand why this seems like a no-brainer. "Hey, we sell chicken, let's make our mascot a cartoon chicken!" Boom. Done.

At first blush, it makes perfect sense. You want your customers to associate your brand with a particular item ... so you make your mascot a cartoon version of that item. Sure! Everybody does it. Hey, if it works for the Michelin Man, why not us? Easy-peasy!

But it just gets weird when it's food.

Because it's way creepy to have a character effusively encouraging you to devour him and others of his kind.

"Oh yeah! Guzzle my lifeblood after soccer practice!"

The list of these masochistic quisling pitch-men is long. Here are just a few from the top of my head ... Twinkie the Kid, the M&M guys, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Mayor McCheese, Mister Peanut, the Taco Bell Chihuahua ... and on and on and on ...

(Yes, I know technically Taco Bell is made from blanched wood pulp and ground horse faces, but that's close enough to dog meat for my purposes.)

The point is, this creepy convention is pervasive in the food industry and it's been around for years and years.

At least this guy has it figured out. "Sulf-prezurvashun, bichezz."

There are, of course, companies that neatly sidestep the moral quagmire. The Quaker Oats guy, Tony the Tiger, Burger King, Chester Cheetah, Colonel Sanders, Toucan Sam, Ronald McDonald ... none of these characters are pedaling products rendered from their own flesh.

(I have a theory McDonald's cheeseburgers are at least 30% elderly clown meat, but I can't prove it.)

That said, there are other companies who dive face-first into that quagmire and splash about with gleeful abandon.

Don't even get me started on these cannibalistic sociopaths.

But if you like your psychological fucked-up-edness served with a heaping side of crippling emotional trauma then the guy you want to talk to is one Charles T. "Charlie" Tuna.

With Charlie, Starkist really amps up the creepy by giving him a very strong point of view on the subject.

Is he horrified at the prospect of being killed? Guilt-ridden that he is leading his brethren to the slaughter? Nervous? Scared? Skittish in the least?


Charlie is eager ... no enthusiastic ... no ... flat-out desperate to be hooked, gutted, steamed, flaked, canned and eventually chewed to a fine paste by humans.

"Pleeease! Murder me with your teeth! Even though I talk! Have deep-seated feelings of inadequacy! Shop for personalized embroidered hats! And apparently go to an ophthalmologist!"

In fact, his life's dream -- his entire sense of self worth -- hinges upon whether he is good enough to die by the fork and teeth of humanity. Anything less is crushing failure.

For Charlie, there is no higher calling than being sluiced through the human alimentary canal. (Such madness, presumably, mercury-induced.)

Just Google some old Starkist commercials and you'll see. For over fifty years, despite all his yearning and all his wishing ... at every turn he is rebuffed and rejected. Every day fills him with new hope and every day the hook descends from the heavens with his answer ... "Sorry Charlie."



His wheel of pain keeps coming round and round to crush his soul afresh. He yearns, but he will never be good enough. He is Prometheus, forever chained to his rock, reliving his torment every day for eternity. And every day the eagles come. And every day they decide his liver isn't good enough to peck out. So they just hit the drive-thru and make him watch.

Charlie's true punishment? That he must go on living.

Samuel Becket would have looked at this ad campaign and said: "Whoa. Guys. Little bleak, isn't it?"

Dude, are there even words for all the shit that's wrong with you?

Now, I really want to believe that Charlie's constant suicidal ideation creeped people out over the years. I want to believe that this produced a feeling of unease in the American eater. I want to believe it hurt sales on some level.

Sure, maybe it's on a level that conventional math has never been able to measure, but I desperately want to believe that with the judicious application of some that Nate-Silver-Super-Math -- that maybe we can find some proof that the idea of stuffing a walking, talking being into your mouth and brutally tooth-murdering him kinda turns people off.

I really do want to believe that.

But I don't.

Because we humans will eat anything. Regardless of any feelings that thing might evoke in us. Guilt, sadness, pity, terror, disgust ...

Doesn't matter. Down it goes.

We'll eat anything.

Any. Goddamn. Thing.

Need proof?


We know what lobster tastes like.

Hell, we even have a chain of mid-level family restaurants dedicated specifically to that very activity.

"But lobster is delicious," you say. "How is that proof? People love eating delicious things."

Sure, but at first we didn't know lobster was delicious. But at some point in history, there was that first guy who looked at a lobster and said to his buddy:

"See that giant, terrifying ocean roach with the nightmarish snapping claws?"


"I'm gonna put that in my mouth."

"Seems reasonable."

"I hope it's delicious."


"But you know what would make it better?"

"If it begged and pleaded to be eaten?"


"We could pretend it did."

"With cartoons?"

"Of course."


"I'll get the butter."

So resigned.
So very resigned.

Till next we meet ...