Feeding on sugar-frosted capitalism

Joel Stein

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

JOEL STEIN: I learned everything I needed to know about the capitalist system from commercials for sugar cereals.

KAI RYSSDAL: Commentator Joel Stein.

Stein: I got to choose one sugary cereal every year for our vacation week on the Jersey shore, and I spent the previous 11 and three-quarter months parsing the marketing campaigns.

"Honeycomb's big. Yeah, yeah, yeah! It's not small! No, no, no!" weren't the most complicated lyrics that anyone's ever come up with, but I could tell I was being peddled value, something I wasn't looking for in a once-a-year purchase.

I liked the anti-authoritarian feel of the Trix rabbit, but the fact that he was told, in a weirdly apartheid-like way, that he couldn't have any because "Trix are for kids" completely clashed with my aspirational aims toward adulthood.

Lucky Charms laid claims to the magic of making things delicious, but even back then I could see that there was some cheap sleight-of-hand that repackaged dehydrated hot chocolate marshmallows in different shapes and colors.

Kellog's Froot Loops baffle me to this day. It seems like an ad for kids created by a wine snob. "You see, guys, this toucan with an enormous nose, kind of a supertaster bird, is going to fly around pointing out notes of strawberry, lemon and dark cherries. Kids'll love it!"

You see, an entire industry, filled with corporations with serious-sounding names like Post and General Mills was desperate to win me over. And I took that responsibility of choosing very seriously.

Sure, my base desires screamed Cookie Crisps — the genius of an entire bowl of milk-dunked cookies that I was allowed to eat for breakfast — but that's not who I wanted to be.

I wanted to be mature, smart, subtle — to simply "touch my tummy with a taste of nuts and honey." I got my parents to buy me Honey Nut Cheerios.

Now kids won't have that kind of capitalist training. And I fear for our nation's future.

Ryssdal: Joel Stein is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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