Carlisle: Tony the Tiger vs. Michael Phelps
In my journey from childhood to adulthood, it’s a sign of childhood’s continuing struggle that Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes have been a breakfast staple throughout. As a kid, I never cared one whit about Tony the Tiger, although I did collect box tops for an orange striped tiger head that growled at the press of a button. I don’t remember what happened to the growler or the Schwinn Sting Ray (yeah, one with the banana seat) on which I’d mounted the thing, although I’d like them back for sentimental and financial reasons; as collectibles, both are worth their weight in Frosted Flakes.
Over the years, I’ve spooned in bowl after bowl for the taste and yes, because it’s relatively healthy, certainly better than granola (you just go check how much sugar is in granola, and how little else ” go ahead, I’ll wait) or bacon and eggs. And wherever I’ve lived, in the U.S. or abroad, in South America or the Middle East or Europe, the flakes have been there. That’s no surprise, since Kellogg’s is the world’s biggest cereal maker, with 40 percent of the global cereal market. That alone probably explains how quickly Kellogg’s dropped Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps after a photo surfaced of Phelps in flagrante debongo at a party. Of special worry to Kellogg’s is the reaction in China, where cereal bowls are filled in a scant 2 percent of households. But while Kellogg’s may think that dumping Phelps aligns the company with America’s center, when that last spoonful has been swallowed, dropping Phelps will prove costly for Kellogg’s because Phelps is no fringe element; toking is central to more folks than anyone at Kellogg’s can imagine or admit.
Now, let’s be clear: Using weed is illegal, and I believe that ballot efforts to “decriminalize” pot in Denver, Boulder, and elsewhere only confuse people and obscure the true situation, where a majority use and intolerance is on the fringe. The evidence of the trend is there: from the 1995 survey wherein nearly 40 percent of county parents admitted to using weed regularly and saw no reason to discourage their kids; to poker games where I was the only player without swag or chronic; and mountain bike rides with elected officials where Gu and Powerbars kept company with a variety of dried leaves, seeds and stems.
And then there’s Oprah. I’ve never watched an entire show, nor liked or disliked anyone or anything on her say-so. There are, however, millions of Americans who do and who buy books or choose politicians on her advice. She is the most influential woman in media, even though she’s unmarried, childless, a black woman of inconsequential origins in the South, without wealth or family influence, who lives with her white boyfriend. Everything she is screams fringe, outside society and majority norms of family and marriage, where wealthy white men rule the roost and relax with legal drugs such as tobacco and beer. Drive, commitment and desire alone don’t account for her success. While Tiger Woods succeeds on drive and desire, success in the world of media ” where talking heads are a dime a dozen, shopping mall focus groups decide what’s on the air, and network television is ruled by boards of directors composed of millionaires, all married, white family men over 60 ” requires another explanation in addition to luck and desire. Oprah is successful not despite her situation and background, but because of them, because unmarried, childless, with a minority heritage from the south and west without a family name or wealth, is what most Americans identify as the norm. It’s no surprise that Oprah reportedly enjoys a blunt from time to time, as do most Americans ” from the loan officer at the bank to the cook at your favorite restaurant to the police officer charged with fighting crime. Kellogg’s was wrong to unceremoniously drop Phelps, and I thought of boycotting Frosted Flakes ” since bong hits are not performance enhancers and what Phelps does on his own time is his own business.
Most importantly, like it or not, Phelps is in the mainstream, and Kellogg’s is on the fringe. I’ve always welcomed fringe elements, so to demonstrate my solidarity with the rebels at Battle Creek, I’ll keep buying their cereal. Power to the Tiger!
Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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