Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fred Flintstone Killed Me

The premise of today's blog entry may seem outlandish, but if you’ll bear with me I think I can prove it out.

A few months ago I was doing some research for my gig on The Forrest Carr show on Tucson’s PowerTalk 1210 when I came across a TV commercial online that just blew me away.  The spot, dating from the early 60’s, had appeared originally in The Flintstones, what was then billed as a prime time animated series aimed at equal parts children and adults.   Barney and Fred had just walked into the back yard and were noticing that their spouses, Betty and Wilma, were doing the chores.  “Man, I hate to see them work so hard,” Barney opined, at which point Fred agreed:  “So let’s go around back where we can’t see ‘em.”  At which point the two of them decide a cigarette break is in order; they proceed to bust out with a package of Winstons.  Barney blows out a cloud of hot air big enough to have rescued Dorothy and Toto from Oz while Fred rolls off with a verse of the Winston Jingle, which you may remember if you’re old enough:  “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should....”  I remember that first line, and as well I should; in 1998 Advertising Age voted it the 9th most effective TV jingle of the 20th century.

The tobacco commercials aired within the show and were presented by the program’s characters as program vignettes.  “Your’re kidding,” you ask.  “They were marketing death sticks directly to children—and that was legal?” 

Yes.  The jingle appeared on the scene in 1954. It’s not clear when it made its debut on the Flintstones show, but we do know the run continued until the advent of the third generation of Flintstones in the form of Pebbles and Bamm Bamm in 1963.   Remember, the target audience for the Flintstones was both adults and children.  Perhaps that bothered some people.  R.J. Reynolds also sponsored the Walter Cronkite news program, but Uncle Walt steadfastly refused to read the jingle.  Think you know the grounds for his objection?  Pfaw.  His  problem with it was that the slogan was grammatically incorrect.  (It should have been “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”  We all have our issues and perspectives, don’t we?)
As I recall, we kiddies didn’t read it either.  We had our own version:  “Winston tastes bad like the one I just had.  No filter, no flavor, just a roll of toilet paper.”  I’m not sure who was corrupting whom here.  But the salient point remains is that here we were, kids aged anywhere from 3 to 9, singing about cigarettes in our own homes, school hallways and playgrounds.  What a coup for the tobacco companies!  The idea that cigarette smoking was a completely safe and pleasurable activity was firmly implanted in kids’ heads from that day forward. 

And it also got implanted that cigarette smoking was an adult activity.  When I asked my father, at the tender age of 6, if I could try one, he let me know in very certain terms that just like beer drinking, cigarettes were strictly for adults.  This was more marketing genius; an explanation of that type made me only want to try it more.

There was nothing like the effect TV advertisements had on kids in the 60’s, and never will be again.  I’m still feeling the effects, half a century later.  Yesterday it caused me to go on another Cap’n Crunch run.

If this hard left turn here in the blog narrative toward Cap’n Crunch lost you, hang on because there is a connection.  I told you recently that I couldn’t eat Cap’n Crunch because of (1) lactose intolerance and (2) it sometimes goes down wrong, leading to a sensation not unlike shoveling gravel down my windpipe, which in turn leads to a long bout of coughing and hacking (in the research, Cap’n Crunch “taking off the roof of your mouth” turns up as a common consumer complaint).   I suspect this would be tough enough for a non-asthmatic to handle, but it was really rough on someone like me.  When I checked one of my favorite stores earlier this week, they only had a Cap’n Crunch knock-off called “Crunch Berries,” which sounded a lot like something my high school gym coach used to threaten to give me if I didn’t haul my butt down the track quickly enough.  I never did meet his satisfaction, because my parents and pediatrician had withheld from both of us the fact that I was an asthmatic from whom treatment had been withheld, on the grounds that knowledge of my condition could cause me to view myself as a life-long cripple.  So my school athletic life was filled with endless threats and derision and the occasional crunch-berry vision, but never with the thrill of victory.  I did, however, come away with a love of Cap’n Crunch that continues to this day.  Alas, I decided yesterday that even though I did find the stand-alone product available for sale, in my current medical condition I just can’t risk another asthmatic or breathing panic attack.  I mean, the consequences of swallowing this stuff the wrong way can be brutal.  Imagine a conveyor belt filled with big chunks of brick pavers, asphalt, rock debris of all kind—you’re the conveyor.  The taste might actually be worth it if you live though the experience, an issue that sometimes can be in doubt for an hour or so.   Yesterday I was having bad chest pains so I gave it all up as a bad idea.

I did resume my search for my little buddy Quisp, though.  Quisp is a little space alien who came out at roughly the same time as Cap’n Crunch.  The serial, shaped like little flying saucers, was roughly the same in taste and texture, but softer and less likely to go down the wrong way.  Alas, Quisp was discontinued from the market after only a few years, but interestingly Quaker Oats does offer it for sale on line through Amazon, and perhaps other places.  I have always thought that Quisp was discriminated against for  having a lisp—and if that’s not so, why did Quaker Oats find it necessary to come out with a manly-man companion named “Quake” as a sidekick?  I have not gotten over Quisp and think it’s time for him to return and fight for his rights.  There is no reason in the world why some stuffed-up executive should be allowed to continue depriving me of my childhood buddy. 

And besides, it was those boardroom buttheads that got me addicted to these sugary cereals and other bad things in the first place.  Shame on all of you.  And for the record, whatever happened to Wheaties as the epitome of athletically-tuned nutrition?

Actually, I’m not nearly so worked up about the sugar thing and should probably be grateful.  After the collapse of my taste buds during chemotherapy, my sugar tooth is about all I have left.  Doctors put me on notice that anything I find appealing and will eat, I should eat.  Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms—all of them are as tasty to me now as the day I first tried them out.  My weight is going up, which is a good thing.  The only bad thing is that my face is looking blocky, a predictable side effect of the steroids I’m using to enhance my appetite.

But for the second-hand smoke allures of Fred  Flintstone and the others, we’ve got some serious talking to do.  My cancer so fits the profile not of second hand smoke but of primary smoking that I’m not sure I ever did convince my doctors that I have never smoked.  My diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic abdominal cancer is now six months old.  I lay blame for it directly at the feet of executives who worked so hard to insert tobacco smoke into what should have been a childhood sanctuary against illness and disease—and succeeded. 

Marketing is a war, not a battle.  The marketers fought hard to put tobacco into the Carr household and they won—true, these specific teams didn’t get their particular brands placed (my parents smoked Kents, not Winstons).  But I was exposed to second-hand smoke for my entire childhood.   I’d be eating Quisp cereal today were it easily available—but it’s not.  Instead there are plenty of other sugary products to choose from.  In either case, I think the battle of hard-working marketing executives is done here, don’t you?


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