Tony the Tiger and the Delusion of Greatness

Tony the Tiger posing with Groucho Marx
Tony the Tiger posing with Groucho Marx, host of “You Bet Your Life.”

Tony the Tiger was born in 1952, just a year after I was. We grew up together. Who in my generation can’t immediately conjure his iconic stripes and hear him announce “Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes: They’re grrrreat!”?

Tony and I grew up in the new and exciting era of television and—more important—the era of marketing to that new and massive (and ever aging) consumer cohort known as the Baby Boom.

The whole point of marketing is to appeal to people’s emotions. In other words, sell to their desires instead of their needs. Before the Age of Consumerism, people of modest means could buy only what they needed. Today, thanks to a great product called “credit,” most of us can buy just about anything we want.

But let’s get back to Tony the Tiger and what he was selling for his employer, the Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Michigan. Did know that John Harvey Kellogg, MD, invented the corn flake to serve as a nutritious and wholesome breakfast to the residents of the sanitarium he owned and administered? He was a pioneer and proponent of plant-based nutrition. John’s brother, Will Keith, who worked as J.H.’s assistant, was the entrepreneur in the Kellogg family. After the brothers had a falling-out, W.K. added sugar to the unpalatable corn flake and forged on to make Kellogg’s a household name and himself a wealthy man.*

Neither of the Kellogg brothers lived to see Tony’s birth. J.H. died in 1943 and W.K. in 1951. By the time Tony came along, Kellogg’s had added a coating of sugar to the moderately sweetened corn flake.

Tony’s job was to convince children’s parents that ultra-sweetened corn flakes were better than plain ones. Sugar Frosted Flakes tasted great, maybe, but they definitely weren’t nutritionally good for you. In Tony’s case, as in so many others, better nutrition wasn’t the goal. Profit was the goal.

“Sugar coating” applies to more things than food. The tobacco industry used it for years with such slogans as “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” and for Pall Malls, “Outstanding…and they are Mild!” Unlike Kellogg’s, though, the tobacco industry didn’t sugar coat something already only marginally unwholesome. It sugar-coated something lethal.

This brings me to Donald Trump (you knew this was coming, right?) and his magnificent marketing slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Although it sounds reasonable, especially to many in our beleaguered working class, Trump’s misleading slogan sugar-coats a sociopolitical diet of slow-working toxins.

Beneath the slogan are policies that harm people, physically and psychologically. There are policies that harm the country, physically and socially. There are policies that threaten both stable and tenuous international relationships. There are policies that threaten our constitutional democracy and republic to its core. There are policies that have potential to lead us into more unnecessary and ever more destructive wars. And behind all the great-making is a great deal of profit-taking.

Donald Trump is the master deceiver. His ability to deceive made his election possible. Assisting him in the subterfuge is his Minister of Propaganda, Steve Bannon, along with a number of other sugar-coating surrogates.

Since the election, I’ve taken a renewed interest in social media as a force for sociopolitical change, a necessity I can no longer ignore. I realize so much found in the ether is angry and vulgar nonsense, but there is value and substance too. Occasionally, I’m compelled to add my own two bits of snark and sarcasm by conflating the slogans of the two cultural icons featured in this article. For example:

Excess sugar is nutritionally dangerous. The Trump/GOP agenda is socially dangerous. That they are otherwise is a delusion. Neither of them is grrrreat! Believe me.


*Here’s a documentary about those fascinating Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek, Michigan, and how they created Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Why We Would Have Been Better off with President McCain

Sarah Palin and John McCain in Albuquerque
John McCain and Sarah Palin, Albuquerque, NM, Sept. 6, 2008. Photo by Matthew Reichbach, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As much as I appreciate Barack Obama for what he’s done and tried to do, I’m beginning to think we’d all have been better off had John McCain won the last election. 

Yes, it would be nice that gasoline would now be around $2 a gallon and my home double its 2007 value and not nearly half.

But I am certain about two things that would not be. 

First, there would be no Tea Party, which was an immediate reflex to Obama’s election, and the government would be humming along—and no doubt growing—nicely.

Second, we would not have Sarah Palin wandering as a free agent, continuing to pretend to know what she’s talking about. If she had been elected vice-president she would have been efficiently muzzled and hobbled to make sure she could not embarrass McCain with her disconnected blathering. Of course a Vice-president Palin would not be out there railing against Obama, who still would be a Senator from Illinois (would Rod Blagojevich still be governor?). No, her political career would have come to an effective end (if she hadn’t resigned first) at the hands of her own handlers. None of us would still be suffering the insufferable Sarah Palin.

But because she wasn’t elected vice-president, she’s still out there, within the safe confines of Fox News, where she’s encouraged to entertain and rouse Party loyalists.

I don’t see relief any time soon.

Make Chest X-Rays Mandatory for Cigarette and Cigar Purchases

Photo: Wikimedia

In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration ruled that cigarette makers put one of nine graphic images on each pack of cigarettes for sale in the United States. The purpose was to warn people of the deadly dangers of tobacco use. The ghastly images—meant to dissuade people from smoking—were to be in use by October of 2012.

In February, however, a federal judge ruled the images unconstitutional. This is a travesty, an abomination.

Smoking kills. We know that. People who smoke are slowly killing themselves. They also are slowly killing those around them who are unfortunately forced to inhale clouds of carcinogenic smoke. We have to stop this.

Click image to see all nine

But I think the government’s anti-smoking campaigns are. That’s because our perceptions have all along been misguided. For example, the tamest of the nine images says, “Warning: Tobacco smoke can harm your children.” That’s cloudy thinking.

The truth is, smoke and smoking don’t kill people. People who smoke kill people.

Is it too harsh to say smoking is not only a crime but is a sin? I don’t think so. It may not be among the biblical lists of things that evokes God’s wrath, but I think it’s safe to say God would agree that taking a life through the deliberate act of smoking is just as bad as any other way. More than anything else, this is a religious problem

We must stop these suicides and homicides. So here’s my proposal: Enact a law to make chest x-rays mandatory before purchasing of a pack of cigarettes or cigars. After the x-ray, you must then sit down with a radiologist, a cancer specialist, and a counselor. You will then be issued a certificate with a date and time stamp. After a reasonable waiting period of 24 hours (per pack or single cigar), you may present your certificate and buy your tobacco product.

I can see right off that there are some logistical and ethical problems with my plan. But I’m a big-idea person. I leave it up the lawmakers and attorneys to close the loopholes and sort through these relatively minor concerns. After all, the purpose here is to save lives. 

As I said, this is a religious and moral issue. I call on clergymen and clergywomen across the country to use their positions of influence to speak out against this dreadful scourge. Frankly, I have no idea why they haven’t been doing this all along. Perhaps they just haven’t thought about it. 

It’s terribly unfortunate that trafficking in tobacco is legal in this country. Yes, I know it goes back to colonial days, and smoking is part of the American psyche. But in this case our founders were very misguided. It’s time we got on the right track.

Disclaimer: I used to smoke. But I haven’t for more than 20 years. Make of that what you will.