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.

On Our (Not So) Great Racial Divide

”The two platforms” From a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republican exponents of black suffrage, issued during the 1866 Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. Democratic candidate Hiester Clymer’s platform as “for the White Man,” represented here by the idealized head of a young man. (Clymer ran on a white-supremacy platform.) In contrast a stereotyped black head represents Clymer’s opponent James White Geary’s platform, “for the Negro.”*

Pious White America created a racist environment—with its ongoing consequences—at the nation’s inception, and it has steadfastly maintained it since. Barack Obama, as the first black president, could do nothing to change those two facts. Nor will Donald Trump, as the first authoritarian president, be able to do so—should he even care.

In the country’s early days, the small ruling class had three big forces of opposition: natives, poor whites, and blacks (free and slave). The threat of overthrow was a constant worry. If any two of these groups banded together in opposition, the party was over. The prevailing strategy of control was to keep the three groups at odds with one another.**

Genocide, over time, took care of the Native Americans, rendering those who survived toothless. But the black-white problem persists through its deliberate nurturing. Trump’s promise of “law and order” will not solve anything other than maintaining the violent tension and keeping private prisons profitable.

If the racial divide never existed, ours would be a much different country. If you tell me it would be worse, then you have reason to support the divide with all its negative consequences. If you say it would be better, then what part will you play in breaking down the barriers?

*Image and description of poster from Wikimedia Commons.
** See The People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

Roots of Division – Part 2: Roe v. Wade

Demonstrators voice opposing views on abortion.

In Part 1 of this series I suggested that the Senate Watergate hearings of 1973—which along with the encompassing investigation, led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation—was such an embarrassment to the Republican Party that ever since it has tried to live it down by beating down and demonizing the Democratic Party.

Aiding and abetting the effort, Rush Limbaugh and many like him, took to the air and Internet, ranting about the evils of Liberalism and everyone connected with it. These constant right-wing drum beats helped rally the faithful to one side of the field and outfit them in the jerseys of TeamRed. The goal? Overthrowing America’s (perceived) enemy of all that is good and true: TeamBlue.

A major affront to the Conservative notion of good came on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the ruling that gave women in all states the right to seek abortion. (Before then, it was already legal in five states.)

Roe v. Wade and Watergate were gigavolt jolts to the Conservative psyche, one right after the other. The festering wounds they caused continue to poison the sociopolitical atmosphere of the United States.

One of the many powers of the president is to appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the case of a vacancy. That’s always a consideration during a presidential race. Voters expect Liberal candidates to appoint liberal judges who would vote favorably on cases that came before them. The same expectation holds for Conservative voters.

Ever since Roe v. Wade became law, Republicans have fought to control who sits on the Supreme Court and, therefore, the opportunity to overturn the ruling.

During his January 11, 2017, press conference, President Trump said:

"But on the Supreme Court, I'll be making that decision, and it will be a decision which I very strongly believe in. I think it's one of the reasons I got elected. I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected."

Trump did not have to utter the words “Roe v. Wade.” The whole country knew what he meant. The Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration showed his widely perceived intention.

Why is abortion so divisive? For Conservatives, it’s strictly a moral issue. Abortion, at any stage and under any circumstances, is murder. For liberals, it is not so black-and-white. And it’s less of a moral issue than it is a social and personal one.

In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Henry Blackmun wrote:

"The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation."

This runs counter to a Conservative worldview built on the absolute conviction of right-wrong morality governed by strictly moral authority. There is no gray area and no sympathy for those who live within it.

Legal or not, like it or not, abortion has always been part of human activity and with social ramifications. Making it illegal will not make it go away:

  • Women with resources and who are intent on abortion will have one.
  • Pregnant women who are intent on birth may be forced into abortion by others—with or without the resources for a safe procedure—to make it happen.
  • Poor women without resources and who seek abortion will put their lives in jeopardy.

With or without adequate resources, women who feel compelled to give birth to an unwanted child, as suggested by Judge Blackmun, are likely to suffer mental and financial problems they may be unable to manage. And an unwanted child is at a great disadvantage from birth and more likely to be a lifelong drain on society.*

The personal and societal effects of illegal abortion lean toward the negative.

A not-so-subtle hypocrisy exists within the pro-life movement.

If abortion is strictly a moral issue, then we must talk also of guns and other weapons of war, war itself (which always entails murder of innocents), extreme Capitalism, systemic racism, political corruption, voter suppression, social and political injustice, etc. Aren’t all these immoral? In particular, we must talk of forcing an unwanted child—especially a poor one—into a world where he or she has little chance of wholesome or real survival. Thanks to a sociopolitical mindset that is dead set against programs designed to help them, for many, it’s a life of poverty, crime, and prison. Isn’t this akin to murder?

Roe v. Wade is law. Whether it is upheld by future courts or struck down, the division it has created will endure.

Part 3: The Vietnam War coming soon. For Part 1: Watergate, go here.

*For an in-depth analysis of the relationship between abortion and crime, read Chapter 4 of Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.