“Stealing Food” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved
How many times have we seen this one? Personally, my earliest recollections of this theme were McDonald’s “Hamburger”, “Leggo my Eggo”, The Frito Bandito & fresh brats forcibly taking bowls of cereal away from both Trix the Rabbit & the Lucky Charms leprechaun respectively. In the Eggo ads, the message conveyed in the commercials was that there had better not be anyone except for you within a block of your toaster when you are making Eggo waffles, or else you won’t be the one enjoying them. In fact your own mother will turn into a hardened criminal by snatching your freshly toasted Eggo away from you before you have a chance to take it out of the toaster yourself. Apparently there was nothing the protagonist could do once their rival laid their hands on the waffle either. They always let the mooch have it even though they themselves had prepared it (cooties, perhaps?). In the real world, if person B were to grab a hold of an Eggo that person A had toiled over a toaster to prepare, person B wouldn’t get the waffle. Instead, they’d end up at the business end of a knuckle sandwich also prepared by person A. At least that’s how it would have worked in my world; rue the day you covet my Eggo for I will lay you out and stand triumphantly on your neck. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been a successful ad campaign though.
Then there was the “Frito Bandito”. That didn’t play on demeaning stereotypes of the day, did it? Oh no, not at all. Here was an overtly Mexican character with a long handle bar mustache, wearing a poncho and a sombrero who not only stole your Fritos and everything else he could get his hands on, he sang a south-of-the-border-sounding song all about it; “Aye yae yae yae, I am the Frito Bandito” (please forgive my phonetics). The message here was that you were about to enjoy a Mexican-derived snack food that if not eaten right away, would be stolen back by a Mexican who was not too keen having Gringos eating his national treasure—unless of course you beat him over the head with his guitar. I don’t even know where to begin analyzing that one. I’ll let the reader come to their own conclusion.
A lot of us remember, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids”. Did those commercials stress you out or make you sad for the rabbit? They did for me. I loved Trix as a kid (note: when they were 100% artificially flavored and colored—they tasted better then; and you know they did. It’s okay to agree with me; I won’t tell anyone). I had silently vowed that if that rabbit ever came over to my house, I would happily share my Trix with him; unlike the evil kids that sequestered his wholesome puffed cereal every Saturday morning on TV. He tried so hard just to have a taste of the cereal that was after all, named after him, didn’t he? He’d hide away with a bowl and before eating any of it, always felt compelled to slowly describe the colors and corresponding flavors to his viewing audience, whose desperate screams of “They’re coming! THEY’RE COMING!!!” would land on deaf, albeit generously sized ears, before he would indulge himself. In that precious window of time, he could have at least enjoyed a few spoonfuls of lemony yellow goodness, but alas, the bandit of snot nosed punks always arrived at the penultimate moment. Indeed, he was never allowed to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Note: I didn’t insert the word “…well…” before my pun and Madison Avenue, let alone the rest of the advertising world, didn’t implode (see part one).
Then there was the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Not only did he not get to eat his cereal, he was the one who actually made the cereal with his magical powers and then still had to endure the humiliation of not being able to eat it due to his less-than-human-status. Little did I know it then, we were being given a crash course in Marxism by General Mills: By each leprechaun’s ability to make Lucky Charms, to each child’s ability to eat it. In retrospect, those cereals were so delicious that any commercial would have worked so long as it showed the serving suggestions of those magically frosted and spinning marshmallows in Lucky Charms and the wonderful and colorful spheres of delicious chemistry that was Trix. The story line of the ads was always secondary.
One of the more wretched characters in advertising was McDonald’s “Hamburgler”. If you’re old enough to remember him, you probably still need therapy. This menacing character would always be lurking in the shadows of those bizarre talking trees, scheming to ruin whatever activities Ronald and friends had planned for the day, by stealing all the hamburgers they brought for sustenance. Note: those trees should have freaked out Ronald, Grimace, Mayor McCheese and friends, but they didn’t. Which added to the bad-trip-vibe of these spots. Either way, “Hamburgler”. usually didn’t succeed in his dastardly plans to liberate the hamburgers, but nonetheless, his criminal behavior was celebrated.
This still happens a lot in commercials. The protagonist is eating something and the antagonist steals their food. The antagonist claims to want only wants a bite or a little piece but ends up taking the whole darn casserole when the protagonist isn’t looking. Stop the presses; that wasn’t funny, whimsical or cute in the ’60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s or now for that matter. A dozen of years into our new millennium, it’s an egregious advertising gaff. Indeed, what is the message here? If you purchase product A, it is so good that it will bring out the thief in your friends, family and perfect strangers. You will be eating your food and someone will steal it from you. As the viewer I’m thinking to myself, “Mmm mmm good. I really enjoyed staying hungry and seeing the dark side of human nature. I think I want a second helping of that. Honey, where is the A-1 Steak Sauce? The kids have shattered my illusions by playing nicely with one other. I’d like to see some petty theft being perpetrated at our dinning room table instead.” And we wonder why there are crystal meth labs everywhere. All I’m saying is that no one better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!
Check back soon for part III