A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.

By Nina Pajak

It’s clearly the dawn of a new era in this country: No More Fatties. On the heels of Bloomberg’s hotly debated “soda war” comes an announcement from First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity that the Walt Disney Company has agreed to stop taking ads for junk foods and sugary cereals on any of its television, radio and Internet channels.

I think this is pretty big stuff.

It makes sense. As opposed to slapping the massive soda cups out of our chubby little fists, this is a measure that will simply limit children’s exposure to chillingly effective commercials for products that will ultimately, probably give them diabetes. It’s a responsible move on Disney’s part, and one that I imagine its competitors will be forced to imitate.

I’m not too concerned about the lack of advertising revenue for the various kids networks. There is truly no shortage of stuff and things and junk and crap and toys and juice and parks and rides and movies and video games and sneakers and scooters and bikes and power tools and gardening equipment kids want. Want want want want. Is anyone really worried that there won’t be any promotable products to fill the void? I’m not wasting too much time wringing my hands over it.

The junk food commercials of my childhood had a deep and indelible impact on me. With the exception perhaps of wholesome Tony the Tiger and perhaps the saccharine-sweet Cheerios honeybee, the cartoon mascots who represented a tantalizing array of sugary cereals were basically like a gang of relentless, monomaniacal drug peddlers. There are the pathetic, heavily (foolishly) addicted low men on the totem pole, like the Cocoa Puffs alien-bird-guy-thing and that silly rabbit who could never lay his hands on a sweet, sweet bowl of Trix. Then there were the middle men and minor outlaws who constantly found themselves in trouble over ongoing disputes with rivals—that slippery Lucky Charms leprechaun and the hapless but determined Cookie Crisp Cookie Crook. At the top of the food chain sat a few cool customers, the godfathers of the various organizations, if you will. There’s Count Chocula (seriously, who is going to mess with a vampire made of chocolate?); Cap’n Crunch, the deranged, diminutive sea captain; the smooth-talking, rat pack wannabe, old school Chairman of the Board-type Golden Crisp bear; Wendell the Cinnamon Toast “Baker” and his two, less capable brothers; and of course the inseparable, inscrutable Snap, Crackle and Pop. They didn’t get those nicknames for nothing.

Don’t get me started on those Keebler Elves. This thing goes all the way to the top.

Of course, I was forbidden to consume any sugary cereals at all, and most junk foods aside from low-fat Dunkaroos (no kidding) were similarly off-limits. I did manage to get my hands on the occasional pack of Gushers, which I bet aren’t nearly as good as I remember them to be. But for the most part in our house, it was all Snackwell’s cookies and the threat of “fruit, if you’re really still hungry.” We weren’t. Ever. But the impression those beserk, desperate, gotta-have-it-or-you’ll-die-and-no-one-will-ever-love-or-understand-you-and-you’ll-never-know-true-happiness commercials had on me was undeniable. And while my mother remained steadfast, I’m sure there are many parents who would rather choose other battles than deal with the fact that the television has turned their kids into little junk food-obsessed cult members. Or crack addicts. This way is healthier for everyone.

Instead, they can focus on the toys. Like SkipIt! Does anyone still sell SkipIt? My Buddy? Kid Sister? Pound Puppies? Power Wheels? They have to still sell Power Wheels. I’m still bitter that my parents had the good sense not to get me a “Barbie Beach Buggy.” Now that’s effective advertising.

Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina In New York Archives:

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