I realize most people view their own childhood as the Shining Golden Age before the inevitable Fall Into Mediocrity and Ruin, but in the case of cereal box prizes and premiums, I can definitely say I grew up during its Golden Age.
During the 1970's and 80's, kids' cereal boxes contained an embarrassment of riches, including music records, games, boomerangs, bike accessories, posters, and (my favorite) mini "rip cord" race cars (similar to Kenner's SSP racers).
As time went by, the line between "adult" and "kid" cereals began to blur thanks to adults who continued to buy kid cereal. As a result, the marketing of "in-box" cereal premiums has largely become a thing of the past, with some strange...even surreal exceptions.
A prime example of these befuddling promotions caught my eye last week as I enjoyed a bowl of delicious Cinnamon Toast Crunch (yes, I'm one of the aforementioned line-blurring, kid cereal-eating adults). Flipping the box around, I beheld this rather unsettling sight:
Imagine, if you will, some sleepy five year-old kid pouring him or herself a bowl of Crunch, then seeing the Joker Chop action figure leering out at them or...even worse...lurking in their cereal box! A bizarre amalgamation of Heath Ledger and Verne Troyer, this Mini-Me Joker boasts a "powerful chop" (it's not) in addition to its black, sunken eyes and bloody gashed cheeks.
Really, who's this toy marketed at, exactly? Considering the upcoming Dark Knight movie is a hard PG-13, nobody can claim that young kids are officially part of the marketing plan (though clueless parents can always be counted on to buy them a ticket). At the same time, will the aging fanboy collectors really want a cute-as-a-button Joker figure...especially with so many "realistic" figures available to display on their nightstands? Add to that the weirdness of actor Heath Ledger's death, and this entire promotion becomes one heck of a "Surreal Sandwich".
As with so much cynical modern marketing, I don't get it. Well, I do in the sense that I know there's virtually no printed surface that's off-limits to a movie tie-in...but seeing the decidedly NON kid-friendly Ledger Joker marketed so casually toward kids just blows my mind.
In fact, it would almost be like the cereal boxes of my youth including a free toy of Alex DeLarge, the amoral psycho from A Clockwork Orange. Sounds insane, right?
How is this Joker toy any less insane?