Monday, October 2, 2017

The 2017 Halloween Edition Pop-Tarts!

... or, how a stupid review of seasonal junk food convinced me Halloween and Day of the Dead are slowly merging into a singularity in United States society.

By: Jimbo X

Well, it's about damn time Kellogg's finally did something new with their annual All Hallows Eve Tarts. The "Spookalicious" toaster pastries have been virtually unchanged since 2011, so when I caught wind of a remodeled line of Halloween 'Tarts this year, I figuratively and perhaps also literally jumped for joy.

Of course, Kellogg's hasn't done anything too dramatic here. The fudge flavor is the same as it's always been, and the overall design of the Pop-Tarts (transformed by the company's proprietary "Printed Fun" technology, i.e., the same edible ink advent that gave us Justice League 'Tarts a while back) isn't that revolutionary. Still, I'm glad I snapped these motherfuckers up when I did - this beat to shit box was literally the last one I've seen on shelves anywhere for at least three weeks. Huh. Releasing a Halloween-branded food that leaves stores come the first week of October ... now that is some truly contrarian marketing philosophy.

But the Tarts aren't really about being, you know, good food. These things are pretty much the picture perfect dictionary entry for ephemera, that instant nostalgia that embodies a particular place in time and space. The appeal of the product isn't that it tastes like fudge, or even has goofy Frankenstein faces on them; the inherent pull of the Tarts is they fact they unofficially represent the cultural zeitgeist.  As weird as it may sound, these limited-time-only seasonal foodstuffs do a pretty swell job of encapsulating the weirdness of American society circa late summer 2017, and if you pay real close attention, might even give us a preview of our nation's short-term future. Yeah, it sounds like bullshit now, but hear me out - all this stuff will make way more sense than you want it to by the end of the article.

Nutritionally, there's nothing noteworthy here. Each Tart is about 200 calories, which is more or less the same as every other Tart variation available. And maybe I'm just really, really ignorant, but is this the first time Pop-Tarts have listed their nutritional facts en Espanol as well? If so, that's a major, major moment in the history of mass marketed, mass produced sugar-encrusted breakfast cereal alternatives. Have we gotten to that point in our nation's history where two disparate tongues have become de facto co-languages of the country? I mean, if Pop-Tarts became fucking bilingual without anybody noticing them, I'd say that's as good a proof as anything that we're linguistically two nations within the same border now.

And what typifies what a nation believes and doesn't believe more than what it finds humorous? As such, the following cartoon suggests we, as a collective culture, have no idea what's funny anymore. Why DOES the Dracula Tart think it's awkward to be standing in front of a regular Pop-Tart with a quizzical look on his face while a Zombie Tart (complete with flies circling overhead) threatens to eat him? Does that imply that both Dracula Tart and the Zombie Tart were eyeing the same victim, and now they have to fight over him? Call me crazy, but I'm not seeing what's so funny about that scenario. It's like a woman being chased by a rapist, only to run into a second guy who wants to rape her and then having the two rapists duke it out for the "honor" of sexually violating her. I mean, doesn't this cartoon at least imply toaster pastry homicide is hilarious, to some degree? That's just fucked up man. Royally fucked up

But we're not quite done with the questionable cartoon shenanigans. Another doodle on the box features a Pop-Tart walking into a darkened room, oblivious to the fact a bald male child doing the Happy Merchant gesture, a female child with massive peanut-shaped torso, a bipedal poodle and perhaps even a small dinosaur wearing a bow tie is about to jump it and eat his guts. Perhaps its an off-handed reference to that great found footage horror flick Rec, or maybe, it's a subtle metaphor for how our children are being trained to become vicious killers in the name of overconsumption? Yeah, something to think about, ain't it?

But at least the cartoons on the side flaps are a little less allegorical in nature. The top-most one is obviously a play on the old campfire Cropsey tale (albeit it, with the rather morbid suggestion that every time we eat a Pop-Tart, we're basically giving an innocent pastry the electric chair) and the bottom-most one is an homage to the Frankenstein mythos, although I'm not entirely sure why the doctor in this equation looks way too much like 1980s prop comedian Gallagher for it to be a mere coincidence.

The basic concept of the Pop-Tarts is that each pastry is Nickelodeon orange, with some sort of angular caricature drawn on it. It's kinda' hard to say the designs have a thematic familiarity, this despite the art style being kinda sorta consistent. Maybe it's just me, but I thought the design of the Ouroboros cat and spider-baby smacked of the stylings of Jhonen "Invader Zim" Vasquez, but then again, I have a tendency to overread fucking everything, so feel free to accept that notion or discard it entirely ... it ain't no skin off my tits, either way.

In a way, I guess you could say the designs border more on the Day of the Dead than Halloween. The spooky devil face on the left certainly has a distinct lucha libre quality to it, while the one on the right could legitimately be the design on some CMLL rassler's mask. Remember earlier, when we touched upon the hidden implications of the bilingual nutritional facts? Well, what we're seeing right here very well could be an example of cultural syncretism before our very eyes - effectively, the merger of two distinct cultural traditions into an inseparable aesthetic synthesis. But again, I must remind you - my default state is to read WAY too fucking much into any and all things, especially the visual peculiarities of pre-processed breakfast items.

Now, the one on the left is unquestionably a Day of the Dead-inspired piece. The swirly eyes. The Dali-esque mustache. The Eddie Guerrero-like soul patch. Hell, they might as well have just drawn a burrito and a lawnmower on there too, if they're that desperate to drive home the Mexican iconography message. Meanwhile, the poor Franken-Tart on the right just looks plum pitiful, almost as if he's wondering what happened to the America he knew growing up. But, uh, that's just me guessing, though - he could be thinking about anything for all I know.

Not that it's that much of a surprise, but the frosting distribution is hilariously uneven. For example, this Franken-Tart above only covers about 75 percent of the pastry surface, with an entire row of air pockets left exposed at the very bottom. And since those holes are notorious for leaking out copious amounts of piping hot, sugary goo, there's a very good chance half-hearted Tarts of the sort are going to clog up your toaster, perhaps even getting gunk in the coils and turning your household appliance into a fire hazard. Way to go, Kellogg's - nothing says "we love our consumers" quite like burning down their fucking houses just because you wanted to save a few pesos on frosting quality control.

And as for the taste? Eh, it's alright, but honestly, it's no different from the brand's regular, boring-ass chocolate fudge pastries. You know what would've been awesome? If they kept the regular interior chocolate fudge flavor and made the exterior orange creme taste like something really unexpected, like, I don't know, candy corn or pumpkin spice or even fucking mango (uh, mangoes are orange, aren't they?) Hey, you're made by the same people who make all that Keebler shit, so we know there's nothing stopping you fuckers from getting us some E.L. Fudge inside these sumbitches, either. 

So, all in all, what did I learn from eating this $4 box of limited-time-only, Halloween-themed toaster pastries? Well, nothing, to be honest, but for whatever reason it did make me think a little bit deeper about the ongoing cross-pollination of traditional Anglo-Germanic U.S. culture with the customs and traditional mores of the Hispanic soon-to-be-majority.

That's the weird thing about living in the present. Right now we're literally watching the seeds of a radically different demographical America taking shape, but nobody really notices (or, if they do, they're usually assailed as ethno-supremacists for merely making the observation.) The groundwork for a drastic cultural shift in U.S. society is happening RIGHT NOW and it's evident (although not explicit) in even the junk food we purchase and devour as ironic connoisseurs of crap consumerism culture.

That's a big, big topic, and there are so many different variables that my head hurts just thinking about thinking about it. All I know is that, for better or for worse, these newfangled, revamped and redrawn Halloween edition Pop-Tarts are emblematic of a new U.S. society, and one that may or may not portend an amalgamated culture unwilling to go full-synthesis without a fight. 

Which, for junk food aficionados of all ethnicities, means, yeah, we're probably just five or ten years away from Tamarind-flavored Pop-Tarts, so just hold your horses, will 'ya?


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