Letter from the Editor

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cartoon life & Senator Harkin

Tom Harkin has grown bored of chewing up and spitting out Republicans like yesterday's scooby snacks - he's now out to lay the smackdown on Shrek.

True, Shrek happens to be a green ogre, and as I understand it, a cartoon, which renders him technically not real at all, but that isn't about to stop our good senator when he has a powerful snit worked up.

"I think people have to start understanding that Shrek maybe is a real ogre," Harkin says in a conference call to the media.

Now, before you start to get the butterfly nets and the little white jackets with the sleeves that wrap around back, realize that Harkin does have a point.

What he's foaming over is the fact that "Shrek 3" cartoon movie character from Dreamworks is being licensed to appear on Pop-Tarts and Snickers and Cheez-Its and Froot Loops and other crap, leading bratty children to hurl themselves upon the market floor and scream bloody murder until their exasperated parents cave in and but them ruinously sugary, salty, cholesterol-crammed gunk that will turn junior into a lard-butted porker and a burden upon taxpaying society forever more.

"It's damaging to our kids' health, and damaging to our entire country," Harkin opines - a teensy bit melodramatically, but probably not incorrectly so.

Shrek could not be reached for comment. He's in rehab...

Of course, we are talking about cartoons here. A few people have read Little Orphan Annie without experiencing a sudden and overpowering desire to shave their heads and bring home annoying little girls from the orphanage. Unless you are Angelina Jolie.

Winnie the Pooh could have used a few situps and some diet honey, but the generation that grow up on him isn't as chubby as the next.

Remember Fat Albert, for gosh sake? We should all be 400 pounds and talking like Bill Cosby while swilling pudding.

Darn right it's dirty pool to slap the cartoon hero of the moment on every Crappy Meal and box of cereal that is only slightly less healthy to eat than would be the cardboard box that contains it. (Froot Loops isn't healthy? Who knew? After all, it's full of Froot, isn't it? There should be vitamin C, right?)

Harkin says food companies are using cell phones and text messaging to further hypnotize kids and teens into buying fattening snacks. If that's true, for that, they should be sentenced to a forcefeeding of the very garbage that they make.

But come on here, blaming a make-believe character, or a movie company, is missing the point here a tad.

The consumer group "Which?" is on the same crusade, saying, "Too many characters loved by children are being used to promote foods high in fat, sugar and salt, leaving their parents feeling powerless to say no..."

Say huh? Since when?

Maybe they could try a bit harder - "no." Once again now, "no" - has a ring to it. No. NO. Nyet. Nope. No way Jose. Uh-uh. Nada. You must be mistaking me for someone who would say yes to that. Never. No-ranisaurus Rex. No mas. Rejected! Au contraire. Not. It's a no hitter, slugger. No No Nanette. When you grow up and get a job you can decide what we buy. No soup for you! Nah. Nein. Fuggetaboudit. Nonononononono!

As far as I know, the Shrek hasn't fed a kid a box of Pop Tarts with a can of pop for breakfast yet and sent them to school so hopped up they bounce off the walls.

And Dreamworks, as far as I know, hasn't forced a kid to shake a snack machine just so until the front Doritos bag falls down where they can reach it (don't ask how I know that one.)

Sure, all the kids movie and TV production companies should be ashamed of themselves for peddling their characters on junk food to make a few more bucks. That's not new, though - the Flintstones used to puff Winston cigarettes in commercials.

And sure, food makers should be whipped with wet Twizzlers for marketing stuff that isn't any more healthy and maybe any less addictive than booze or tobacco. Car companies are required to meet a fleet average in mileage for the sake of their society, maybe food companies should have to produce something healty for kids for every junk item they pimp.

Bottom line, though, Mr. Harkin - someone is to blame who you don't even mention in your tirade. Parents buy the junk food, they let kids live in front of the TV and video games, and with the exception of medical conditions, they are largely responsible for the condition of their flabby, listless children. Can't go blaming voters though, so a make-believe ogre will do.

While Harkin is wrestling cartoon characters, maybe parents should check to see if they are a bit ogreish as well, and take the kids out to play catch or to walk in the park. Or use the money they save on junk food to buy a kid a bike.

I'm told that the same guy at Dreamworks who Harkin dashed off a sharp protest letter to, has also donated some considerable moolah to the campaign fund for Tom in the past.

When asked if his protest would include him giving back the benjamins, Harkin turned a bit green himself.

"Heck no, I'm not going to give it back. It serves him right," Harkin says. Does it, or does it just serve Harkin, who with assets somewhere between $5 million and $10 million, might do better to re-donate that cash to some smalltown swim team or Little League program?

There's a lesson for the kiddies in here too. The only thing harder to comprehend than the ingredient label on their super-size bag of Cheetos... may be politics.

I hope Harkin is successful, but if there is change in the Great American Gut, it'll come from parents, not Washington.

* Reach the editor at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com