All cereals claimed to be a nutricious part of a balanced breakfast and have a full days supply of something or other, but that was never why I wanted any of them. All cereals boasted great taste, but that was never why I wanted any of them, either. All cereals had some sort of colorful, wacky mascot, but that also was never why I wanted any of them. No, there was only ever one reason why I wanted any cereal: the toy that came “free” in the box.
Cereals used to have real toys in thier boxes, and over the early years, I collected dozens of these toys (or “premiums”, as sophisticates call them today): stickers, rings, whistles, badges, buttons, pins, candy, a Tony the Tiger diving thing that you put into a two liter bottle full of water, a record (that one was from Fruit Loops and was actually part of the box itself), a Wacky Wallwalker (that glowed in the dark, no less). But the best of these by far were Kellogg’s Starbots.
Starbots were small transforming robots. They arrived during the transforming robot craze of the mid-’80s. No, scratch that. Starbots exploited the transforming robot craze of the mid-80s. Yeah, that’s more accurate. They were clearly designed to ride the coat tails of that craze and were equally clearly knock-offs of the Go-Bots. Still, they attained an unusual level of popularity not just with me but with my entire middle school class. Everybody had at least one Starbot. Some guys had all four, and those that didn’t wanted them.
Now four cereal premiums means four boxes of cereal, which was a month’s supply for me back in that time. Add in the fact that Mom didn’t always get me the cereal I wanted and that the premium you received in any particular box was wholly up to fate (i.e., instead of getting the one Starbot you needed to complete your collection you could get one you already had), and you can see why I never even dreamed of getting all four Starbots (not in legitimate ways, at least). I did get two, though. The best two: the jet and the helicopter. The helicopter was cool because he had blades that could be used as weapons and was just about the most sophisticated transformer of the four. The jet was cool because he was a jet and because I endowed him with certain special powers, Go-Bot level powers. In my mind, he had lazers and beams and bombs and all sorts of hardware. He mixed it up with my Go-Bots on several occasions and won on most of those occasions. I particularly remember playing with him on a Friday night as I waited through PM Magazine for the new New Twlight Zone to begin. It is one of my favorite childhood memories.
So maybe the Starbots were nothing more than coporate manipulation, just a cheap, dirty way the suits could interest little kids in sugar and puffed wheat against their parents’ wishes. In fact, there’s no maybe there; the Starbots were nothing more than coporate manipulation. But in this case, I’d be manipulated all over again.