Today’s topic: Old Count Chocula. Hold your applause.
In 1987, General Mills faced public backlash upon releasing the revamped (ah ah ah) Count Chocula box design seen above. What at first glance seems only to be a whimsical pairing of Chocula and Dracula unveils a more sinister truth if you look hard enough. Apparently, Count Dracula was Jewish.
Yes, Dracula’s medallion, which I’ve seen realized in symbols ranging from X-shaped crosses to metal skulls, took on the unmistakable form of the Star of David. To be fair, I’ve seen Dracula’s medallion in this shape before, but for whatever reason, it just seems so much more Jewishy here. I’m not sure why people were in such an uproar over the suggestion that Dracula was Jewish; I know I’d be pretty elated if I found out he was Catholic.
Many people complained about Dracula’s newfound faith, and General Mills felt compelled to redesign the box. Bah. The kind of people who complained about what Dracula’s necklace looked like were not the kind of people who’d buy their kids Count Chocula cereal anyway. General Mills should’ve rebutted by adding a bindi to Franken Berry’s forehead.
I’m usually surprised by how well my collection of antique cereal holds up, but that isn’t the case here. The cereal smells really, really bad — akin to a pair of damp socks rotated over the feet of Earth’s 50 most disgusting men. The old school Count Chocula paw-shaped marshmallows have either disintegrated or simply fossilized to the point where they’re indiscernible from the more numerous frosted ghost oats.
Part of the reason for Count Chocula’s rancidity is that the cereal was forged from far more hardcore ingredients in 1987 than it is today. The second most prominent ingredient was sugar — and not some wacky sugar substitute with an eighteen-syllable name, either…REAL sugar. Real sugar is awesome, but when it goes bad, it means it. Almost every sugary marshmallowy kiddy cereal has seen its recipe changed for the healthier over the years. Count Chocula still tastes good today, but in 1987, it could be bartered for baseball cards and handheld assault weapons on the black market.
The General Mills “Monster Cereals” debuted during a time when the classic Universal Monsters were the focus of virtually every small boy’s imagination. That long-lived fad was in a coma by the time I was growing up, so it was nice to see something so consistently horrific — even if it was just breakfast.
Even the freebies that came with the Monster Cereals tended to have a ghoulish slant. In specially marked boxes of Jewish Dracula cereal, kids were given sets of “Real Monster Disguise Stickers,” which were pretty simplistic and yet totally admirable for giving us permission to put stickers all over our faces.
I don’t know how we came upon the subject, but last week, a friend at work was complaining about how none of today’s cereals actually put the premiums inside the cereal bag. They’re always tucked in the box outside the bag, thereby eradicating the gleeful literalness of the “free inside” messaging.
Like palaeontologists excavating the jawbone of a mighty allosaur, digging our hands through edible pebbles in search of prizes was the best part of the breakfast process. Even if the toy completely sucked (and let’s face it, a simple set of facial stickers wasn’t going on anyone’s Christmas wishlist), the thrill of sifting our fingers through twelve ounces of oaty obstacles was enough to make breakfast seem like a day at the fucking circus. I don’t know why cereal companies have ended this tradition, but I assume it has something to do with people not wanting the filthy hands of six-year-olds fondling each and every chocolately morsel in the family cereal box.
Through some miracle, the stickers were still adhesive after all these years. There were three sets available, and since the other two came with stickers representing everything from bloody eyeballs to giant bats, I seem to have received the worst of them. Oh well. There’s at least some small conversational merit in getting eyebrow stickers. I’m happy enough. Mazel tof.