Why Do I Own This? is a new column exploring the weirder pop-culture flotsam and jetsam that washes up in the lives of A.V. Club writers, the impulses that drive us to acquire such things, and the motives for clinging to them long after their ephemeral eras pass.
What is it? It’s a box of cereal marketed as a promotional item for the 1991 Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. It has an unconvincing drawing of Costner as Robin Hood on the front of the box, and it would appear to have cost the Ralston-Purina company approximately four cents to manufacture, package, and distribute.
How did I get it? I saw it in a grocery store in Phoenix sometime in the summer of 1991, shortly after the release of the movie upon which the cereal is based. I cannot say why I bought this box, just as I cannot say why I bought and ate a second box at the same time. Apparently I thought it was funny. Did I think it was so funny that I kept the box through three out-of-state moves? I suppose I did. There can be no other explanation for its continued existence.
What’s its cultural significance? Younger members of our readership may not recall that Kevin Costner was once a big movie star. Yes, it’s true! Before he pissed away his career and several billion dollars of studio money on 1995’s Waterworld and 1997’s The Postman (a.k.a. Waterworld II: Prairieworld), Costner was thought of as a major box-office draw whose handsome face, allegedly charismatic demeanor, and mature sexuality were enough to compensate for the fact that he could not act in any sense of the word.
Indeed, when Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves was released, he had just done something that Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Orson Welles never managed to do: He won an Oscar for Best Director. No, this is not a joke: so captivated was the Academy by the dismal, barely competent vanity project Dances With Wolves that, in a decision that can only be attributed to the continual prevalence in Hollywood of high-quality cocaine, they handed Kevin Costner the Academy Award for Best Director, while Sam Peckinpah moldered in his grave.
It was around this time, as you might suspect, that I began to wish for a large ball of solid matter to fall from space directly onto the top of Kevin Costner’s skull. Luckily for me, his next big project was a big-budget retelling of the ever-popular Robin Hood legend, directed not by Costner himself, but by Costner directorial stand-in Kevin Reynolds (Fandango, Waterworld). Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves—also starring Morgan Freeman as a medieval magical Negro and Christian Slater as the one person in the movie who was a worse actor than Kevin Costner—signaled the exact moment when America began to notice that Costner was kind of an abysmal actor, largely because of his wooden emotional demeanor and his inability to keep track of which phony-baloney accent he was using at any given time. Still, even though it was a giant heap of crap, the movie made a colossal amount of money, produced an extremely popular though highly objectionable Bryan Adams song, and spawned a spin-off breakfast cereal. Which I bought.
Why would I get rid of it? It’s a 17-year-old box of cereal.
Since 1991, I have moved from Phoenix to Chicago to Minnesota to Texas. I have gone through two painful breakups. I have undergone several financial crises. I have changed jobs more times than I can count. And through it all, the one item I kept with me the entire time was not some personal heirloom, not some irreplaceable book or a photograph of a loved one long lost to time. No, the one thing I have kept with me is a box of cereal inspired by a movie I dislike and starring an actor I hate. Can I be honest with you, A.V. Club readers? The cereal wasn’t even any good. It’s little sweetened-corn arrowheads flecked with green sugary something. It has no discernable flavor beyond “sweet,” and it turns milk the color of a Shamrock Shake. If anything, the ensuing two decades from its moment of purchase have likely made it taste even worse. I have done some incredibly heinous shit in my lifetime, but my continued possession of this box of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves cereal is probably the most embarrassing thing I know about myself.
How much could I get for it? Some people are selling just the box from RH:POT cereal for around 10 bucks. I would frankly be a little disturbed if someone wanted the cereal too, or whatever calcified bug cadavers have replaced it. I once almost bought some Holiday Spice Pepsi on eBay, but decided not to, because I didn’t want to take a chance on two-year-old soda. And if someone as standards-free as myself won’t take that leap, who would pay $10 for cereal that’s old enough to drive?
What are the chances that I’ll keep it? Almost dead certain. The thing obviously has some kind of arcane hold on me; if I haven’t shed myself of it thus far, probably nothing short of an exorcism will do. It’s not like I want the damn cereal, but earlier this week, I was cleaning my apartment, and I sat there staring at it for about 20 minutes before deciding to leave it on top of the bookshelf. I swear, it was daring me to throw it out. And it won.