In an attempt to make sugary sweet popcorn breakfast cereal appealing to kids, Kellogg’s recently decorated the back of its Corn Pops boxes with a fun search game—one involving anthropomorphic corn-pop “ninjas,” pinwheeling through a shopping mall. While the game gives children something to study intently while ignoring the warning signs of divorce, and it even has the added benefit of teaching them what shopping malls were, Marvel Comics writer Saladin Ahmed noticed another lesson it was imparting—that in this world, brown corn pops get to be the janitor.
Indeed, out of all the naked, oddly narcotized-looking ninjas scattered across the box, there’s only one wearing clothes, and there’s only one who’s been tasked with working while the rest are free to shop and cavort—and it’s the brown one. Why this one corn pop is brown is another question: Does it imply that he was an improperly popped factory mistake? Or is it a subtle suggestion that corn pops, by their nature, come in different colors—and if so, why have we only until now been made aware of them?
But the more pressing question, as Ahmed points out, is what art department troll deliberately made that single, brown, “other” corn pop the guy who has to wear a uniform and clean up after all the other corn pops? Why doesn’t the brown corn pop get to be part of the “ninja” fun, in whatever bizarre, loosely martial arts-related free-for-all world you’ve created here—a society where yellow corn pops can snorkel in public fountains and skateboard down escalators with impunity, but brown corn pops have to wax their floors, with only their outdated Walkmen to entertain them? What kind of fucked-up division of corn pop labor is this, and what else could you possibly be trying to say with it? And furthermore, how the hell did this get past anyone?
To the company’s credit, it responded almost immediately to Ahmed, pledging to update the box artwork and get them out to stores soon. “Kellogg respects all people and is committed to diversity,” spokesperson Kris Charles said in a statement. “We take feedback very seriously, and it was never our intention to offend anyone. We apologize sincerely.”
Of course, no one ever really expected “diversity” from their corn pops in the first place; they are literally just sugared packing peanuts with no extraneous personalities, and that is what’s so soothing about them. And understandably, this has vexed Kellogg’s since its invention, as the company has struggled to find a suitable mascot since the 1960s, when early TV stars Guy Madison and Woody Woodpecker gave way to a series of increasingly desperate inventions—everything from a gunslinging prairie dog to a cowboy with a whip to a lady porcupine, when the whole Western craze died off. We get it: It’s not easy to come up with a way to make tiny beige corn niblets seem “fun” and “approachable.” But if you’re going to create a whole Corn Pop world, then suddenly try to integrate it, for fuck’s sake, give them each an equal share of the workload.