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CABBAGES & KINGS

By Maxwell E. Foster jr.

The Harvard man gets his cold cereal in conservative little boxes whose chief decoration is a pacan on the cereal's vitamin content, and an occasional wax-blurred cartoon. Not so his kid brother and sister. They, along with most of the other fellers and girls in the country, come down to breakfast every morning to face cereal boxes covered with some 150 square inches of fun-packed thrills.

Gone are the quiet old days when the boxes' chief attraction was a small coupon for silver-plated spoons with one's initials on them; the cereal companies now are attacking from all sides of the container at once. For instance, a single box of Kellogg's Pep offers, for box top and a price, a two-tone beanie, a magno-power '50 Ford ("oh boy--eye-popping thrills"), and a Donald Duck ring which rolls its eyes and opens its mouth when you apply the secret magnetic control (in the form of a miniature Pep box.) And inside amidst the Pep there is a plastic statuette, one of eighteen in a series ranging from football players to broncos rampant.

Even this isn't up to the latest in cereal box design. The new emphasis is on audience participation. What look like multi-colored Rorschach ink-blots with a fringe of tabs on the backs of boxes turn out to be pieces marked out for constructing models. There are Roman chariots (one is advised to use sticks of macaroni for the axles), county fair grounds, and a Northwest Mounted Police Headquarters and Assayers office.

By eating eight boxes of Quaker Puffed Rice, one acquires 59 models of dogsleds, beavers, bunkhouses, river boats, and other scenery along the Yukon river. "It goes over well with the housewives," one cereal representative says, "--keeps the kids busy on a stormy day."

And in this age of ideological conflict, it is heartening to note that at least one of the cereal companies has not hesitated to take a stand. Wheaties has inaugurated a series of cutouts called "Fight for Freedom." "For many centuries," their blurb reads, "people all over the world have fought to win the kind of freedom we all cherish. We Americans fight to protect our own heritage of freedom when necessary, but we are constantly striving by peaceful means to achieve peace throughout the world . . . situations from the age-old Fight for Freedom were selected in consultation with eminent historians. Details have been established as historically correct by a University research expert." Wheaties' fighters for freedom, in chronological order, are Zog, the stone age man, (fighting Rip, the sabre-toothed tiger), Arminius the German king, (fighting Varus, the Roman General), Joan of Arc, and Ethan Allen. Joan of Arc is portrayed mounted; she comes on one box, the horse on another. "Get Joan of Arc," the text urges, "mount her on her horse. Then she's ready to lead 4,000 men to free the city of Orleans from the invaders. A great victory in the world's fight for freedom."

The Atomic Age has also reached the cereal box. A while back, one brand in cahoots with the Lone Ranger, came out with an "Atomic Energy Ring." Built in the shape of a torpedo, the ring was "guaranteed to contain genuine atoms," and, in a reassuring Note to Parents, it was further guaranteed that "the atomic energy contained in this ring is absolutely harmless."

For the highbrows of the breakfast population, Post's 40% Bran Flakes have started a book service. Twenty-five cents and the box top bring Bantam editions of classics like "Hound of the Baskervilles." Perhaps this is a sign of coming cultural sophistication in the cereal box field. The boxes, after all, next to newspapers, are probably the most widely read breakfast table publications in the country. Someday, perhaps, each cereal will publish a daily edition, imprinted with dispatches from Battle Creek, reproductions of works of the masters, and scores to great pieces of music. And in that day, American culture will be complete.

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