Friday, August 15, 2008

Cerealized Drama

On with life. Remember Quisp? Back in the day it was my favorite cereal for two reasons. First, I loved Quisp himself, that short outer space man with the propeller on his head. Secondly, because my mother didn't understand that it was essentially Captain Crunch in a different shape made by a different company, it was the only really sweet "sugar" cereal I was allowed to have.

Rules about food in our house were randomly created and steadfastly maintained. For example, my mother wasn't kosher, but she had been raised that way. Our house was in no way kosher, not by any stretch of the imagination. But shrimp were the only shellfish allowed. She'd serve pork chops, but not ham. We had bacon, but not sausage. We also had Christmas stockings, but no tree, so at least she was consistent in her randomness.

What she referred to as "sugar cereals" were bad for me and were forbidden. I understand that packaged food wasn't labeled as thorougly then as it is today, so maybe that explains why I was allowed to have Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, and Corn Pops; if it had a healthy-sounding word in its name, it must be healthy, right? What I wanted most of all was Captain Crunch, that nirvanna of a bowl full of sweet I encountered at friends' houses the mornings after sleepovers. No way; strictly forbidden. Maybe the docile, smiling Quaker on the label gave my mother a false sense of security (after all, would a Quaker ever endanger America's youth?), maybe it was the word "oats" in the Quaker Oats logo, but for some reason she felt that Quisp and it's brother-cereal, Quake, were acceptable.

Quisp and Quake were exactly the same cereal but in different shapes, and named for different cartoon characters. Quisp was of course from another galaxy and so was not truly sexually determined. His dress and hairstyle seemed to indicate that he was in fact a "he," but his masculinity was akin to that of a stuffed animal. His voice was high-pitched, his mannerisms childlike. Whatever masculinity he had was pre-pubescent, unthreatening. Quake, on the other hand, came from underground. While Quisp's cereal came from the galaxies, Quake's was of the earth, produced by earthquakes. Quake was muscle-bound, deep-voiced, virile. In the commercials shown during Saturday morning cartoons, Quisp and Quake are rivals for our affection. They are presented as superheroes, and in ad after ad they compete to see who can save the earth, Quake with brawn, Quisp with brains.

Naturally, I loved Quisp and hated Quake. After all, I could never grow up to be Quake. I'd never have brawn or a deep voice, but I could one day save the world through intellect and charm. My nerdiness could one day pay off. I don't know if the Quaker Oats marketers introduced two versions of the same cereal so that one would appeal to girls and one boys, but whatever they were thinking it didn't work. Sometime in the early 70s they decided they weren't selling enough of either cereal and to stop competing with themselves; one cereal would be discontinued.

They had a contest, and everyone could vote, including kids. Who do you want to keep around, Quisp or Quake? I enthusiastically voted for Quisp. How could he lose? He was cute, he was smart, he had a propeller on his head, for crying out loud! In what would become a lifelong pattern, I was on the wrong end of the vote. Quisp was toast, relegated to the infinite cosmos of memory.

Proud, defiant, I never ate Quake. Golden Grahams became my favorite cereal (again, the name of the cereal tricking my mother into a belief in imaginary health benefits) until I was old enough to stop eating cereal altogether. I never liked milk, you see. I only wanted sweet cereals to flavor the milk so that I could drink it. Quake also eventually disappeared from supermarket shelves, another victim of free love and disco.

All these years later I am avenged. A Quisp cult has been slowly growing, aided and abbetted by the internet. By the turn of the century, Quisp was again being produced in limited quantities. Today, it's available nationwide, at least according to Quaker Oats. Quisp has his own website, and a very good one at that. If you can't find it at your local grocery store, you can order some from the site. Chalk another one up for the nerds.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

A Quisp website? How do you think of looking for these things? You're a never-ending source of trivia, Dr. W.