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Breakfast Cereal “Trope” and the “Tooth Decay” of Futurism


OK, I have seen the word “trope” used to label an archetype or derivative of an archetype in the media industry (“chill girl”, “misunderstood billionaire”, “femme fatale”, etc.). Maybe this whole post uses a word that doesn’t mean what I think it means (thank you Princess Bride), but let’s tee this up anyway. I read this article about the history of breakfast cereal (and the beginning of Disney, ironically).

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What I noticed was a trope. A human systems trope. A pattern by which we operate as a species. Used and predictable. Go ahead, read the article and I will wait here for you. Well, I won’t personally wait for you, but this pile of words should be here when you get back.

The Breakfast Cereal Trope

You’ve read the referenced article? Good, because *spoiler alert* now I want to share the pattern. The pattern I have observed is that two things tend to happen once society gets hold of something (in this case, it was breakfast cereal, but this observation applies to business ventures, forms of governance, organized religion, social movements, and much more):

  • First, over the course of decades (and that’s getting compressed with newer tech), whatever the target something is, the broader or more widely used this something becomes, the more warped by superficial profit/power mongering it tends to become, frequently devolving into a sadder, diluted if not outright opposing version of itself that panders to the most exploitable target demographic, and also losing most if not all ties to its original cause or intent.
  • Secondly, in capitalist terms, we celebrate this decay as market “disruption”, encouraging these “pivots to market fit” in the name of traction and scaling our business models, while sometimes doing ourselves a strategic disservice which ripples outward well beyond the scope of the target market.

In other words, this pattern is hugely financially rewarding to a privileged few, if they are willing to let go of their initial principles or visions, supplanting those with diluted or twisted version that will sell better. And of course, the more successful their resultant products become, the less their product or idea actually serves its intended purpose and becomes conscripted into the hockey-stick trend agenda.

Possibly making the whole observation more insidious, if someone is unwilling to dilute or twist their principles and/or vision, then a competitor, who is willing to do these things, will arise from the quagmire of humanity to make good on all that negative strategic impact. For example, if Facebook hadn’t elected to become the invasive leech beast we all know and love to hate, then it would have drifted into infamy and, Idunno, some company called BookFace would have taken its place.

The Tooth Decay of Futurism

This pattern leads to systemic decay. In the article, we watched how a product intended to help society poop better got warped into products designed to guilt parents into shoveling max artificial-color and sugar content into their children. The second and third-order impacts of this trend, I haven’t researched it, but can you imagine? The execs who road that wave could give two shits about healthy poop, and the tenets of our free market economy rewarded them, because the road to power and riches is not currently paved with healthy poop.

But we’ve seen this pattern in other places. Not just breakfast cereal. We’ve watched the Constitution of the United States get warped and pivoted to power agendas, we’ve watched unbiased journalism get warped into a mouthpiece for platforms, we’ve watched the internet become a sea of influencer-based misinformation and social media become the source of significant mind rot and mental angst in “modern society,” we’ve seen a huge decline in our ability to remain a free society as the ability to accept each other’s personal differences gives way to hate, abuse and what looks like a form of communist-Borg-hive-mind (thank you Star Trek) syndrome which ostracizes anyone who believes differently.


No matter how advanced we pretend we are becoming as species, we should always be willing to put where we’ve come from in front of the rocks that we’ve got (thank you J-Lo). Reminder that there are still 1-billion people who don’t have access to toilets and wouldn’t know how to use a toilet even if you gave them access to one. How advanced are we, if one out of eight humans doesn’t know what a toilet is?? The potty humor is on fire today.

Ergo, the flaming bag of poo here is the ever present need to always be mindful of and keep our attention on our original intent. Pivoting and disruption are tools, but just like nuclear power, how these tools get employed matters. If we are pivoting purely toward financial gain, we need to fact-check if this pivot might also be toward systemic decay.

The roots of breakfast cereal are to aid in digestion. The roots of social media were so we could share our personal truth with our friends (I can’t even find my friends posts anymore, because I am not the customer). The roots of the internet were to communicate effectively, share pertinent data, make facts transparent and accessible by everyone. The roots of the United States were to create a free country, with freedom of speech, the ability to challenge government when it wandered too far from serving its people, and embrace a melting pot of cultures where we can all agree to disagree peacefully while pursuing life, liberty and happiness.

Back to the Future

(thank you Amblin Entertainment) Listen, I want my spaceships, I want everyone to have their Elysium (I and do not want poor Matt Damon to melt his brain sharing the technology- ahem, thank you Tristar Pictures), I want everyone on Earth to have their heaven on Earth with no death required, no judgment day, none-of-that. I am also willing to accept that other folks might disagree with what I want. That’s fine. However, for those who want to see any form of a brighter future happen for humanity, we got a planet with 8B people on it exerting a foot print that is at least 4 times greater than our little blue ball can support. Again, folks might disagree. That’s dandy. But in my humble little corner of blog land, if we as a species want to see a better future, we gotta own the Breakfast Cereal trope, act strategically, and fix everything from food and medical to internet and education. We’ve got to stop rewarding patterns that decay humanity. That’s what the sustainability agenda is about, and it is through the eye of this needle we might stand a chance as a species.

If we screw up, nature and our planet will eventually recover with or without us, but keep this thought on the front burner: in the scheme of the universe, Earth is pretty darn tiny and could possibly use our help, if we ever become advanced enough to handle such an ask. But first, we gotta fix the breakfast cereal.

Normally, if I blather on about a challenge in our approach to things, I usually posture a solution. Or at least a call to action. But the notion of well-intended obsolescence simply leaves the opportunity on the table for another entity to exploit. It’s like AI – some companies are trying to run from it, which is like burying our head in the sand and hoping the rest of the world will somehow make better decisions while we are not looking. Good luck with that.

We need to look at the pattern and distill it down to understand why it occurs. But. . . we KNOW why it occurs, because we teach it as matter of practice, in sales and marketing classes, in entrepreneurial programs, in MBA programs. We teach a precious few how to exploit the many. And we refuse to teach the many how NOT to be exploited, because that would break the hockey stick. *gasp* Can’t have that. So, we’ve done it to ourselves. Awesome, right? That is some cosmic irony – we’ve taught our best and brightest how to be our own undoing, and they’ve executed flawlessly. *one clap* (I can’t clap twice or it will turn off my lights…)

Back to School

Maybe that’s part of the solution – education. And there are a number of programs afoot about being mindful and being balanced, about self care, compassion and empathy. That’s a start, but I think people (even the people without toilets) need to know how to use the internet and social media without letting it get to them, how to recognize socially responsible businesses and vote with their wallets for services that hit a higher standard.

However the other part of this is one of policy and regulation. That’s tough because, as the story goes, morality and social responsibility cannot be legislated. Or, at least, we have yet to find an effective mechanism, but we need some policy around scaling a venture, about the marketing, about the sustainability. This is where government could really help out, but for that to work we need a couple other things, right?

For example, because so much customer service has been offloaded back on to the customer (I am literally paying for services I don’t receive on a daily basis…internet speeds = lie, cellular service at home = lie, the list goes on), there is little time to participate in civic education and civic contribution. People are working too much, and when they have free time, they don’t want to be involved in their republic (and this observation is just United States-centric – I don’t have the lens to take this global just yet). But that’s what we need: to make our government more for the people and by the people instead of for the corporations and by the corporations.

And finally we need to rethink how people make it to the top – who do we want the best and brightest to be, what do we want them to stand for, because right now the people making it there, a good chunk of them are either not looking out for the breakfast cereal, or I am not seeing it. That means they are indeed NOT looking after the breakfast cereal, or it means people aren’t interested enough for that to be news. . . which goes back to education. Fun fun.

Do I hear “Circle of Life” playing softly in the background? I think I do. Thank you Def Leppard. And don’t trust the internet! Sir Elton John taught me that.

space station ring cut away showing future homes and farming basking in filtered orbital sunlight

Image Credit: WorldWildnessWeb

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