The Existential Plight of Chester Chipmate


Meet Chester, the mascot for the “ChipMates” line of cookie cereal. Here you can see him doing his thing, opening his arms wide in celebration of the cereal brand which he is exhorting you to enjoy in all its flavorful, vitamin-enriched kidtastic goodness. He is cute and non-threatening, particularly for one who is clearly meant — by attire and accoutrement — to be a pirate. As required by the National Code of Cereal Mascots, his eyes are wide and unlidded, his eyebrows arched with pleasure and his mouth ever so slack, showing just a hint of tongue, as if to imply the joy of consuming the cereal is so great that one’s brain simply cannot ask one’s jaws to clamp down and risk not tasting the powdery, particulate fragments that hover in the air above the bowl, jostled up after the cereal has tumbled the distance from the box to the bowl’s concave surface. He is everything a cereal mascot is meant to be.

And yet.

What do we really know of Chester? What is his story? What are his motivations for presenting this bowl of cereal to us? To which of the two great cereal mascot archetypes does he belong? Is he a Taster, one of the lucky mascots, like Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam, who gets to enjoy the product he is so assiduously pitching? Or is he a Chaser, one of those poor bastards like the Trix Rabbit, doomed to the Sisyphean task of promoting a cereal he himself is never once allowed to enjoy? The pirate garb suggests he is a Chaser; after all, pirates spend their time chasing booty, which they may or may not ever get. But on the other hand, perhaps this pirate already has his treasure — these dun, chocolate-spotted discs of corn and oats — in which case, like Lucky the Leprechaun, he would be tasked with keeping said treasure from cute but frighteningly rapacious children who chase him about trying to get it for their own. Which would put him solidly in the Taster camp. Fact is, Chester could swing either way. We don’t know.

And we can’t know. And that is because Chester is the mascot not for a national brand of cereal, but for a store brand (or, those in the industry call it, a “private label” brand), made for the Krogers supermarket chain here in America’s heartland. As a mascot for a private label brand, Chester finds himself in an uncomfortable position. His job performance is hampered, not because of his lack of skill in his job, but by the simple mechanics of private label distribution. None of his efforts, for example, will ever get ChipMates into a Food Lion or a Safeway. They have their own private label cookie cereals, possibly with their own mascots — an excitable giraffe, perhaps, or maybe a baker out of his mind with cookie-based rapture.

But more than that, as a store brand mascot, Chester is denied the vehicle that would allow his character its narrative: The commercial. Everything we know of all the major cereal mascots comes in 30-second animated snippets; it’s how we know Tony the Tiger is an excellent lifestyle coach, or that Snap, Crackle and Pop have virtuoso comic timing, or that the poor Trix Rabbit is in desperate and immediate need of therapy. We will never have these brief windows into Chester’s soul; store brands aren’t given commercials of their own. At best, they get a picture in an advertising circular or a second or two on a local TV ad, as the camera pans across a collection of private label items and some droning announcer declares the remarkable savings they afford. Two seconds of being panned across is not enough time to develop a coherent backstory. All Chester gets is the cereal box, and a single, ambiguous pose.

And, of course, he’s lucky to get even that. Some mascots don’t even get a box; think back on the humiliation visited upon Schnoz the Shark or Mane Man as they tried to entice consumers to their cereal in flimsy plastic bags, shelved, as they always were, on the bottom shelf of the cereal aisle. Think also on the extremely high rate of unemployment among cereal mascots. When was the last time Baron Von RedBerry got work? Or Twinkles the Elephant? Or Dandy, Handy ‘N Candy? The dirty secret about being a cereal mascot is that if it doesn’t work out — if your cereal flops or management decides to make a mascot change — you’re through. You can’t get work again. No other cereal will hire you. The best you can hope for is that somewhere along the way some advertising whiz kid decides to run a nostalgia campaign, and then you get trotted out again, gamely smiling for the camera and pathetically grateful that the income will help you get your meds (cereal mascots are ironically susceptible to several diseases related to vitamin deficiencies). Say what you will about the ignominy of being a store brand cereal mascot, but at least it’s steady work. Creating new mascots for a private label brand is money the grocery store companies simply aren’t going to pay.

Be that as it may, spare a moment for the existential plight of Chester Chipmate, a mascot without voice or history or personal motivation, an enigma wrapped in a mystery, coated in sugar and fortified with minerals. Who knows what wisdom he might impart to us if he had just one 30-second animated commercial? An exclamation that his wares are chiptastic? A promise that his cereal is good to the last crumb? An admonition that in this life we all have to make choices, and some choices come with their own pains, which we must accept with eyes wide, eyebrows arched, jaw slacked and tongue slightly visible? Perhaps all these things. Let us enjoy a bowl of ChipMates and think on it.

73 Comments on “The Existential Plight of Chester Chipmate”

  1. Wow. Can you bring a box of these to Boskone. I’m hungry.

    I am immensely impressed at your ability to generate so much thoughtful commentary on just a box of cereal alone. Was this bought for Athena or is it part of your weight loss plan?

  2. Chang, I think someone is on a sugar rush.

    Poor Chester. Even his ability to “swing either way” will probably relegate him to official non-spokes cartoon character. Kroger’s being the wholesome fmaily oriented business. Can’t have the kiddies think that’s acceptable, might confuse them as some preachers may say.

  3. I can’t help thinking of all the poor, hopeless cereal mascots in my local store. The Krisp King comes to mind. Do you suppose when it comes to food mascot sporting events these unfortunate souls are invariably chosen last? I bet they are.

    There should be a home for cerial mascots that can’t quite make it in the big world. A home where smiling children are always happy to enjoy a bowl of Choco Pebbles or Honey Flakes, and mainstream cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch don’t exist.

  4. You’ve got it all wrong, Scalzi. There aren’t ‘tasters’ and ‘chasers’, you naive fool.

    There are only addicts, controlled and uncontrolled. Tony the Tiger is let out of his cage by his Battle Creek Cartel to promote his cereal to the weak, then shuffled back in just for the promise of ‘one more bowl’.

    Lucky the Leprechaun is engaged in a horrible ‘Running Man’ game, where he is treated as the ‘Most Dangerous Cereal Game’. He could give up the cereal, but he’s too far gone to realize that he can only find peace by sacrificing his addiction. And then there’s the truly lost…the sad bastards dedicated to a Quixotic quest to steal their next sugary fix by any means possible.

    Cuckoo for Coco Puffs, indeed.

  5. I’d be more confused at the implication that a bowl of cookies somehow qualifies as a cereal. What’s up with that?

    Kit, when was the last time you wandered down the cereal isle at your local SuperMegaFoodMart, and skimmed through a few ingredients lists? Calvin’s Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs used to be a clever exaggeration. Now, I’d be stunned if Bill Watterson hasn’t had to respond to requests from cereal companies to use the name.

    You know what they say about breakfast: “It’s the most important metabolism-bludgeoning (and advert-force-feeding) opportunity of the day!”

  6. He’s a freaking pirate, John. So he’s neither a Taster or a Chaser, he’s a Hoarder. Which is probably a good idea, since this cereal likely tastes better after being buried on a South Seas island for a decade or so.


  7. There should be a home for cerial mascots that can’t quite make it in the big world. A home where smiling children are always happy to enjoy a bowl of Choco Pebbles or Honey Flakes, and mainstream cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch don’t exist.

    I think it more likely there’s a Bukowski-like bar somewhere where broken, unemployed former mascots sit for hours drinking away their welfare checks or the odd payment from some one-off nostalgic TV special, studying the racing form and, when they’re really in their cups, starting a fistfight.

  8. There aren’t just Tasters and Chasers, there are also Creators, those demigod-like creatures from whom cereal bounty flows. Lucky the Leprechaun (originally known as L.C. Leprechaun) is endowed with the power to “change plain white marshmallows into mystical shapes.”

    So when he says, “They’re always after me Lucky Charms,” he really means HIS Lucky Charms. He made them, dude.

    Can we think of any other creators? Keebler Elves, of course, but that’s not cereal.

    As you can tell, I am on deadline.

  9. Geeze. I think I may want to rethink my line of work as a writer. Even John, a successful writer, can’t afford a box of Cookie Crisps, but instead is doomed to a life of off brand squalor.

    I will not by generic cereal. My kids will have the pleasure of searching for crappy prizes in their name brand cereal just as I did when I was a kid. I want my Cap’n Crunch, my Fruity Pebbles, and Sugar Smacks.

    I’m a writer. And in the name of all the famous mascots on all the overpriced boxes of sugary cereal, I quit!

  10. There’s something worse than being a store brand cereal.

    Go to one of the many “dollar stores”. Most will have a food section, including boxes of cereals which you will have never heard of.

    Some are remaindered boxes of discontinued brands. But others, I suspect, are expressly made and boxed in Third World sweatshops for direct shipment to the dollar stores.

  11. Kelsey:

    “Even John, a successful writer, can’t afford a box of Cookie Crisps, but instead is doomed to a life of off brand squalor.”

    This implies I did the buying. Note that if I was doing the buying, no cookie-shaped cereal, store-brand or not, would have made it into the house. I’m a Cap’N Crunch man, myself.

  12. Chester Chipmate vs Cap’N Crunch. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!

    My money, it’s on the Cap. Chester has got the scrappy fighter look, but Cap’N sometimes displays some magical powers. And what’s a pirate without his eyepatch. Nothing.

    Me personally, I’m a ColonBlow kind of guy. Whole Wheat Squares. Mmm, fibery.

  13. As I read this, I’m sitting here eating my Grape Nuts and trying to motivate. Chip freakin Mates? What the hell is a “Cookie Cereal”? Get yourself some edible gravel. Sugar isn’t even an ingredient – and I’ll be damned if I’m going to add it, because I likes my cereal savory. The box has a heart on the front of it – implying that this nasty crunchy muck is good for something other than loosening your fillings.

    And apropos: pick up T. Corghassan Boyle’s “The Road To Wellville” ( ) because you need to temper science fiction with enemas, female hysteria, and breakfast cereal.

  14. All I can tell is that he seems to have a hellacious mullet.

    The one I feel sorry for is the Bee pitching for Honey Nut Cheerios. I mean….poor Bee, without a hive or queen or any other bee cohorts. And he has to drag all that honey onto each individual O and cart around giant-to-him honey wands.

    Obviously some of the mascots have backup jobs, like the Cookie Crunch Cop and Captain Crunch. One gets the feeling that their cereal oriented capers are but a tiny sliver of their little lives.

    (Side note: Speaking of the Captain, I once held my BF’s phone hostage and sent him a note through the dreaded Cereal Syndicate, saying “Bring me the head of Le Capitan Crunch!” So sometimes being a mascot can be rather risky.)

  15. I’m looking at the picture, and for the life of me I can’t see a heart shape anywhere on it.

    I was into Crunchberries and Golden Grahams (one of the few kids’ cereals that lacked a cartoon mascot).

  16. Anyone remember when Kroger had beer that was simply labeled ‘BEER’? No other markings – just black letters on a white background. They didn’t even bother refrigerating it because it was skunked before they canned it.

    Chester should be grateful they even bothered with a mascot…

  17. John,

    Tell Krissy that you are the provider and that what Mr. Provider wants Mr. Provider gets. And you want your Cap’N!

    And then I hope you will post pics, if not video, of the beat down she puts on you.

    Yep, you just better shut it and continue life-as-normal in your Cap’N Crunch-less world. Sorry, for trying to empower you to stand up for your rights.

  18. Dear Gang (and especially John H),

    Actually, I remember “Cost Cutter Beer” at Krogers. It (and some of the other items under that particular brand) were rather scary stuff.

    In the meantime, I confess that I tend to pay more attention to the nutrition information on the side panels. I, too, am (sigh) dieting, or perhaps pretending that I am dieting. At least as long as the cereal mascot doesn’t start to resemble Richard Simmons, because then I don’t think anyone would get away with *anything*.

  19. Several years ago, (around 2000) I was driving through El Paso, TX when I saw a billboard for what has to be my favorite local brand of food: “Bimbo Bread”. It featured a cute bear (Bimbo the Bear) in a baker’s hat, making bread. It seemed to only be available in stores frequented by Spanish-speaking folks, where I bought a loaf. I e-mailed a friend back home in Cincinnati who is from Puerto Rico to ask if “bimbo” means something in Spanish other than what my anglophone mind thought it meant, and he said as far as he knew, no it didn’t. Alas, I never did learn more about Bimbo’s backstory. If there’s anyone from the El Paso area out there in Whateverland, perhaps you can enlighten me. :)

  20. Go to one of the many “dollar stores”. Most will have a food section, including boxes of cereals which you will have never heard of.
    I go to a discount store where the cereal on the shelves is labeled in Arabic and Hindi. Same pictures of cute carnivores and wacked-out sailors on the box, just a different language. I think. Hmm … I’ve never checked to see if the contents are the same; I’m not a cereal person. I wonder if there are strange ingredients that Western consumers don’t get? Damn, gotta put my tinfoil hat back on.

  21. I have nothing, nothing to contribute to this conversation other than to say that this truely is the land of Whatever. Cereal Mascots, who would have thought of that? Every entry is a mind expanding experience.

    John, you really are a modern day Renaissance man. I am agog, truely, at breath and scope of your interests. If you ever start a cult, I’m in (I’m looking for post retirement employment anyway).

  22. SGT Arnie: Yep, they had ‘Cost Cutter Beer’ too, but that had the scissors logo on it. The one I’m referring to wasn’t that classy – just the word BEER in block letters. I think it sold for $1 a six-pack back in the early ’80s…

  23. You -do- realize there’s a short story in this, don’t you? And by going into this in such detail you’ve just made it impossible for me to write it, if I’d ever been demented enough to think it.

    Damn you, Scalzi…

  24. SGT Arnie, John H.

    Yeah I remember BEER in a white can.

    Meijer’s in Michigan carried it as well, also they had generic wine labeled as Wine: Red or Wine: White in a white box with black letters. Came by the gallon box and was revolting but very very cheap. For high school parties in the late 70’s it was the perfect item, we didn’t know any better anyway. I think it was collected from the spill sump in some industrial solvent factory in Romania, at least that’s how it tasted anyway. Made a dandy engine degreaser and bug repellent too, if I remember correctly.

    There were, uniformly, unpleasant side effects that usually manifested the next morning and lasted for several days. Good times, good times.

    Kid nowadays don’t know how good they have it.

  25. Did the labels of the beer in question have two parallel red diagonal stripes on a white background?

    I seem to recall that Kroger’s had all kinds of ultra-generic products with that label. White background, two red stripes in one corner, name of contents in bold black letters front and center. “MACARONI AND CHEESE DINNER.” “CEREAL.” “LAUNDRY DETERGENT.” “COLA” (even cheaper than Big K–ugh!). “FLOUR.” And, most likely (though I was a wee bit too young to drink at the time), “BEER.”

  26. I’m laughing because this reads like an essay someone at my school would write for class. For credit (non-creative-writing credit, because that’s just the way we roll).

    It’s just like One of Those Essays, only, you know, better.

  27. To taster and chaser I would add 2 more categories: protector and pitcher.

    The protector claims to object to children eating his cereal. Lucky is the only one who comes to mind.

    The pitcher is a mascot who seems uninterested in eating the cereal himself. The Cap’n encourages kids to eat his Crunch, but I don’t remember him eyeing the bowl hungrily. Snap, Crackle, and Pop are escaped Keebler elves who found employment in a Krispies factory, they aren’t paid enough to purchase the product and wouldn’t have time to eat it during those 14-hour meal-breakless workdays.

  28. Annalee: Maybe you could send Scalzi some kind of certificate for professional creative writing accomplishment, thus making him an alumni. Then you could use him as an example for your class: “Kids, study hard, stay in school, tape bacon to cats, and one day you too could become a major mover and slacker in the world of Big Sugar…” Hmmm, maybe not, I think I’m still groggy from the jetlag.

  29. if your cereal flops or management decides to make a mascot change — you’re through. You can’t get work again. No other cereal will hire you. The best you can hope for is that somewhere along the way some advertising whiz kid decides to run a nostalgia campaign

    Of course, you could always get a spot on Robot Chicken or suchlike by behaving badly in front of a camera somewhere.

  30. As a mascot for a private label brand, Chester is actually not bound by the the dictates of the National Code of Cereal Mascots (NCCM).

    On another tack – I prefer that instead of dystopian and Sisyphean future that they all end up wandering into Callahan’s saloon – and end up in other times and places, no longer forced to hawk cereal.

    And what about the NCCM – isn’t it one of the many branches of the Illuminati, still engaged in maintaining world dominance, not only of us but also upon poor defenseless fictitious characters. We all may need Callahan’s help!

  31. Dear God, please say you made up the “National Code of Cereal Mascots”. If not, it’s time to attach a hose to the tail pipe, roll up the windows and start the engine.

  32. I thought store brand cereal as well as their masocots were knock offs of the national name brand ones?

  33. He was a captain without a mate…

    And he was a mate without captain…

    Together they found the truth in the swelling of milk-soaked cookies and the love of spooning…

    This Christmas:

    Chester and Crunch

    Brokeback Schooner

  34. I was wondering what could get Scalzi to write at such length on this topic, and here’s the only thing I could come up with:

    He’s hoping someone will add “Scalzi is known to prefer Cap’N Crunch over Chip Mates Cookie Cereal” to his trivia notes on Wiki.

  35. No, truly, brand management is a serious game, except it’s no game: it’s way too serious. Here’s an old article from Salon that depicts in graphic detail just how crazy grown-ups have to be to chaperone their fantasy-mascots.

    Thus, Ronald McDonald stopped frequenting the discos. Snap, Crackle & Pop stopped riding skateboards. King Vitaman was forced to retire his slogan, “I always get the bitches because I’m so nutritious!” and modify his image from a melancholy old man clad in an unconvincing crown and ermine-trimmed cape to a wacky cartoon version of the same. (I think you can still find King Vitaman at Safeway and other fine stores.)

    What’s up with Chester the Chip-Mate? He was obviously an 17th-century cabin boy and Huguenot. On one voyage, his ship was lost off French Polynesia. He awoke marooned on an island, alone. Chester de Preyster subsisted on the bounty of the island, but his soul grew weak. Finally, he hit on a way to sarcastically re-enact the sacrament of Communion and consume essential natural and artificial flavors and sweeteners at the same time. This was one of the earliest known examples of the region’s cargo cults. Chester was eventually rescued and served as partial inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Sources differ on what his large gold earring represents.

  36. ‘Kit, when was the last time you wandered down the cereal isle at your local SuperMegaFoodMart, and skimmed through a few ingredients lists?’

    I live in England! We have Frosties and Coco Puffs, but that’s basically lots and lots of sugar stuck to normal cereals. Cookies is a stage of cereal evolution we haven’t reached yet. It’s like some other food species got into the gene pool somehow and cross-bred…

    Man, I can hear the rustling in my kitchen cupboard as they cross-breed right now! I always thought it was mice. I’m going downstairs to get the hose.

  37. Chester is a pirate. Chester obviously has pirated the ceral he represents. The picture on the cover looks very much like other cerals I have seen on the American market. Regardless of Chester’s friendly demeanor, he should be reported to the Dept of Homeland Security…

  38. Another random thought…
    Whatever happened to the Generic food product line? 20 years ago this would be a white box with the word “CEREAL” printed in large black all capital letters. I guess everything evolves…

  39. Nathan: The trivia note you requested has been added.

    Mr. Scalzi: You may be thinking about this WAY too much. Of course, my LJ has reviews of candy bars, so I’m not sure how much room I have to comment . . .

  40. David S.: “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl…” :-P

  41. As I recall it, blatantly generic products were a fad in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Plain black and white labels and simple descriptive names were part of the look. As was lousy quality, supposedly.

    This even led to a few “generic books”. I have a copy of “Science Fiction” around here somewhere. “Romance” and “Western” also existed.

  42. Capt Button said: “I have a copy of “Science Fiction” around here somewhere. “Romance” and “Western” also existed.”

    Holy friggin’ crap! I’d COMPLETEY forgotten about that. I actually HAVE a copy of Science Fiction around here (never, ever, get rid of books). The standard, generic, space opera yarn. I WILL be damned. Wasn’t too bad either, in a standard, generic, space-opera yarn sort of way as I remember. Wonder who the author actually was? I remember it read like a Colin Capp novel. Damn you, Capt, now I have to go sort through boxes.

  43. You left out the fact that this cereal is a clone of Cookie Crisp, whose mascot, Cookie Crook, is also a Chaser. That’s another strong point toward suggesting Chester is himself a Chaser.

  44. Ray, I would guess that someone did a cost-benefit analysis and found that designing pleasant packaging would lead to enough additional sales that the profit would offset the additional design expense.

  45. Robotech_Master:

    Well, Cookie Crisp has had more than one mascot: The first, Cookie Jarvis, was definitely a Taster. So it’s ambiguous, you see.

  46. Am I the only one whose eyebrows raised slightly, for a brief second, on the phrase ‘showing just a hint of tongue’?

    Probably just me. My apologies to Chester.

  47. WEEP FOR CHESTER! WEEP!!! (rends clothing with spoon and falls to knees wailing)

    Good stuff!! Never thought that deeply about such a profoundly shallow subject. Like deep-sea diving in a raindrop! LOL!!

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