Please send your questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Questions may be edited, or wholly invented.)
My 2-year-old is a super-picky eater, and my wife and I are freaking the fuck out about his intake of vitamins and minerals. What do you recommend?
Consult a physician, but it should set your mind at ease for the kid to take half of a Flintstones chewable multivitamin each day and for you and the missus each to take half of a 2mg Xanax ASAP.
The short answer is brand loyalty.
What’s the long answer?
Giving you a long answer will require summarizing the first chat my kid and I had about Fred Flintstone, and you know what it’s like trying to talk to someone whom you are actually trying to talk some sense into. You say to the 2-year-old, “How old are you?” and he stonewalls, pretending to absorbed in his choo-choo. You say, “How old did you turn on your birthday?” and he says, “I want cake.” I’ll give you the long answer after you take the Xanax.
Are you back? Once upon a time—some weeks ago, late in the morning and the year, out running errands in the mass-marketplace—I was ambushed into sentience by television, to use a John Leonard phrase. I’d walked into the pharmacy remembering that we had nearly run out of vitamin supplements for the baby, so I pivoted to the correct shelf, stooped to survey the dropper bottles—and only then realized that we had completely run out of baby. We had aged out of the baby-bird business of the dropper bulb, and our toothsome child was ready for exciting new challenges.
I cast a fresh eye at the shelf. There were chewables and there were gummies, and there was a cartoon cavalcade of licensing deals—a Pixar Cars convoy and a Disney princess clique, a poor depressive Pooh and a poriferous manic SpongeBob, an old-school minimalist Mickey and a panderingly contemporary skateboarding Bugs. There was, on the box of the perfectly decent value brand—a product as worthy as many of the above and marketed with more integrity than some—a motley menagerie of non-celebrity critters begging for love with the blank eyes of plush toys. But most of all there was no contest here.
Fronting a box of Flintstones Complete Chewables—his arms lifted in a vigorous V and all eight fingers splayed to tickle unknown recesses of memory—Fred Flintstone is a figure of soaring fun. On the drugstore aisle it seemed he had leapt to deliver a flying tackle of a fond hug. His expectant gaze warned he’d be let down if I did not reciprocate the embrace. I knew in my heart that it was a sales pitch—but also that Fred and his colleagues had installed in that heart a love for a pitch in itself.
I proceeded to checkout with Marty O’Donnell’s vintage jingle playing in one part of my head (“We are Flintstones kids—10 million strong and growing!”) while in another I reflected on that jingle and the 1987 commercial it rode in on: An unseen children’s chorus evokes a collectivist ethos that would not be out of place in North Korean propaganda, and its mewling coerciveness exemplifies the cultural bullying George W.S. Trow describes as “the aesthetic of the hit” (“It’s a Hit! Love it! ... It loves you because you love it because it’s a Hit!”). All the while, the child actors featured at bowling alleys and in batter’s boxes and behind the double bass are awfully darn cute. In its combination of authoritarianism and kitsch, the old Flintstones ad campaign is in the style of Hummel-figurine fascism, I decided, while swiping my credit card.
That evening, as his dinnertime approached, I said to the kid, “Hey, kid, do you know who Fred Flintstone is?”
He raised his lake-wide eyes from the project of re-undismantling a toy car and not very convincingly said, “Yes.”
“Oh, do you really? Tell me who Fred Flintstone is.”
“Um,” said the boy, “a rabbit.”
I saw we had a lot of work to do. I said, “No, Fred Flintstone is a cartoon caveman by Hanna-Barbera. He used to have a TV show.”
He said, “I want to watch Elmo,” giving me what I deserved for putting the issue of television on the table. Years ago, I assessed Elmo as “a symbol of innocent joy peddled with the utmost cynicism”; now I regard him as a reliable accomplice for stealing 10 minutes for a shower.
“No, not tonight, but I ought to show you the opening of The Flintstones later,” I said, and continued to babble about how The Flintstones began in the early ’60s as an ABC prime-time show inspired by The Honeymooners. “Fred’s catchphrase is yabba dabba doo.”
He said, “I want to watch Yo Gabba Gabba,” referring to a current program, the success of which I attribute to its superficial funkiness, which allows parents to believe that they and their progeny are absorbing something less uncool than Dora the Explorer.