For this week’s Time Travel Tuesday, we’re going back to the bygone days of 2002. Spider-Man’s second movie was coming out, Disney did not yet own the Muppets or Marvel Comics, and there were still enough people who didn’t own cell phones yet to make collect call services worth advertising on television. And this conversation started with a strange discovery from a vending machine…
Down and out in Gotham City
This week’s column began with a possessed soft drink vending machine.
Bear with me, folks, I really am going somewhere with this.
You see, the beverage machine here at the newspaper office has a mind of its own. No matter what button you press, you have about a 75 percent chance of being awarded a Diet Dr. Pepper. Some people, some wild, pie-in-the-sky speculators, have attributed this to the fact that the Diet Dr. Pepper button sticks. Being more rational, I prefer to believe that evil gremlins reside in the machine and, having read the recent studies concluding everyone in America except Callista Flockhart is overweight, want us to continue to feel bad about ourselves.
At any rate, I have surrendered the battle and pretty much drink Diet Dr. Pepper all the time. As I like Diet Dr. Pepper, this is not a big deal.
A few days ago, when I retrieved my beverage from the machine, I got an additional shock. The can, usually white with little silver flecks and red lettering, had an additional graphic element: Spider-Man. That’s right, the blockbuster webslinger was crouching on the side of my beverage, glaring at me with those big spider-eyes, the message supposedly being, “That’s right, tubbo, drink this Diet Dr. Pepper before you wind up looking like the Kingpin.”
Now I know that crimefighting probably isn’t the most profitable endeavor. The hours are long, the work is thankless and you’ve got to put up with questions from sewing store employees who wonder why an 18-year-old who looks like that kid from Wonder Boys keeps purchasing red and blue fabric by the yard, but to see Spidey shilling soda was kind of a blow for me.
And it’s not just beverages — Spider-Man is currently featured on a commercial for one of those digital telephone companies. He’s also lent his name to cereal, clothing, a major motion picture and lots of toys (one would imagine the residuals would offset at least the cost of that plastic webbing on his costume).
Not long ago he also did a commercial with several of his crimefighting comrades — Captain America, the Hulk, Thor — telling kids to drink their milk. Apparently Avengers Mansion needed some renovating.
And it’s not just Spider-Man who’s feeling the pinch. Evidently, being a billionaire playboy isn’t as lucrative as it once was either, because recently we’ve seen the Caped Crusader himself, Batman, on TV selling the OnStar anti-car theft system. I guess it’s nice to know who to call the next time some kid from Crime Alley boosts his tires, but I hate to think of him down and out in Gotham City.
And there are non-superhero celebrities forced to do endorsements to make ends meet. Charlie Brown and Snoopy have been hawking Met Life for years. Bart Simpson has told us time and again that nobody better lay a finger on his Butterfinger. ALF spends his time extolling the virtues of 10-10-220 and, proving that the beloved Muppets may be feeling this worst of all, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are doing Denny’s commercials while at the same time Pepe the King Prawn is trying to coax us into Long John Silver’s.
As I stared at this offending beverage can, the thought crept into my mind — when did times get so tough for fictional heroes? Oh sure, we’ve had characters selling products for years, but for the most part they’ve been unknowns until they got their gig. The Qwik Bunny escaped from a Loréal testing lab. Ronald McDonald was a clown college dropout with no prospects and a giant purple best friend who kept crashing on his couch. Cap’n Crunch spent years on a garbage scow before being given stewardship over a tasty breakfast cereal.
But Spider-Man… Snoopy… Kermit… these guys were big time! Since when do guys like this need that kind of financial assistance? Perhaps it’s time we started some sort of government aid program for Fictional Americans. We could try to get them job packages, tax breaks, college tuition waivers — I for one wouldn’t want to live in a world where Kermit can’t afford to put his little nephew Robin through frog school. The last thing we need is another adult amphibian with only a tadpole education.
Yes, all these thoughts ran rampant through my mind… and then I remembered a snack food of my youth I was fond of. Perhaps you remember it too: Superman peanut butter.
I guess some things stay the same after all.
Blake M. Petit wonders how he could go about getting endorsements for the characters in his novel, “Other People’s Heroes,” now available from Amazon.com Contact him with comments, suggestions or a Superman peanut butter jar, because he misses that stuff, at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com