I have received a disturbing letter from Mr. Frank J. Phillips, who describes himself as both a patriot and a Latin teacher.
I didn't realize we still had Latin teachers, but I'm glad we do, because contrary to what you think (and, as a member of the news media, I know exactly what you think) Latin is not just an old dead language spoken by old dead guys who are no longer relevant because they are old and dead. In fact, Latin is the "mother tongue" (or "alma mater") of our own language (English): Many of the words and phrases we use every day are actually of Latin origin, including "etc.," "kazoo," "Roman numeral," "Caesar salad," "No way!" and "bling bling."
But Mr. Phillips did not write to me about Latin. He wrote to me about a troubling thing he has noticed: namely -- and here I will quote Mr. Phillips, using his own words -- "the complete male domination of the breakfast-cereal cartoon-spokescharacter world."
And he's right. Think about the characters representing your major cereal brands:
Cap'n Crunch. Tony the Tiger. The Quaker Oats Quaker Man. Toucan Sam. Count Chocula. Frankenberry. Lucky the Leprechaun. Snap, Crackle and -- yes -- Pop. The Kellogg's Rooster. The Trix Rabbit. All males!
(If you're wondering how I know that the Trix Rabbit is male, the answer is, I asked various people: "Is the Trix Rabbit male?" And they all said he was.)
Now many individuals confronted with a social injustice of this magnitude would choose to look the other way. But Frank J. Phillips is not "many individuals." He wrote a petition to the cereal companies and circulated it at his school, St. Mary's School in Medford, Ore., where many students signed the petition out of what I assume was a sincere desire to keep Mr. Phillips distracted from attempting to teach them Latin.
Some of the students also wrote letters expressing their deep innermost feelings about this issue. "As a young girl," wrote one young girl, "I subconsciously grew to dislike cereal because I felt that I could not identify with the characters that represented cereal."
I know what you're thinking now. You're thinking: "Dave, are you insane? Our nation is struggling to deal with war, worldwide terrorism, a mounting budget deficit, a health care crisis and some very questionable votes on 'American Idol.' With all these serious problems facing us, how can you possibly ignore the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee? Surely you wouldn't call it a male?"
No, I would not. I would call it gender-neutral. And as the father of a 4-year-old girl, I frankly do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where her cereal-spokesperson role model is an asexual bee.
Speaking of which, does anybody know why, when we explain human sexuality to young people, we refer to it as "the birds and the bees?" I am an observant person who has spent many hours outdoors, and I have never once seen a bird or a bee have sex. I don't believe that, organ-wise, birds or bees have any equipment they can have sex with. I believe this is the main reason why they can fly, and we can't: They are more aerodynamic.
It seems to me that if we're going to use animals to explain human sexuality to youngsters, we should pick a species whose anatomy and behavior at least vaguely resemble ours. So when your child -- let's say his name is Billy -- reached a certain age, instead of "the birds and the bees," you'd have a little talk with him about, say, "the dogs."
You'd say: "Billy, the male dog wants to have sex pretty much all the time with pretty much every female dog on the entire planet, or, if no female is available, with another male dog, or the nearest human shin, or any low-lying furniture. Whereas the female dog . . . Billy? Come back here!"
But Billy is gone, because he already knows all about human sexuality, from watching HBO.
Speaking of HBO, did you believe the final episode of "The Sopranos," when Tony . . . AH-OOH-GAH! AH-OOH-GAH!
Uh-oh: That's the Digression Alarm Horn, warning us that we have drifted dangerously far from our column topic, which, as you may recall, is the appalling lack of female breakfast-cereal cartoon spokescharacters. I know I speak for literally billions of Americans when I say: It has gone on long enough! This column, I mean.