Today’s news was filled with bluster and foolishness to such an extent that I am just going to disregard it all for the moment and write a throw-away humor post about consumer goods. Presumably we can work on restoring science, democracy, and art to humankind at some later point when I am less tired from work.
It has been widely noted that honeybees have been disappearing from the world. Although this problem was exacerbated by climate change, invasive varroa mites, and disease, the main problem is the overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides, which take a terrible toll on hymenopterans in general and are especially hard on eusocial bees (which extensively rely on elaborate organization, communication, and teamwork).
This past week, General Mills, the maker of Cheerios decided to cash in on this tragedy, with a marketing campaign in which “BuzzBee” the cartoon bee who is the mascot of HoneyNut Cheerios has likewise gone missing. The firm is distributing packets of “wildflowers” with their cereal so that children can help out our beleaguered insect friends by planting bee friendly gardens. It is a bit unclear how wisely or carefully the flowers in the packets were chosen, but I am generally a fan of flower gardening and this sounds like a potentially fun promotion (although I have a suspicion there will be a lot of people who end up disappointed by the “Diving Dolphin” nature of cereal box seeds).
Although he comes from a rogues’ gallery filled with monsters, addicts, and leprechauns, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee was a fairly amiable cereal mascot: he was sort of good-natured and slightly anxious bee who wanted you to experience “one honey of an O” with his delicious sugary cereal (which really is pretty good).
Yet I tend to regard BuzzBee not as a victim of colony collapse disorder as of poorly thought-out branding. He seems like he was created by a room full of MBAs without a particularly good grasp of hymenopteran life cycles. Notably, the honey nut bee was clearly male—even though male honey bees are stingless drones of limited utility to the hive. It seems unlikely that he would ever obtain reproductive success hanging around human kitchens (fertile queens tend to be found and courted in harrowing aerial circumstances), however people also do not tend to use agricultural pesticides in their kitchen, so Buzz most likely did not die of neonicotinoids: more likely he was a victim of starvation, winter, or possibly a bee-eating predator such as a lizard or a bear.
And if Buzz did manage to get his act together and find an unfertilized queen, then we will certainly never see him again! Reproductive consummation proves fatal to drones.
No doubt, General Mills is hoping to bring Buzz back in the style of Coke Classic with much fanfare and, um, marketing buzz, however, I hope that when they do so, they stop and think about actual bees. To my mind, a honeybee mascot would be much more powerful if it was a formidable queen bee or, even better, a group of terrifying clone sisters who all speak the same thoughts in the same hive voice. That would truly be an appropriate image for the group-think world of brand marketing. Also it would leave an indelible impression on the mind of today’s youth, the same way “Crazy Cravings” scarred a group of children with his disturbing need for Honeycomb. Crazy Craving taught all of us how giant corporations would like us to be, maybe the fact that GM is so willing to disappear the friendly face of its sugar cereal for a bit of tawdry publicity will remind us afresh of the world they are trying to build.