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King of Pops, king of my son's soul

Can you raise a child in a capitalist society without inherently raising a consumer? The intensely branded nature of my three-year-old son Declan's existence suggests not. On any given day, my son sports more logos than a NASCAR driver. Captain America, Paw Patrol, Spider-Man, Batman, Elmo: These are just some of the seemingly endless number of famous faces and lucrative brands that dominate Declan's wardrobe.

CL NathanRabin Illustration Web.59e8c10c83594
Photo credit: Illustration by Rob Royall

But it goes beyond that. My son isn't just a slave to the big national brands. He does not have a sweet tooth (like his dad and grandpa) so much as an entire mouth full of them. He does not eat a whole lot but when he does, it's more or less pure sugar. For Declan, the four food groups are chocolate milk, chocolate ice cream, Chick Fil-A (which he pronounces Chick-A-Lay) and chocolate popsicles from King of Pops.

King of Pops makes good artisanal popsicles for yuppies and hipsters and their children but they're even better at branding and marketing. I felt like Declan officially evolved, or de-evolved, into a whole other level of consumerism when he went from asking for "popsicle" to saying, "I want a King of Pops."

Like the late King of Pop, King of Pops has special appeal to children, because, good Lord, what American child doesn't love popsicles and/or any frozen sugary treats? But it goes beyond that. The genius of King of Pops' marketing lies in its childlike simplicity. It didn't take long for my son to make a Pavlovian association between the crown on the King of Pops' logo and the pleasing sugar rush that ensues when he convinces his easily led mother, father, grandmother and grandfather to indulge his urgent demand for King of Pops.

As with so much of capitalism/consumerism, the idea of King of Pops seems to be infinitely preferable to its reality. Because while my son's Spidey sense for King of Pops leads him to urgently demand the Frozen Treat Monarch's wares, he seldom manages to consume more than a quarter of a popsicle at a time.

The problem with King of Pops is that it's too rich and intense to be consumed in full, particularly by a three-year-old who eats like a bird. The other big problem is that the popsicle is an astonishingly messy and undignified sugar-delivery system. The moment a King of Pops pop is purchased, the proud owner of this overpriced artisanal popsicle enters a furious race against time to effectively consume the thing without it melting and leaving their hands sticky, gooey messes.

When Declan gets his fill of rapidly melting chocolate, he hands it to me, on the off chance that he'll eventually receive a gustatory second wind and decide that he does, in fact, want to finish eating the remaining 75 percent. Being a parent sometimes means enduring discomfort and aggravation so that your child does not have to, but I willingly concede that being Melting Popsicle Caddy is not one of my favorite aspects of being a dad.

So while I associate King of Pops with my son being happy, it's also synonymous with waste. Because I honestly cannot remember a time when Declan consumed an entire King of Pop. What could be more perfectly late-stage capitalism than paying way too much for something you definitely do not need, but also could not possibly consume in its entirety?

As the strange legacy of Joe Camel proves, when you really want to reel in consumers, you need to get them when they're young and in a pre-critical state. King of Pops certainly reeled in Declan when he was most suggestible. Will that lead to a life-long addiction to King of Pops? I honestly don't know, but another artisanal, small-batch popsicle pimp recently moved into the neighborhood in the form of Steel City Pops. So now it looks like there may be some furious competition for Declan's taste buds as well as his parents and grandparents' hard-earned popsicle dollars.

Or, you know, maybe he could stop eating so many damn popsicles. But we're understandably looking at that as the nuclear option. We're only human, after all, and Americans at that. Mindless consumerism of sugary treats is practically our patriotic duty.

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