It’s a wild time in the world of breakfast cereal, though admittedly I’ve only started following the cereal news this month — fourteen days ago, to be more specific, when I received this picture with the caption: “New cereal dropped”
Apple Jacks is new to Australia, apparently. It’s never occurred to me that cereal could be new — at least not a completely new cereal that isn’t just a variant like Oops! All Berries. Obviously it makes logical sense that there would be new cereals, but cereal has always been a constant in my mind, an unchanging pillar of society that always has been and always will be. It’s not.
In my search to learn more about the latest and greatest in breakfast cereals, I stumble onto “leaked Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie cereal Cosmic brownie cereal opening & review August 25 2020“, a five-minute video from Stevil librium entertainment, a YouTube channel with 31 subscribers and 141 videos — the vast majority of those are minute long screen captures of Pokémon Go evolutions. The lighting is bad and the camera doesn’t feel great, eye-wise, but this video conjures up a nostalgic feeling. It’s like I’m watching a home video from 2006, but it’s not. This is Daniel Ellsberg releasing the Pentagon Papers. It’s WikiLeaks publishing Vault7. No. It’s bigger. It’s a faceless hero (presumably Stevil, unless the channel’s name refers to something or someone else) risking life and limb to bring us the latest from inside the cereal behemoth that is Kellogg’s.
The set — if you could call it that — is framed by cereal boxes, obviously. A pyramid of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Chocolate Frosted Flakes, Crunch Berries, Trix, Froot Loops, and Franken Berry serves as background for our main actors a box of Kellogg’s Oatmeal Creme Pies Cereal and a completely blank white box with the dimensions of a normal cereal box. Stevil gets right to the point, giving us a brief history of both Kellogg’s and Little Debbie before introducing their collaboration: the Oatmeal Cream Pies cereal.
He brings a piece of the cereal up to the camera to show it off, musing to himself that they look “kinda like oatmeal creme pie… ehhh,” as he brings up an actual Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie for comparison. Stevil pours the cereal into a bowl that’s slightly too small and pours in some presumably-two percent milk.
It’s cereal. Gotta have some milk.Stevil
After he drops that nugget of wisdom, he tries the cereal and brings up a YouTube video of a Little Debbie commercial (for the actual snack cake — not for the cereal) on his Kindle Fire and pans the camera over for us to watch while he eats. I’m enthralled. Not only have been sucked into this world of breakfast cereals, but now I understand the nostalgia behind Little Debbie snack cakes. I understand Stevil.
They’re spicy — spicier than Stevil expects, at least. He likens them Post and Hostess’s Twinkies cereal, which he was lukewarm on at best. And that’s the end of his comments on the matter. I start to stand up and get on with my day, thinking that the video is over, but Stevil reaches for the white unmarked box. Inside contains the Cosmic Brownie cereal, which is not only unreleased, it’s also unannounced. He tries it and likes it. I had forgotten about the second part of the video’s title — the “Cosmic brownie cereal opening & review” part. I am stunned. Shocked. So are the comments it seems: Curtis Jackson finds the video “Very informative” and Zack F lets us know that “If this is legit, could be the best cereals ever.”
Reading the YouTube comments was when I realized that there was more to this. I saw comments from accounts named “Cerealphile” and “Cereal Snob” and a couple dozen other very excited people. This isn’t just a leak of the latest goings-on of the cereal world; it’s a group of people who really love cereal. I decide to join them.
Thomas Hicks, the eponymous Cereal Snob and a self-proclaimed cereal influencer with over twenty thousand followers on Instagram (though, I don’t know if that’s a lot or not), is talking to me from the same place that he shoots his YouTube videos in Arizona, although it’s framed and lit slightly differently. I can see his shelf of cereal memorabilia in the back and tucked away in the opposite corner is over a dozen boxes of cereals that he’s been meaning to get to. Thomas has the energy of a toddler getting to talk about dinosaurs or tractors or whatever it is that toddlers like, getting up multiple times to grab things to show me — once a printed press release for Froot Loops candy canes and another time a Cap’n Crunch figurine. He is excited about cereal. I am excited about cereal.
I originally was going to frame this around my conversation with Thomas. I took notes but I can barely read my handwriting. I should have typed them, but through a series of unfortunate events my keyboard is loud and clicky — very loud and clicky — so I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of Thomas on our call. It’s fine. There wasn’t much substance in the conversation anyway. We just talked about cereal. Sure, I learned a few things and you could too if you bothered to look up “cereal reviews” or “new cereals.”
Trying to decipher my notes from our conversation, one word pops up again and again: community. That’s what really drew me into this. I wasn’t going to write an essay in which I watch a YouTube video, but finding out that there were so many people (1,820 to be exact) that watched and liked (34) this very same video of Stevil trying out some cereal struck a chord.
What’s the point of reviewing a three dollar box of cereal? That was one of the main things we talked about. Thomas thinks the very concept ridiculous but also funny. There’s a sort of absurdist humor in this whole thing, treating this endeavor as if it were something serious. Thomas takes on a faux-formal tone, playing a caricature of himself telling his audience that “this is a corn-based cereal.” Sure, there’s some value in cereal reviews in helping people decide what cereals to buy, but that’s not the main reason for them.
They’re to get people excited — people like myself. People that are the core of the this community that I keep talking about. People that do things like spread rumors of a cereal called Canuck Crunch that’s going to taste like maple syrup. People that sign petitions to change Rice Krispies Treats cereal back to it’s original recipe. People that send each other cereals that they can’t find in their local stores. Thomas doesn’t think that this is unique to cereals, though.
If you want to get hyped about lightbulbs, I’m sure there’s a lightbulb guy on Insta.Thomas Hicks
I do want to get hyped about light bulbs, and I was able to find @lightbulbies, an account dedicated to featuring “the best home lighting from all over the world” — it’s not quite the same thing Thomas is doing with cereal and seems to be a front of some sort front advertising for Lighting For You, a website that sells light fixtures (for you, presumably). Maybe that’s what’s so special about the cereal community, though. There’s a sort of magic that brings the community to life. It’s not magic — it’s people that tie the community together and push it forward. I’m not talking about Tony the Tiger or Snap, Crackle, and Pop. It’s people like Thomas and Stevil.
I am a cereal mascot.Thomas Hicks
Before I understood that my obsession was with the people not the cereal, I bought a box of Oatmeal Creme Pies Cereal — two actually — on Stevil’s tepid review to experience this spiciness myself. I couldn’t find one anywhere in the grocery store so I paid $24 for them online. This is the most expensive cereal I’ve ever bought, but that’s the price of early adoption, I guess. It’s not. I was wrong. The day after I order them it’s pointed out that I could have bought a box for three dollars elsewhere online. I overpaid, but great journalism isn’t free (send me money on Venmo @quoctran98).
Of course there’s community centered around cereal. I’ve seen communities centered around the name Dave, McDonald’s McRib, and Twitter users roleplaying as characters from the Cars movie franchise, so why wouldn’t there be a niche community around something as popular as breakfast cereal. I’ve been thinking a bit recently about why I get pulled into these subcultures and hobbies so intensely for a such a short period of time. I have no answer, but now I’ll be known as the cereal guy and months from now when when I’ve finished my boxes of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies cereal and moved on, my friends will continue texting me whenever they see something about cereal.