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How Tony the Tiger Became the Most Sexually Objectified Breakfast Mascot

Cap’n Crunch is too old. Count Chocula is a creep. The Trix Rabbit, god, so thirsty. No, if you’re going to lust after any cereal spokestoon, it’ll definitely be Tony the Tiger.

For years we’ve known that Twitter is horny for the Frosted Flakes mascot. When Tony started blocking people for sending him graphic messages and imagery, Chester Cheetah (of the Cheetos brand) tried to co-opt the lascivious attention. But it didn’t work. Tony still reigns supreme among fans of orange jungle cats best known for commercial work. And while the media tends to cast the naughty replies to Tony as the work of the furry fandom, a subculture interested in anthropomorphic animal personalities, that doesn’t seem to be the entire story. After Twitter suspended user Alex Boivin in early August for commenting “I’d fuck that tiger” on a promoted Frosted Flakes tweet, Boivin claimed ignorance of the furries’ affinity for Tony and told BuzzFeed that he’d acted on a whim.

“Just the idea of sexualizing this corporate cereal mascot struck me as a suitably bizarre thing to share with the sort of people who like to interact with promoted tweets from multibillion-dollar food processing conglomerates,” Boivin said, adding that while he was “happy for [furries] to be doing their thing,” it’s not for him.

And there we have the crux of the matter: Boivin assumed his tweet was a vulgar non sequitur, but it really fit a longstanding trend. He thought he was sexualizing Tony, but Tony was already sexual.

We’ve arrived at a point where it’s impossible to tell who’s sexually harassing Tony because it’s funny and who’s doing it because it’s their kink. There may not be much daylight between the two positions. Yet both sides are banking their shots off an undeniable sexual appeal concocted from the same elements that make Tony an enduring TV presence. He made his first ad appearance in 1952, beating out uninspired characters like “Elmo the Elephant” and “Newt the Gnu” in a marketing contest to become the face of Kellogg’s new Sugar Frosted Flakes. Back then, Tony wasn’t a specimen of masculine prowess, but a rather doofy, two-dimensional cutout.

A 1955 Frosted Flakes ad, via Wikimedia Commons

From the mid-1950s on, however, Tony developed attributes that would embed him in the sexual subconscious of kids too young to understand the nature of their attraction. For starters, there was the booming baritone of legendary voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft (the guy who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the classic Christmas film), who took over the role of Tony from originator Dallas McKennon and delivered the growly catchphrase “They’re grrrrrrreat!” for 53 years before passing away in 2005 at the age of 91.

The charisma of the performance is basically without comparison in the world of cereal mascots, and it undoubtedly contributed to Tony having a more fleshed-out persona than most. By the 1970s, he’d been made the patriarch of a tiger family (we’re all aware of how people feel about “daddy” these days) and gained an Italian-American ethnicity to suit his working-class nickname.

As copywriters and Ravenscroft molded Tony’s inner life and gregarious spirit, his animated form got swole. By the late 1990s, he was indisputably buff, with bulging biceps and the proportions of a human bodybuilder. This increasingly contrasted with his low-key charms, which stood in stoic opposition to the sugar-crazed mania of, say, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, who squawked insanely about Cocoa Puffs. While rival cereals tempted children with characters that embodied rebellion, thieving, trickery and loss of control, Tony remained a reassuringly predictable quantity: a gentle and nurturing giant who didn’t always know his own strength, larger than life but always down to earth.

The kids who grew up with this Tony — the brawny, humble, self-assured and velvet-voiced Tony — were absorbing an accidental avatar of compassionate manliness. Today, they’re adults with Twitter accounts, acting out some confusing urge that has lain dormant in their loins since then. And while some take an interest in Tony’s (seemingly repressed) bestial nature, others are enamored with his cartoon status, or even his corporate gig. In one bit of fan fiction dating back to 2003, the author reports that he’d “always dreamed of sucking [Tony’s] long, meaty, jungle-sized cock” and, in the ensuing fantasy, details how unlike a tiger Tony is, despite his cat reflexes and twitchy tail:

His ass was in the general shape of a human’s, which wasn’t uncommon for real-life (in dreams, anyhow) cartoons…. I was looking closely at his entire body, and noticed that he didn’t have fur like you’d think. Instead, he had no fur, and it was just his skin that was colored orange and black. You could see the muscles in his back and legs, and he was strong.

Eventually our narrator and Tony blow and fuck each other in Tony’s car, which is vividly described as if only to land a weirdly racist and inaccurate joke about Tony’s ancestry:

He had a brand-new Dodge Durango 4×4, Forest Green, gold rims, reg
deflectors, light covers, rear spoiler; you’d swear a black guy owned this
thing. Then again, tigers do come from Africa…

Tony’s animality is gestured to in this manner throughout — not as a vector appeal, but for dubious punchlines. It’s the same in this fever dream about Tony dominating Crackle, one of the three elfin lads who shill for Rice Krispies: Tony lovingly tears Crackle’s shirt in half with a single claw, the pair are said to “purr” in delight during foreplay, and the tiger has a “black and white striped cock.” Yet it’s what happens after the orgasms that I find truly striking. “Tony used his bandana to clean himself and Crackle up, then wrapped him in a blanket,” the author writes, leaving us to ponder an intimacy far “grrrrreater” than fluid exchange. It’s a strange slice of sentimentality for total smut.

Can one say that an infatuation with Tony the Tiger has nothing to do with his unspoken primal nature? With his nominal stature as a man-eating creature? Probably not. But the comforts of cartoons and familiar branding, plus the Pavlovian promise of a sugary breakfast, must have their parts to play. If the rogue Tony erotica and iconography have a consistent theme, it’s that he’s more man than cat, always in the process of becoming human.

In his anthropomorphic state, Tony reminds us that we, too, emerged from the jungle; we established civilization with roots, which is to say agriculture, and the domestication of cereal grains, 10 millennia ago. Still, we haven’t lost the instinct to look back over our shoulder occasionally — just in case there’s a tiger behind us.