SILBER LININGS: There’s a whole lotta nuttin’ goin’ on

Comic News
The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.

Around this time last year, I wrote about Planters’ humorously bizarre commercial, originally planned for the Super Bowl, in which they killed off their century-old mascot, Mr. Peanut. Go read that before you read this article any further. It holds up, I promise.

Okay, you’re back? Cool, thanks for reading. Now, let’s catch up on where Mr. Peanut has been in the year since he fell off a cliff and blew up.

First of all, that commercial never actually aired during Super Bowl LIV. While Planters kept the commercial up following the viral marketing they enjoyed when it was “leaked” online, they pulled it from airing in the wake of the shocking death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash that killed the famed basketball star, his thirteen-year-old daughter, and seven other people.

Instead, they aired the next sequence in Mr. Peanut’s death-and-resurrection saga. In this commercial, actor Wesley Snipes leads a funeral for Mr. Peanut beside comedian Matt Walsh. As we learned from the first commercial, both of these men were close personal friends of the cartoon legume.

The funeral is also attended by fellow mascots Mr. Clean and the Kool-Aid Man. When a tear from the latter, mournfully saying “oh yeah,” falls on Mr. Peanut’s grave, a sprout magically grows from the dirt. The sky opens up with a beautiful rainbow, and within seconds, a peanut-shaped CGI baby with a top hat, sans monocle, emerges from the flora. He makes dolphin noises for some reason, and #BabyNut is born.

Mere months later, Planters informed us through a short series of commercials that Baby Nut had somehow turned 21, and would now go by “Peanut Jr.” I haven’t done the math on how anthropomorphic peanut years equate to human years, but apparently it’s legal for him to drink at this point.

Once Peanut Jr. purchased his first beer(???), Planters remembered to tell us that we should buy and eat their product.

By the time Planters aired their 2020 Christmas commercial, the science behind the mascot’s aging process was completely unclear, but he had changed his name to Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe. Why? I did some research, and the closest thing to an answer I was able to find was: shut up. Anyway, he assured us that we could simply call him Bart.

By this point, I was fully invested in Mr. Peanut lore. Sure, I never stopped resenting it for its farcical exploitation of late-capitalist ennui, or for making me crave peanuts while also making me think about my own mortality, but after spending so much time researching and writing my first Mr. Peanut deep-dive, I couldn’t help but maintain curiosity about where Planters would go next with these stunts.

I even fell into a YouTube hole watching older Planters commercials. The star-studded 2019 Super Bowl spot was notable for rehashing the already-played-out “Charlie Sheen is a weirdo” meme.

Here’s a startlingly mean-spirited one from the 2008 “Big Game.”

My favorite may be this one from 1988, simply because the slogan “there’s a whole lotta nuttin’ going on” has aged hilariously poorly.

It became an inside joke between me and my friend Beth. She’s not as “online” as I have to be for… whatever it is that I do, but I would update her with every new wrinkle that Planters was rapidly adding to Mr. Peanut canon. We were hotly anticipating Super Bowl LV for no other reason than the next twist in Mr. Peanut’s resurrection journey.

Excerpt from an actual text exchange

(Editor’s Note: It looks more like Greg is the one hotly-anticipating the new Planters commercial, while “Beth” is just humoring him, perhaps hoping that if she agrees with him he’ll move on to talk about non-peanut-related topics. —JG)

Neither of us follow football, so we asked her fiancé to keep an eye out for Planters commercials while we skipped the Super Bowl in favor of Kathryn Bigelow‘s 1991 surfing/crime classic Point Break starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. That has nothing to do with Mr. Peanut, but it was my first viewing and I just think you all should watch it. Especially if you’ve ever read my work and thought “goddamn! You are one radical son of a bitch!”

Anyway, we were shocked and saddened to learn that there was no Planters Super Bowl commercial this year. Mr. Peanut himself explained why… in a commercial.

Charity, even with a groan-inducing slogan like #ANutAbove, is certainly a more admirable use of $5 million than a 30-second Super Bowl spot. They’re using the money to help small businesses that are struggling to survive in the pandemic. They’re currently looking for locally-owned bars to support, so considering that peanuts are a traditional snack food at bars, it’s easy to see how these actions aren’t entirely unselfish as Planters builds brand loyalty. Nonetheless, small businesses have suffered terribly in the face of Covid-19 with little governmental assistance, so any lifelines help.

Of course, it would be much better for small businesses and the planet if we ended tax cuts to massive corporations like Planters instead of hoping they’ll give their scraps to causes that need it more but… whatever, this is the world we live in. If the money goes to deserving causes, I suppose that’s still a net positive.

But it’s hard to ignore the irony of producing a whole commercial just to say you’re not doing a commercial. Obviously, Planters saved a big chunk of change by not airing it during one of the most-watched television events of the year, but however they’re distributed, slickly-animated commercials like that don’t come cheap, even if the time and resources is spent promoting a charity campaign.

By the way, this news just came out the day I wrote this piece: Kraft sold Planters to Hormel, best known for products like Spam and, more relevant to Mr. Peanut, Skippy peanut butter. How this might change Planters’ media strategy remains to be seen, but I suspect there’s a non-zero chance of a horrifying ad featuring Mr. Peanut falling into a grinder and getting chopped up until there’s nothing left of the monocled mascot but tasty Mr. Peanut Butter.

After all, Planters spent an entire year on a cynical marketing campaign revolving around the death and resurrection of their mascot, culminating in an anticlimactic charity campaign. That the reborn snack symbol has taken up the mantle of Mr. Peanut once again is unsurprising, but the whole stunt is no less weird than it was when it began in January 2020. Nor is it any less ominous as a potential harbinger of what’s to come from the advertising world, and perhaps, the shape of our entire late-capitalist hellscape.

But G-d help me, on my last trip to the supermarket, I bought some Planters mixed nuts.

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