"Sorry, Charlie..."

A High-School Education

It was the middle of calculus class again, and those students among us who were not yet suffering from senior-itis, had begun to fall victim to the drowsy warmth of the afternoon. Several had reached that happy place in between nap and note-taking. And then Charlie raised his hand, and calculus class veered off in a whole new direction.

"So, wait. Why can't we just plug infinity into the equation sin x to get the limit?" Actually, this isn't the 'new direction' yet. Wait for it.

My calculus teacher shook her head, shooting Charlie that familiar, 'well I was hoping to get to continuous equations today, but now there's you' look. "Because sine is an oscillating function. It's too vague to be defined. Sorry, Charlie." She chuckled to herself, flashing a delighted smirk in our direction and adding, "I've been waiting all year to say that."

Now, a little history might be in order. Our calculus teacher is a huge proponent of puns - in general, 'the worse, the better' seems to be her motto. This is the woman who invented the phrase, "It's two-thirds of a pun. Pee yew!" (get it?). But this comment was not so much 'cruel and tragic' as 'mildly confusing.'

Charlie sighed. It was a sound strictly reserved for when adults were at their most baffling. "People say that to me all the time. I guess it's funny because they always laugh, but I don't really get it."

And so, in the middle of fifth-period calculus, we ended up hearing the story of Charlie the Tuna.

Charlie: His Early Years

Charlie the Tuna, or sometimes just 'Charlie Tuna,' is a talented guy. He recites Shakespeare better than some of my classmates, plays basketball, wields a mean tennis racket, and accessorizes. He also happens to be one of America's best-known mascots. His story - like that of any celebrity - is a frustrating one, filled with pain, rejection, and potted meat.

(you loves the potted meat. you loves it gooooood.)

Charlie was created in 1961 by Leo Burnett Co., one of Chicago's largest advertising agencies. Incidentally, they were also responsible for the Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Keebler Elves. A veritable hotbed of creative genius. The voice of Charlie was a man named Herschel Bernardi, an actor who also appeared in such television classics as 'Green Fields,' 'Crime, Inc.,' 'The Savage Eye,' and 'The Honey Pot.' Interestingly, the role of Charlie the Tuna entirely fails to appear on his filmography.

For almost twenty years following Charlie's creation ("Alright, boys, it's decided, and we're going to sell fish. Now all we need is a mascot." "Boss, my brother Charlie had this kinda crazy idea... Get this, he said we should use a fish as our mascot! That guy just kills me!"), he was the icon of Star-Kist Seafood Co.® He was also one of the few major mascots that were indicative of the time period in which they appeared. With his beret and glasses, Charlie was a hep cat, a beatnik, a far-out kind of underwater hustler, looking for an easy inroad with America's premier potted meat company. And he was willing to do anything, even dance ballet, to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, Charlie never had enough good taste to get canned by Star-Kist; it was always, "Sorry, Charlie. Star-Kist doesn't want tuna with good taste... It wants tuna that tastes good!"

In the decades of popularity following his inception, Charlie appeared in over eighty-five commercials and guest shots, making him one of the most recognizable ad mascots of the '60s and '70s. He faded from view during the '80s, but reemerged in the '90s with the introduction of Star-Kist's 'tuna pouches.' That's right. Pouches of tuna. With his resurfacing, Charlie received a slight makeover. No longer was he the beatnik sophisticate; in fact, he even lost some weight. Presumably to indicate the numerous health benefits of tuna pouches.

Charlie the Tuna brought the potted meat industry to a new level, even as it continually rejected him as a potential canned catch. Star-Kist itself has been in business since 1917, first operating as a French sardine company. In 1958, that company became Star-Kist foods. They are now the number one packaged tuna brand in the United States, and, as it happens, also the third-largest dry grocery brand. Eerily, Charlie now not only appears on Star-Kist fish pouches, but also introduces his own tuna recipes:

(because there's nothing more endearing than cannibalism!)

1 (3-oz.) pouch Star-Kist
Chunk Light or Albacore Tuna
(if using cans, drained and chunked)
1/2 cup Black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup Low-fat Ranch dressing
1/4 cup Mexican cheese blend, shredded
2-1/2 cups (4-oz.) Lettuce, washed and torn
1/2 cup Whole kernel corn
1/4 cup Salsa

In a large salad bowl place lettuce, tuna, beans, corn, and ranch dressing. Top with salsa and cheese. For 2 small salads, divide all ingredients in half.

Prep Time: 5-8 minutes
Serves: 1

Easing into Retirement

Being the political powerhouse that he is, Charlie (along with the Star-Kist brand) has also been active in the "Tuna for Soldiers" program that has resulted in more than 1,000 cases of tuna donated to soldiers overseas. In addition, they also support the "Adopt a Platoon" program.

On August 5, 2004, Charlie the Tuna was added to the election ticket for America's favorite icon. The contest was part of 'Advertising Week in New York City,' a week of activities celebrating the creativity and highlighting the contributions of advertising to our economy and popular culture. Fondly known as 'Brainwashing for Fun and Profit,' it's an old American past-time.

"Charlie the Tuna has been part of American culture for more than 40 years and is known in nine out of ten households," said Lisa Henriksen, Vice President of Marketing for Star-Kist. "He has all the qualities you look for in a candidate and favorite brand icon – he's honest, has a strong work ethic, strives for perfection, represents what America is looking for with his Star-Kist Flavor Fresh Pouch®, and has a loveable sense of humor. We are proud that he is representing Star-Kist on the ticket."

It's a cartoon fish.

The overall contest has twenty-six nominated icons and slogans, and there will be five winners from each category for a total of ten winners in the inaugural class. In future years, a lesser number will be added. Winners will be part of the inaugural class of inductees in the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame.

Vote for Charlie the Tuna as one of America's Brand Icons!

Now, it is entirely possible that there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of a fish as the smiling mascot of a company that does, in fact, sell potted tuna. For that matter, the idea of potted tuna itself seems rather warped. But I'm not going to touch that one.

</sarcasm>

www.starkist.com

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