A man named Karp, as one wordsmith put it on Twitter, married to a woman named Fishel, found shrimp tails in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. And then he got Milkshake Ducked.
There’s a good chance that you’ve seen several of these nouns floating around Twitter this week. This is why: On Monday, Jensen Karp, a 41-year-old writer and producer in Los Angeles, was pouring his second bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch when, he claims, something else came out. It appeared to be a shrimp tail covered in cinnamon sugar, which turned into two sugar-covered shrimp tails, plus a string, possible shrimp skin, and small black pieces encrusted on some of the squares that Karp feared were rat droppings.
The contents, according to Karp, appeared to be a result of product tampering; he went on to tweet that one of the bags in his two-pack of cereal was taped on the bottom. After sending an email to General Mills, the maker of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, he posted what he’d found on Twitter. “Ummmm @CTCSquares - why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit),” he wrote alongside a picture of the suspiciously shaped items.
For a while, everything seemed to follow the typical plotline of “guy finds something weird and posts it on Twitter.” People made jokes about “not having this on their 2021 bingo cards!” and pointed out the absurdity of it all (“wtf i just opened my box of cinnamon toast crunch and its all shrimp,” said one next to a picture of a frozen bag of shrimp), they found uncanny coincidences — that Karp is married to Danielle Fishel, a.k.a. the actress who played Topanga in Boy Meets World and who last year did sponsored content for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that Karp had once been a regular on a podcast called Pistol Shrimps Radio, and that this wasn’t even the first time General Mills had a shrimp-related product fiasco (a Michigan blueberry packer shipped shrimp-tainted blueberries to use in General Mills’ blueberry scones; General Mills sued them in 2011). Naturally, plenty of people expressed healthy skepticism about whether the whole thing was even real — it did, after all, seem slightly fishy.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch responded, of course. Karp told the New York Times that “Privately, they were still being very nice” when they communicated with him directly. But when the company issued a public statement on Twitter that claimed that the shrimplike objects were actually just accumulations of cinnamon sugar that weren’t properly blended and that “there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp,” Karp wasn’t pleased. “All you have to do is say, ‘This is such a bummer, we’re going to look into it. We’re going to recall the ones from your Costco.’ Like, it’s such an easy PR thing to do,” he told the Times. “But instead, they wanted to basically gaslight me.”
Karp said he declined General Mills’ offer to have him send the box to the company for examination. “Anyone tweeting at me to send the ENTIRE box to General Mills is a NARC,” he tweeted, presumably over fears that General Mills could simply destroy the evidence. On Tuesday, Karp said that he had found a crustacean researcher at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles who was willing to use microscopy and DNA to identify the objects for free (still no update there). Since Monday, Karp has tweeted 79 times.
“Shrimp Tails Cinnamon Toast Crunch guy” is just the latest moniker in a long list of unintentional “main characters” to erupt on social media. Tessica Brown became the “Gorilla Glue girl” after her hair was stuck under an immovable helmet of superglue for a month. A guy named John Roderick became known as “Bean Dad” after making a series of tweets about a weird experiment he did with his 9-year-old daughter who didn’t know how to open a can of beans. “Curvy Wife Guy” is perhaps the ur-example of someone who never intended to go viral but has since used the backlash as a springboard to further fame.
But then, something else happened that sometimes-but-not-always follows this sort of sudden burst of attention: Karp got Milkshake Ducked. “Milkshake Ducking” is what happens when the entire internet turns its attention to something innocuously fascinating (say, a duck who loves milkshakes) before finding out that, actually, the duck is racist. Sometimes it happens because people search a person’s social media history for racism, sexism, homophobia, or otherwise unacceptable behaviors. With Karp, it was former colleagues and partners who came forth with allegations.
After the tweets went viral, several women who have either been in relationships with Karp or worked with him have accused him of manipulative and emotionally abusive behavior. Writer and podcaster Melissa Stetten tweeted that he was a “manipulative gaslighting narcissistic ex-boyfriend who once told me he was surprised I hadn’t killed myself because my life was so worthless.” Since the tweet, she says she’s gotten “lots of texts” from other women who’d had similar experiences.
Writer Stephanie Mickus added that Karp had told her to “be careful or I would never work in this town again” after a “surprise threesome.” Actor and writer Rory Uphold tweeted that “this is the most abusive person I have ever been with and I am crying as I type this.” Comedian and writer Brittani Nichols, who worked for Karp on a TBS rap battle show as the only Black writer, tweeted about her horrible experience there. As of publication time, Karp has not publicly addressed the allegations against him. Vox has reached out to Karp for comment.
It’s one of those cases where even the term “Milkshake Duck” feels too cutesy and lighthearted for what actually happened: A relatively powerful man in the business of comedy created something sort of funny until it was alleged that his entire career and personal life has left a long line of women hurt and angry. Though surely some people will argue that “any time someone gets famous, there’ll be people hoping to drag him down,” that doesn’t explain or excuse allegations of intimate partner emotional abuse or workplace complaints.
But what should we do with all of this information? What happens when an attention-seeking individual goes extremely viral for a seemingly charming (or at least harmless) reason and is then outed as potentially terrible? Complain about the wrath of “cancel culture” or the inability to collectively “let people enjoy things”? Mourn what could have been a funny story about shrimp tails in cereal but has since become another depressingly common case of powerful men being awful? Become concerned about future copycats tampering with cereal boxes? (That is a real fear!)
No, as always, what we should learn from the shrimp tails Cinnamon Toast Crunch fiasco is the same thing we should learn any time someone goes viral: Never tweet.