Patrick Henry was famously passionate on the subject of Liberty, which he said he’d rather die than forego.
But the celebrated American orator and patriot, who croaked way back in 1799, never knew the pleasure of chomping his way through box after box of Hostess Twinkies, as have ensuing generations of his countrymen. And now that the USA is considering the strong possibility of a future without snack-cakes, millions of latter-day Patrick Henrys have picked up the mantle of the founding father, and are now paraphrasing thusly: “Gimme a eff’ing Twinkie, or else I don’t wanna live, man.”
Take away their jobs through out-sourcing and off-shoring, and the American public will just yawn and turn off the alarm clock. Try to take away their voting rights, as several states attempted to do during the last national election, and some citizens might bother to shrug. But pose a threat to their national confectionery supply, and, mother of mercy — you could nearly go deaf from the volume of the squeals.
Ho-hos, Ding-Dongs, and Twinkies. These are the revered names of the baked goods, the supply of which is supposedly threatened by the imminent closure of the Hostess Brands operation in Texas, which has been subjected to a prolonged labor dispute. But they are more than mere products (as was spelled out in a brief article in yesterday’s USA Today newspaper, which described them as “iconic” no less than three times in 10 paragraphs.) Ho-hos, Ding-Dongs, and Twinkies: They are precise metaphors for the way we live now.
Honky White on the outside. Ofay White on the inside. Democratic and unavoidable, in that they are sold in urban bodegas, and country general stores, and coast-t0-coast Costcos and Sam’s Clubs, vended round-the-clock through machines in school cafeterias, highway rest areas, and emergency-room waiting rooms.
They are visually alluring, seraphically sweet, angelically light, and intensely unsatisfying.
Empty calories, a nutritionist might judge. But here’s what the pre-diabetic, fructose-addicted, morbidly obese consumer might tell that pesky nutritionist, or meddlesome physician, through a mouth filled with sugary foam and cake-crumbs: “I’d rather be dead than go without my Twinkie, daddio.”
That is the extreme form of product loyalty, the type earned by having generations of squares instructing you what not to do, i.e., eat great steaming piles of junk food, smoke Winstons round-the-clock, stay out late every night in the tavern drinking dollar-beer with your no-good friends, squander your last $700 to have the Harley-Davidson logo tattooed on your face. But the incessant nagging by self-designated nannies and busybodies only strengthens your stupid resolve to continue doing these things regardless. Patrick Henry would have regarded any of those bad choices as the epitome of a free citizen exercising his Liberty — and, to the very end would have fought for your right to an uninterrupted supply of Twinkies.
Ah, who are we trying to kid? The architects of the American Revolution would vomit on their jodhpurs at the thought of a spoiled, bloated crybaby-citizenry falling to pieces over the threatened loss of their favorite snack-food. The nation’s many conspiracy theorists, however, are jitterbugging with fascinating ideas concerning what it might mean to attempt to live in a Twinkie-free future. Talk-radio is abuzz with various excited intellectuals positing that President Obama is to blame. That conclusion is based on the coming introduction of the Obamacare scheme, whereby Washington will take a greater interest in promoting and maintaining the health of individuals. The theorists claim that Hostess management recognized the inevitability of government controls about to be placed on the manufacture and distribution of unhealthy combustibles, and the brand owners chose instead to go out in a blaze of glory, like General George Custer, or Thelma, or Louise, or, more recently, William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator.
To call those theories fanciful would be to dignify them. I prefer to see the high-level view; namely, that whatever the outcome of this current crisis, Twinkies will be with us always. Wherever there are baby-boomers undergoing gastric-bypass surgery, Twinkies will be there. Wherever a newly-diagnosed 15-year-old diabetes patient is learning how to perform insulin self-injections, Twinkies will be there. In the dementia care unit of your community’s geriatric centre, wherever a disoriented man or woman is grinning absently while mashing a pastry into his or her ear, think of Twinkies and smile. Twinkies will live forever, in our hearts, stippled along our arteries and colons, interfering with the orderly functioning of our central nervous systems. Come what may, they will always be a part of us, and we of them. The item has become artifact, the artifact transmuted into the complete embodiment of who we are, how we live, and what we stand for as a people. It is just as the framers of the constitution might have dreamed, if only they had been lucky enough to clog their minds into imbicility through a regular diet of suet, industrial dough, and corn sugar.