As a kid, I ate my share of Hostess Twinkies. I wasn’t a big fan of the chocolate cupcakes, which gave me an odd and disagreeable buzz. Twinkies provided a mellow yellow high and, I’m sure, a shorter lifespan. I now live with the unhappy knowledge that the endless boat row-row-rowing of my youthful immortality was but a dream.

Twinkies are deadly, siren-filled islands in the stream. If lucky, the bonds will hold me tightly to the mast. I must not be the only one to resist the seductive Twinkie tune because Hostess has been forced to shutter its ovens and its corporate cubicles, too.

The closing of Hostess is a moment of some importance in our cultural history. Some in the news try to tell us that General Petraeus’ sex life is more important. Humbug. A person of power having illicit sex is a dog bites man story. Hostess going down is proof that in this universe things fall apart and the creamy center does not hold.

The company, which has more than $860 million in debt to Bain-like private equity firms, is letting the vulture capitalists cake-walk and blaming the bakers union. I guess blaming the candlestick makers was too far-fetched.

It’s easy to criticize Hostess for the great hoax of selling us confections full of fat and sugar and devoid of any positive nutritional value. As a symbol of this American life, though, I think the Twinkie is almost as good as the bald eagle. The latter is not as predatory as Hostess or the private equity firms that sank it. And, while America’s not dressing up as eagles, just about everyone in politics, entertainment and news is imitating the Twinkie.

Is it possible that Hostess is a harbinger? Could it be that America will soon reject its cotton-candy culture as it has rejected Ding Dongs?

The obsession with the Petraeus affair is not a good sign. The General’s fall from grace is already receiving more attention than what threatens to become a multi-generational American war in Afghanistan. Where is Saint Popeye when we need him? Here we are again, swallowing sacks of sugar and ignoring our spinach.

In America, if something sells, it is good and moral, as are the misleading advertisements that tell us just how good it is. That’s as true of cigarettes as it is of Twinkies, the Ford Pinto or DDT. Sugar and fat sell. And we wonder what the Devil does with his time…

American mass culture is a sugar castle in the sand. When the seas rise, it might simply dissolve. What, then, is to be done?

There is some cause for hope. I never thought kale would be a big seller, but it is. A good many people have quit smoking. Cars are safer, even if the atmosphere they warm isn’t. Still, I don’t think anyone will soon succeed with a Popeye-like spinach pitch in the office towers of our cultural elite. If the ghost of Ed Murrow came back, they’d probably just cast him in a remake of “Topper.”

The insidious thing about cultural superficiality is that the easiest escape from it is more cultural superficiality. I feel guilty about eating a Twinkie, panic ensues, the need for comfort and escape grows, so I eat another Twinkie. The more we hear about the Kardashians, the more we gotta hear about the Kardashians.

However, Hostess has fallen. Will the Kardashians be next? Will cream-filled news give way to healthy discussions of issues that matter?

I don’t know. No more Twinkies, though, and I think I’ll just take it one day at a time.

Photo by Larry D. Moore under Creative Commons license.

Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith