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Category: Culture

The Twinkie
I had a Hostess Twinkie the other night. If reports are to be believed, it may have been one of the last Twinkies on Earth. It was not a guilty pleasure because there was precious little pleasure involved. There was some guilt, though; I ate the whole thing despite the fact that it tasted like crap.

Perhaps I felt obliged to eat it all simply as a tribute to this American food staple. The Twinkie has been around for over eighty years, happily providing us with our daily requirement of high fructose corn syrup. It had been decades since I’d had one, and the gummy texture and factory sweetness took me back to a gustatory era I’d sooner forget. Still, attention must be paid.

First, let us honor its creators for giving it a completely original name. “Twinkie” has since come to be used as a pejorative term for certain categories of people, but in 1930 it was a freshly coined word. It meant only one thing: a very specific version of cream-filled snack cake. Such words are rare in our general culture, and so it is in the small world of snack cakes. Ding Dongs, for instance, were the sound of a bell before Hostess made them. The same is true for Drake’s knock off version, the Ring Ding. Ho Hos were originally the sound of laughter, and so on. The Krimpet (also from Hostess) might earn a point for effort, but it is too obviously a bastardization of “crumpet” to be taken seriously. In fact, it must be docked a point simply for being a bad name for a snack cake. “Twinkie,” by contrast, seems the perfect light, unserious name for a product that just barely qualifies as food.

The Twinkie must be further honored for its packaging. Its box of 10 features a grinning cartoon Twinkie, clad in cowboy hat, kerchief, and boots, riding … a Twinkie! The realistic Twinkie/steed has been bitten into so that the cream (or cream-like substance) protrudes slightly from its sleeve of sponge cake, as if the pressure of the cartoon Twinkie’s legs on its sides has forced the filling out. I find this illustration troubling. I do take some comfort, however, from the fact that there are no spurs on the cowboy Twinkie’s boots.

Finally, before we bury the Twinkie once and for all, we should salute its status as a joke food. We have given the word “twinkie” its props for originality and appropriateness, but we cannot deny that it is also a very silly word. Perhaps because of its goofy name, it has become the stand-in representative for any food that has no redeeming food value. Furthermore, since it is widely agreed that the tube shape is indeed the funniest of all food configurations, then the Twinkie is right there with wieners, bananas, and veggie wraps in terms of loggish drollery.

So hats off to the Twinkie; cowboy hats, if you’ve got ‘em. It may turn out that some enterprising company, seeking to ride the recent wave of fame generated by the Twinkie’s demise, will buy the rights to its manufacture and thereby extend its very unnatural life. If that happens, we may not have seen the last Twinkie after all. I can say one thing with certainty, however: I have eaten my last one.
The End
I had a dream last night about the end of the world.

You know about the Gyre, don’t you? That’s the Texas-sized island of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vortex of mostly microscopic plastic bits: tiny pieces of styrofoam, polypropylene, and other synthetic refuse too small to be strained out and too unnatural to biodegrade.

It may even be Alaska-sized by now, and there appear to be four other, similar vortices growing in the South Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. In my dream, they are five gigantic mouths, like plastic black holes, relentlessly sucking in every other bit of plastic on the planet.

The Gyres coalesce, joining to form one irresistible, all-consuming maw. And so, we too will be drawn in — slowly, inexorably — along with our entire plasticized civilization.

The end. Eaten alive by our own garbage.

Hey, it was just a dream; that could never really happen. Although, the Gyres will probably coalesce eventually into a single, swirling mass. It might even grow so large that it will make the Earth ever so slightly lopsided. That will be just enough, perhaps, to cause continental plates to be hurled into space and the Earth to spin out of its orbit and into the sun.

But I wouldn’t worry. Before that happened, we’d surely develop some super plastic-eating enzyme to devour the Gyre and save us all. But what would stop that mad molecule from then turning on us? Humans are probably half plastic at this point; the enzyme would simply do what enzymes do and catalyze us into extinction.

Still, I’m confident we could survive an enzyme apocalypse. As long as we all lived in perfectly airtight domes. And wore impermeable, double-walled suits. And traveled in hermetically sealed vehicles.

Made of plastic. So don’t worry.
My Apologies

First, let me say that, as a fully accredited liberal, I love my fellow men and women, all seven billion of them. I care about them, I feel their pain, I welcome them all to dinner at my place (please call first).

The tricky part of such a position, of course, is that so many of these people are hopeless boneheads. Let me explore a few areas of concern.

Religion. Let’s not talk specifics about religion; that would only end with hurt feelings. Let’s just say that all faiths have their share of crazy stuff you’re supposed to believe without question. That is precisely the problem. I distrust any system that requires me to do things without question. Do we really need all the dogma? What’s wrong with just trying to do right?

No offense, but I’m tempted to chalk it up to laziness. Doing right is a personal responsibility; you can’t palm it off on your spiritual leader, no matter how big his hairdo is. I worry when we consign all the tough thinking to someone else without asking at least a couple of questions. I suppose we do this all the time with experts of every kind. Still, shouldn’t we at least retain the veto power over an idea that seems crackpot on its face?

As it is with religion, so it is with economics. Some guy says we’ll all get rich if we give our money to rich people. Cut tax rates and the government will take in more money. When I first heard these supply side notions, I thought, “That’s too good to be true.” I still think that. Why is it that so many of my fellow citizens immediately swallowed them whole, without so much as a “Hey, wait a minute”?

This readiness not to think has got to be more than just laziness. We all hope we can find simple solutions to complex problems. We all prefer not to worry. But come on, people! We’re supposed to worry. It’s a democracy; we’re in charge. So get a grip.

Okay, I’m sorry I spoke in such a disrespectful way. As a liberal, I am not supposed to do that. I intend to apologize for this insensitivity, but first, let me discuss another disquieting problem area: reality TV. And by reality TV, I mean “reality” TV. I understand that this is a rather narrow topic, but it is emblematic of an ugly theme that permeates our culture: utter stupidity.

Reality TV. I hesitate even to mention this topic because the probability of offending people is so great. Everyone watches reality TV of some kind, be it sports or politics or these silly, scripted, poorly acted dramas in which ordinary people humiliate and degrade one another on national TV. It is the last category, though, that I am griping about here.

There are still good, honest portrayals of fiction available, even on the telly. We can witness degradation and shame just by going to the mall — without commercials, it should be noted. So why do we have to have clog up my TV with this stuff?

It may sound as if I’m a bit of an elitist, as if I think I’m better than everybody else. Well, yes I am and yes I do, but be assured that I know this and also that it is wrong to feel this way. Believe me when I say that this bitter self-knowledge is part of the pain I feel so deeply. Oh God, the pain.

All right, now for the apologies; first, let me apologize for this apology. I know they can make some people uncomfortable, and that makes me feel guilty, so I have to apologize. Sorry. Furthermore, I apologize if I have bruised your feelings in the slightest way, even if your feelings are a by-product of your own boneheadedness. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Those on the right are not burdened in this way. They feel superior and wear it as a badge of honor, as if they actually were superior. The tragedy of such a position is that the right (where it now sits on the political spectrum) is so often wrong. Worse, they do not sense the irony of their position (that capability is a left-wing exclusive, it appears). Let me say, however, that I even care about these misguided souls (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich). It’s part of the liberal ethos.

That is, in fact, the great liberal dilemma: we care so deeply about people we don’t really like. We suffer by caring too much, both for our fellow elitists and for the hopeless boneheads. That is our cross to bear, and I accept that. I would only ask of those boneheads: haven’t we suffered enough?

Sorry, I had to ask.

Some people think of evil as an independent force operating in the universe, like gravity or nuclear fission. To them, it is a calculating menace abroad in our lives, actively plotting to ruin us by making bad things happen.

I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to look any further than right in front of our noses for an explanation for badness. Bad choices, bad attitudes, bad luck — these are the causes of our troubles, and nothing more.

Evil, I would suggest, is like coldness. Cold is not a force in and of itself, but simply the absence of heat. When all heat has gone, you’re down to absolute zero, and you can’t get any lower. Heat, on the other hand, essentially has no upper limit. Similarly, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, and there’s plenty of good to be had in the world.

So evil is not a dark, mysterious entity to be battled, but rather a condition (like freezing temperatures) to be avoided. To make the badness go away, try to make good choices, focus on having a good attitude, and be ready for good luck.

If you want to defeat Satan, in other words, try putting on a sweater.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon