Wednesday, just two weeks after the election all but declared an end to white male dominance, yet another nail was driven into the wood-paneled coffin of old-fashioned America. Hostess Brands, maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, announced that even after eleventh-hour talks with union leaders, it would permanently cease operations.
In other words, it's not just white males of a certain age that are on the endangered list but the delicious if strangely sealant-tasting white bread (and snacks) that once upon a time built strong bodies, 12 ways. Or, as Bill O'Reilly put it in a postelection dirge, "Ward, June, Wally and the Beav, [they're] out of here."
Wonder Bread has been around since the 1920s, but Hostess somehow embodies Eisenhower-era innocence; it's the poodle skirt of national bakeries. Despite the products' nutritional complexities — Twinkies contain 37 ingredients, including cellulose gum and sodium steaoryl lactylate, and Wonder Bread contains Azodicarbonamide, also used in the rubber and plastics industry — they're a tribute to "simpler times." With its red-white-and-blue packaging, family friendly prices and a refusal to kowtow to bourgeois obsessions with food co-ops and twee cheese shops, Hostess is an homage to an America where "white bread" was something more than an epithet used by liberal elites against people who still subscribe to Time magazine.
Put another way, Hostess is the Republican Party.
Not the entire Republican Party, mind you — not the Marco Rubios, Bobby Jindals and Chris Christies, who stand a chance of moving the GOP into the 21st century — but the old guard that never got the memo about how younger Americans see marriage equality as a generally positive thing right alongside affordable healthcare and crunchy kale snacks from Whole Foods.
Sometimes the resemblance is downright physical. Spongy and plastic-wrapped, feeding off calories of what, despite all that chocolate, is the fundamental whiteness born of all that flour, sugar, cornstarch and salt, a few of these codgers look enough like Hostess snacks that they could take up residence in a vending machine without attracting much notice.
Take the Sno Ball, the cream-filled chocolate cake with a coconut-dusted marshmallow cover. Does it not bear an uncanny resemblance to Newt Gingrich? And what about Donettes, those mini-donuts that come six to a package? Isn't their bulbous, lumpy texture and puckered center eerily reminiscent of Karl Rove's disbelieving countenance on election night? And let's not forget the Zinger, the eclair-shaped devil's-food cake that turns up in different flavors and colors but at the end of the day is essentially just a Twinkie. If that's not Mitt Romney's correlative Hostess product I don't know what is, except, oh yeah — obvious joke alert — Wonder Bread.
But even if you think you hate these guys, these analogies show you may also love them just a little. That's because even the most sanctimonious food snobs love Twinkies and Ho Hos just a little. It's no surprise that there are companies waiting to scoop up Hostess itself or individual products. And sudden scarcity has lent the snacks a patina of hipness. Twinkies are being auctioned on EBay for improbably high sums, and an online petition asks President Obama to "prevent our nation from losing her creamy center."
Still, dwindling revenue is what sent Hostess into bankruptcy in the first place. Now thousands of jobs are gone, which Hostess blames on the union and the union blames on bad management. But, as with certain Republicans bemoaning a victim mentality that did them in, there's more to the story of this downfall.
Let's face it: The nation lost its creamy center a while ago. We can now choose junk food from all over the world: pork-filled steamed buns from China, deep-fried churros from Mexico, 900-calorie coffee drinks from Seattle. Fun as they are, well before Hostess pulled the plug, Twinkies were headed toward the category of kitsch objects, collectibles akin to a "Leave it to Beaver" lunch box.
Chances are, if the GOP doesn't pull it together, it will be too. And what good is a Newt Gingrich lunch box if there's no Wonder Bread sandwich to go inside?