THERE'S a small misconception I'd like to clear up first: at no time have I ever seriously suggested that every problem in America was directly traceable to 1970s television, and specifically to the hiring of Barbara Walters, a commercial real-estate pitchwoman with a crippling speech impediment, to wead the news, and the popularity of Star Trek. (Granted, that prosthetic ear-festooned Space Western was produced in the 1960s, where it fell flat on its half-black/half-white face, but its popularity soared in Saturday reruns in the next decade, among people who would later idolize Ronald Reagan, and for identical reasons.) I may be a poor student of History, educated at public expense, but even I know better than that. What I meant--what is self-evident--is that this is where we lost all hope of ever solving any.
George Eff Will haberdashered his way onto the tube at the end of what cultural sadists refer to as The Disco Era. This is not a coincidence. Will was a pwoduct of that same Roone Arledge ABC News Wevowution that gave us Walters. He was there to balance the radical leftism of David Brinkley. The Reader may be wondering how it is that in the intervening decades no one in the Industry has seen fit to re-jigger the equation in favor of clinical sanity. So am I. The only answer I have is to ask if you've taken a look at the talent pool lately. Since Walters became an anchor, every megalomaniac boob in the country thinks he's worth millions. And why shouldn't he?
Earthquakes may strike, dynasties may fall and locusts may devour the crops, but Oldsmobile and Pan Am are forever. Never mind.
Who said there are no monarchist comedians?
Listen, things are going to get worse. A lot worse. There's going to be some cursing, so you might want to back out now, unless that's what you come here for. But let's go ahead and begin at the beginning.
I've been thinking about this for a week, and asking everyone I meet: name another instance of such a recognizable brand as Hostess shutting its doors in the last thirty years. People have mentioned cigarette brands (though they're rarely sure which brands have actually disappeared), or gas stations. No one mentioned Oldsmobile (victim of a brand-reorganization by the geniuses at GM), or any of the US air carriers, which fell victim to incontinent "pro-business" deregulation (yes, done by the Carter administration, George, but no different in effect for it). Most normal Americans seem to consider heavy industry as something separate from shampoo production.
If the Big Three hadn't contested every safety and environmental regulation that came down the pike, and insisted on building cars like it was 1959 all over again, maybe it would be 1959 again. And the effect of religio-deregulation on the airline industry is too famous to bear repeating. That isn't what happened to Hostess, or the Twinkie.
But about the death of Twinkies: Write obituaries in the subjunctive mood. Like Lazarus, but for a reason more mundane than miraculous, this confection may be resurrected.
Maybe because Twinkies have $68 million in sales in 2012? Are we not, at the bottom, talking about six different management companies ("job creators") who have not been able to turn a profit or stay out of bankruptcy ("government intervention") in a decade despite having bankable, national brand names in their line-up?
And are we not, at bottom, really refusing to talk about the fact that the only way any of these entrepreneurial geniuses the Republican party (to name just one) lionizes can make enough money for themselves is by slashing costs to zero? That's not financial genius, it's third-grade arithmetic.
In any case, the crisis of Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of Twinkies, involves two potent lessons.
First, market forces will have their way.
Fuck that. Fuck all the fucking excuses made for Hostess, even before they found the union to be the ultimate Out. With people like you, that is.
This is the goddam history of brand management over the past thirty-five years, even since Reagan opened the floodgates of speculation. I'd like to know what grocery store brand has suffered. I'm sure there's a few, but it's not
Second, never underestimate baby-boomer nostalgia, which is acute narcissism. The Twinkies melodrama has the boomers thinking — as usual, about themselves: If an 82-year-old brand can die, so can we. Is that even legal?
Number of Baby-Boomers who ran the Roman Catholic Church while its employees helped themselves to the rectums of young acolytes, with impunity: Zero.
Hostess, which had 18,500 employees making and distributing more than 30 brands made in 36 plants, had been in and out of bankruptcy several times since 2004. Its terminal crisis began Nov. 9, when thousands of members of the bakers union went out on strike to protest wage, health-care and pension cuts imposed by a court.
A bankruptcy court which swept aside lawful contracts in order to facilitate profiteering, something Hostess' employees had already gone through before. The court didn't exactly cover itself with glory, or competence, in this one, any more than the various vultures who had hold of Hostess for a decade did.
The bakers objected to a 17 percent increase in their contribution for their health-care benefits.
Ah, the vaunted George Eff Will dedication to honest discourse. As Seen On TV, in the Carter-Reagan Debates. A 17% increase in their health-care contribution on top of a 26% pay cut, which followed a 21% pay cut the last time they had to play the Bankruptcy game.
Let's raise taxes an equal amount. Twice. And see what the Leisure class has to say. Fuck you.
Amazingly, Washington did not offer Hostess a bailout. This discriminatory policy may be a constitutional violation — denial of equal protection of the laws.
I'll bet this killed when you test-marketed it at a Heritage Foundation luncheon. In 1978.
Granted, it was not big in the technical, crabbed, hairsplitting, narrow-minded way that “big” is normally understood, as a boring matter of mere size. It was, however, big in what matters most — in boomers’ minds. They fondly remember opening their Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy or Davy Crockett lunchboxes at school and finding Twinkies nestled next to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made of Wonder Bread (another endangered Hostess species). Stendhal said that the only way ice cream could be better is if it were a sin. Boomers, a generation of food scolds, became adults who considered Twinkies and other sugary things sinful. They should be shedding scalding tears of remorse.
Who th' fuck are you even arguing with anymore, George?
Anyway, why GM and not Hostess? The Troubled Assets Relief Program, a.k.a. TARP, was passed to rescue financial institutions. But Washington reasoned: “What’s legality among cronies?” So soon TARP was succoring GM, which was not a financial institution. It was not even a car company. It was a health-care provider unsuccessfully trying to sell cars fast enough to generate enough revenue to pay health benefits for its employees and approximately twice as many retirees.
TARP, a Bush administration program which sunk no one knows how much money into rescuing the global financial markets, (mostly) American division, from the global financial crisis created by the global financial markets, mostly American: legal and good, because finance. Rescuing the American auto industry, an Obama administration program now repaid by its recipients: illegal, and bad, because "conservative" theory.
Hostess had in its far-flung operations 372 collective bargaining agreements with various unions that had sought and received — shed no tears for complicit management — some interesting benefits. The Teamsters liked the rule that bread and pastries might be going to the same place but must go in different trucks.
Okay, first, nobody loves a good Wall St. Journal rerun than I do. But tell me: how many management contracts did Hostess administer? How many separate health and benefit plans did they total? How much were they increasing upper management wages all along, through two bankruptcies? Not much interest in those figures on your side, is there?
But those are the people who were in charge. All along those were the people in charge. If Hostess couldn't afford to operate thirty-six plants that produced more than thirty brands, then maybe it could have spun some of 'em off. Y'know, what th' hell, maybe Wonder Bread could be made by the Wonder Bread Company again. The way the Founders intended.
And I'm not here to defend the Teamsters, or analyze union contracts, nor to regurgitate whatever the Journal claims about 'em. But I do shop in grocery stores--that'd be Hostess' major client--and I bet they like having bread delivered separately from pastries. In fact, I'll wager most of 'em would insist on it.
The market said that Hostess as configured made no sense. If, however, Twinkies and perhaps other Hostess brands retain value, the market will say so, and someone will produce them. Probably in a right-to-work state, which is how “entrepreneurial federalism” (another Boorstin phrase) should work: Business moves to states that make it welcome.
Right. Because if there's one lesson we can all agree on in this, it's that given free rein, Hostess' management will be a roaring success. The Market tells us so.