Sunday, November 18, 2012

Iconic Golden Sponge Cakes

If someone had never heard of Twinkies before this week, based upon media descriptions, they would probably think that Hostess manufactured a product called "iconic Twinkies." If only the parties involved in "The Great Schism" would have known that one day the word "icon" would bring to mind golden sponge cakes with creamy fillings, maybe they could have set aside their differences in order to focus on defeating a common threat.

I suppose it's not inaccurate to refer to Twinkies as "iconic," given that the product is instantly recognizable to hundreds of millions of people, and does possess some kind of historical cultural significance. But under this criteria, innumerable brands qualify as "iconic."  Essentially, if a product achieved market penetration at some point during the "Golden Age of Television," it is now iconic.  But if I was a CEO, I would much rather try to sell a non-iconic product.  Iconic products suffer from having too many associations.  By transcending their utilitarian value, they are rendered non-utilitarian.  Or more accurately, the utilitarian value is their mere existence, and they therefore can serve their function simply sitting on a store shelf, unbought. 

Consider these two hypothetical scenarios--Option A is that Twinkies will continue to be sold, but you will not be able to eat one the rest of your life.  Option B is that Twinkies will cease to be sold, but you are permitted a private lifetime supply, and you must avail yourself of the product frequently for the rest of your life.  I suspect that if people were forced to choose, the vast majority would select Option A, and not out of a sense of perceived civic obligation.  As the world shifts from analog to digital, and as economic uncertainty permeates every aspect of everyone's life, products that have survived multiple generations become imbued with the power of providing psychological comfort.  Alternatively, products that had appeared to have transcendence but stand revealed as impermanent become imbued with a different kind of power--the power to provide the opposite of psychological comfort.   And this would explain the reported "Twinkie Raids" over the past few days.  People who have never had much of a physical craving for the product are not immune from having a psychological craving for true icons, for permanence (and yes, Twinkies may very well be unique among food products in that they probably could sit in someone's cupboard permanently).

Given that this was the "weekend of the Twinkie's twilight," over the course of the past few days I found myself thinking about other "iconic" entities.  Late Saturday, I realized that Notre Dame is the Twinkies of college football.  Certainly, in some eras, iterations of their uniform have resembled Twinkies.  And over the last couple of decades, Notre Dame football has subsisted more on its iconic stature and historical significance than on its contemporary relevance.  In recent years, I think it had gotten to the point that even Notre Dame haters can't help but lament the program's lack of success.  Schadenfreude isn't freude when there is only perpetual schaden.  Those who actively root against Notre Dame would much rather they lose high profile bowl games than have them fail to make bowl games at all.  The Irish fall from grace has had the effect of giving psychological discomfort to college football fans everywhere.

But wait.  Who is the top team in the nation now?  Maybe there is hope for those golden sponge cakes after all.


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