Faith Works 11-24-12
The Great Twinkie Scare of 2012
Fads and crazes sweep the nation, a broom that pushes everything in its path into a pile of debris and toy pieces and the occasional lost coin.
We like to think of ourselves as rugged individuals who are immune to the herd instinct, outside of the arc of the bristles, or at least are the little treasures that stand out in the dustpile and will ultimately be set aside, but a trend is a trend because it catches most of us up.
There are the legendary Pet Rocks and Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle-Me-Elmos, the hot toys of holiday seasons long ago. People en masse go from never having heard of them to having to have them, to the point of riot and physical violence. Then, not long after, they go from having become suddenly, shockingly valuable to being items no one will admit having wanted, while those who did are mocked.
In the last few years, as hunting has slowly faded as a social norm, with fewer deer harvested and less licenses sold in Ohio (though the good Lord knows we have fields ripe for the harvesting, deer-wise), the new tree-stand, the big growth of sales of camping gear and outdoor survival equipment, is for people spending days at a time out in the weather . . . in front of a big box store waiting for the post-Thanksgiving sales. You see mummy bags and hand warmers and camp chairs and little dome tents, all the accoutrements of hunting in the field, albeit (we hope) without guns or compound bows.
Why are so many unlikely folk choosing to live the life of Nimrod in pursuit of an ever-larger screen to play video games on? Is it really necessary? Does it truly add value to the experience? The answer "oh, everyone knows it does" should make you suspicious.
But if you believe some choice or option or consumer product will make your life happier, more joyful, more complete, you're willing to put yourself through quite a bit to get there. The fact that the new possibility may have little or no support behind it to show why it will actually benefit you is usually not an issue; knowing that this kind of idea has blossomed and faded before doesn't discourage us from thinking "this is the ticket" and joining the line even before we know what's on offer at the end of it.
What I really find hard to understand, though, are the mass hysterias, the sudden clutch of fear rippling through society over something that almost no one had even thought about just days before. Or maybe I do understand it: in an era when life is getting complex and opaque and "do not disassemble this product; there are no user-serviceable parts" labels on everything, we have an ongoing low level anxiety about what's about to break down, and that we're helpless to do anything about it.
Will we lose the blessing of Twinkies from our lives? I know they sell in mass quantities (another reason why it's hard to figure out how the makers could go bankrupt, but that's for the business pages), but do that many people really rely upon them as a dietary staple, or even as a vital mental health break?
Yet for a few days, cream filling in mass produced sponge cake was on everyone's lips. Other snack food brands may change hands and become owned by a new faceless conglomerate, but the potential demise of Twinkies (and who mourns for Devil Dogs?) seemed to create a near national panic.
Then the mayor of Chicago threatens to ban vending machines, after the mayor New York declares large fizzy beverages "anathema!" and there's a national shrug.
We have a nervous faith in the fundamental reliability of our culture, where we expect things to work but are constantly on edge about what might be breaking down right in front of us, and we're missing it. Both of the major party political campaigns tried to tap into that anxiety in different ways these last few months, perhaps raising our overall level of unease so that the mere loss of a snack food can set off a ripple from coast to coast.
How do you see both faith, and uncertainty, driving your life these days? What do you have confidence in that gets you through the week, and what worries can hold you back? I just hope neither answer has anything to do with Twinkies!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him what you believe in at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.