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The biggest news story from the last week or so in the gadget world – and from the buzz some prominent online communities – was the end and death of Twinkies. That's right, Hostess is to close; the company responsible for not only the twinky (not sure of the singular of twinkies) but also other equally sexually repressed names that your gran would be accustomed to including Ding Dongs, Sno Balls and Ho Hos. RIP, Hostess.
The fact that this has become such staggering news, particularly online, can be accounted by a number of factors. First up, by far the most prevalent strata of the population who find themselves online are geeks and stoners – almost exactly twinkies' main audience. The second reason that it has become mainstream news, is that it emerges within a wider economic and political narrative that can suit both ends of the political spectrum.
The background to the closure of Hostess is bankruptcy – but reasons for the baker conglomerates demise still remain contested. For those on the right, the force of worker unions have been suggested as pushing the company to breaking point, with demands leading to strikes ending in the loss of 18000 US jobs as the company has to close its doors. For those on the left, the process of bankruptcy has focused attention on other economically dubious practices with an unhealthy culture of mismanagement seeing bonuses and compensation reaching near astronomical levels. Frankly, if a business can't afford to pay it's staff a living wage, then it should not be considered as an economically viable business. But this is neither here nor there for a discussion on pioneers.
The reasons for spending a week to discuss the biggest news in tech are various. The reaction to the news has been one of horror. People have thrown themselves into shops to stock up on the baked goods, for fear of their complete destruction. Many have opined that the brand has such value that this, along with other asserts, will be bought up in the vulturous capital practices that follow the end of such a business – this despite Twinkies already existing in a business that industrialised the production to its limits, streamlining costs to such the extent of not actually being commercially viable. I'm sure some other company will take – but will they ever be able to
On ebay, twinkies have already been auctioned off at extortionate prices – with one lot of a ten pack including a Wii-U, the recently launched nintendo games console, thrown in for free to sweeten the deal selling for a cool $4,499.99 – with many desperately hoping that they can bag a supply to last them beyond their desires. Worse than this – these lots are selling. People are willing to fork over money for some cheaply made, snacks. The people of America have articulated in huge volumes, an hysterical devotion that goes beyond our wildest imaginings.
And yet despite this no one, as far as I have seen, has mentioned that twinkies are just golden sponge-cake with a creamy filling – the hysteria has consistently revolved around the apocalyptic sign of destruction and death. But you can make them themselves. Not only can they be made, by human hand, but they can be made fucking easily. In Wal-marts and shopping malls across America you probably wouldn't even need to venture that far from the Twinkies' aisle to pick up a sponge-cake mix and a Twinkie cream mix. You could even, dare I say it, bake them from scratch using eggs and the like.
“But no!”, people will respond, “it's not the same… It doesn't equate – baking your own will never match the god like quality of Hostess' delicacy”.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the twinkies' factories are not magical workshops run by elves, but mechanized arms of capital that barely employed people, real flesh and blood, to keep the machines oiled. It makes them convenient, sure – it's a hell of a lot easier to pop along to a shop. It may even be cheaper too. A company that is built around the manufacture of these goods has probably worked out the perfect cost-efficient recipe (not necessarily the tastiest mind) that makes the production as profitable as possible. But don't let yourself confuse convenience, efficiency and cost with prestige.
Walter Benjamin wrote about mechanical reproduction in his seminal text “The Work of art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility” in 1936. He was referring to the work of art moving away, say from the painted to the photographed, from the stage to the screen. Although the reality depicted is expressed precisely with more size, speed, and clarity, this move towards the mechanical reproduction lost something of the presence that made art, in some sense, magical. Something happened which meant artwork moved from being of the cult (a religious object) to being an exhibit (in a museum or cinema) – losing it's presence and “aura” to become something “authentic”, an idea of aesthetic quality that emerged as part of the move to these technologies. As techniques modernise and grow in efficiency, something is lost of the personal, the spiritual, the magic of the artist as opposed to the accuracy of the scientist.
In the modern world however, it would appear that something else has changed. As the production of things have become industrialised, the gap of “aura” and authenticity has still emerged, but we have grown to become more alienated from the processes of production in may sphere
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