Sometimes the power of denial is truly breathtaking. I say this with the authority that comes from observing myself, on so many occasions, float like Queen Nefertiti down that river in Egypt:
It’s so totally reasonable that I’m buying these shoes when I don’t have the money to cover my mortgage this month! I can’t afford to pass up this bargain on shoes.
So here we are America, bidding our collective wad on $100 Twinkies (because childhood!) I’m aware that it’s moderately dangerous to pop the bubble of denial in which our culture has wrapped itself on the occasion of the probable passing of the Hostess Corporation. It feels a little like waking the sleepwalker (noooooo!)
But come on, people. Here are some facts:
1. Twinkies are gross. They are not even food. They are, instead, a cheerfully packaged and surprisingly profitable waste product generated by 20th century industrial agriculture. Mmmm: corn-type-eatishness.
2. Hostess is one of the horsemen of the Diabetes Apocalypse that currently afflicts my beloved country. Maybe it was cool when it was new… My grandmother went to her grave loving canned food and microwave dinners, because they freed her from the tyranny of the kitchen. Mainly, they freed her to dust her chotchkies and contemplate her perm, but that’s another story… Anyway, whatever I’ve learned about food, about cooking and baking, I’ve learned from old books and from my generational brethren who have mined the Old Ways, because the generations directly before us jettisoned tradition for the convenience of Hostess.
3. Cheap garbage-treats like Ho-Ho’s stood in for home-cooking during the decades when the American Dream went into demise and American parents began to work longer and longer hours so they could cling to it. Your afterschool snack was a Twinkie, washed down with a glass of latch-key-kid, in case you forgot.
4. And WHY, you may ask, did that dream go into demise? Was it because American workers got greedy? Was it because the poor corporations were broken by the increasingly outrageous demands of the unions, rendering them incapable of competing in a Global Marketplace? Was it because for’ners came around and messed up the good thing we had going? Not so much. Actually, the demise of Hostess is a perfect exhibit of what did happened.
5. The bankruptcy of Hostess was precipitated by its debt load. It was saddled with this debt by the private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings that took it over in 2009, not by the compensation requirements of its workers. Here’s a good racket to get into, for the amoral among us: you find a company with a strong credit rating, but maybe it has a sluggish profit growth or some other weakness. You pay off the Board of Directors with delicious compensation packages. They enthusiastically give you the keys to the kingdom, and with that authority, you take out an assload of debt in the company’s name. You use that debt to pay yourself “management fees.” And when the cost of servicing that debt brings the company to its knees, you sell it off for scrap, and you keep most of the profit. This is what private equity firms DO. It sounds like a sick joke, but it’s legal. I mean, try to translate this scenario to a personal scale and see if it makes moral or fiscal sense: say you’ve got a stable income and a great credit score because you always pay your bills on time and you never borrow more than you can reasonably pay back. Along comes The Dread Pirate Roberts. He shows you his treasure chest full of gleaming jewels, and he drapes a string of pearls around your neck. Besotted by this display, you sign over power of attorney to the Dear Pirate. Who proceeds to, um, leverage your sterling credit to take out an obscene amount of debt in your name. Dear Pirate pays himself from the proceeds. And then the bills come due. And you discover that there’s no earthly way you’ll be able to pay the debts that were taken out in your name.
6. And here’s where the crazy, cruise-down-de-nile part happens: you love how that pirate gave you shiny stuff, so you’re reluctant to blame him for your troubles. It must be... that greedy Mexican gardener, Jose, who is the problem! $100 a month just to keep your lawn green?? And what about the cost of milk these days? It’s robbery! How’s a person to feed their family? You have somehow forgotten that paying Jose, and for a gallon of milk- those are expected, normal parts of a family budget, and it’s the debt-load that’s killing you. But when the debt-loaders gave you a pearl necklace, it feels… easier to blame other, more legitimate categories in your budget for your troubles.
7. Hostess is going down because of the debts they took on at the behest of a private equity firm. While their senior management enjoy the spoils of pirate capitalism (“bonuses for staying on during the transition!”) it’s the workers who get blamed. No matter what your palate, that sort of blatant, immoral criminality is bound to leave a bitter taste in your mouth.