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Twinkie Dies in the Wreck of Innocence

The product was born innocently in the 1930s as a snack cake with a banana filling, but as Hostess grew beyond humble origins, the Twinkie matured from a niche bakery product into a mass consumable.

This was an age -- the 1940s and 1950s -- when consumers trusted industry more or less completely. Our homes, our food, our clothes were all cheaply manufactured. Out of what? Who knew? The decisions over materials were made well out of the public eye and rarely, if ever examined.

As a result, many products became a physical form of fiction: the hot dog made to resemble sausage, polyester clothes made to resemble expensive natural materials like silk.

This culture saw industry as a key to a brighter future. Man-made products were better than natural products. The Twinkie fit in perfectly, it's alien shape and mysterious ingredients only making it that much more attractive.

Hostess brilliantly saw how to feed our adoration of this man-made future, advertising its Twinkies in the pages of serial superhero comic books like the Fantastic Four, Green Lantern and The Flash. (You can see a small collection of these ads at geekosystem.com.)

But since then, the tide has turned against the Twinkie. The rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s made us begin to question how products are made, where the materials come from.

That process of questioning has not abated in the last 50 years. If anything, it has escalated. The 2004 film Super Size Me is only the latest, most public display of this growing cultural suspicion of mass production -- a suspicion that has successfully pressured the film's target, stalwart American junk food icon McDonald's (MCD), to be more upfront about the contents of its goods, as reported in 2004 by MSNBC.

In short, the Twinkie was representative of our faith in industry, our trust in the assembly line and in the promise of the artificial. Eating Twinkies was like eating the host at Catholic mass: a sign of belief, of giving ourselves to the system that supported us, protected us, a sign of our yearning to become one with the creator.

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