Twinkie Update

So, I recently wrote a little paean about the totally artificial snack cake that brought the word Twinkie into the lexicon. But quasi-good things often have a dark heart alas.

The corporate main stream media has been presenting the Hostess bankruptcy as being precipitated by a union strike in reaction to management demands for wage and pension give-backs amongst other things, essentially parroting the headline from Hostess’ own website: “HOSTESS BRANDS TO WIND DOWN COMPANY AFTER BCTGM UNION STRIKE CRIPPLES OPERATIONS”. And it’s not just Fox News leading the story with this spin.

This is the Google search headline for CNN: “Hostess Brands closing for good due to bakers strike – Nov. 16, 2012 money.cnn.com/2012/11/16/news/companies/hostess-closing/ 2 days ago – Hostess, maker of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs, says strike by bakers forcing its closing. … Hostess filed for bankruptcy in January, its second trip to bankruptcy court since 2004. …. 2012 Cable News Network.” In fairness, once you click on the link, the actually story doesn’t use that headline but nonetheless, the first paragraph of the story is similarly worded.

Likewise, NBC has a story with this headline: “Twinkies Maker Hostess Going Out of Business, CEO Blames Union Strike “It’s over. This is it,” Gregory Rayburn tells “Today.”
Sunday, Nov 18, 2012 | Updated 4:21 PM CST”

I should note that I’m fairly passionate about the vilification of work and unions as opposed to the so called great good of the “job creators” and capital of the corporate kind. (I think small business people generally practice capitalism in a different manner than corporations so this rant is not about them – after all, they usually work side by side with the people they hire, and small business people don’t get golden parachutes whether or not they make good business decisions – their capital is actually at risk.)

So, I love reading correctives to our corporate mainstream media when I found out the inconvenient truth that Hostess had raised 4 of its top four executives compensation by up to 80% just a few months ago, even though the company had already filed for bankruptcy prior to that pay raise. Granted after that public relations gaffe, the then CEO left (with a nice package) and the 4 top officers took both a real and highly symbolic pay cut to $1, but they also guaranteed themselves a return to their full 6 or 7 figure salaries by January 1st.

So M.S.M., it’s all the fault of the guys making $20 bucks an hour for not believing that the company didn’t have enough money to honor the contracts they had previously negotiated with the union??? I WONDER WHY these baker and drivers were so distrustful of management? I f’ing hate hypocrisy and greed…that means the media as much as Hostess exec’s.

Here are 2 links (one of which cross links to an earlier CNN story for those that don’t trust non-traditional journalists) that back up my assertions here: http://americablog.com/2012/11/hostess-twinkie-ceo-salary.html and http://www.examiner.com/article/the-real-reasons-hostess-went-bankrupt

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Thoughts on Popeye and a review of the Bond film “Skyfall”

Saw the latest Bond movie, a really superior popcorn movie with great stunts. Solid performances, creative staging by director Sam Mendes to re-invent the familiar, exotic locations, high quality tech elements and a well written, intelligent script are some of the reasons for this creative success.

It puts one foot in the Bond past (e.g. the Aston Martin gets a big cameo amongst many nods to previous iconic Bond tropes and gadgets), while modernizing technology, attitudes toward woman (a bit) and even “stooping” so screenplay 101 to do a little character development… the only quibble was that the wit was not as pervasive as some previous 007 entries instead replaced with a melancholia about getting old and changing times. “Skyfall” actually threatened to be deep on occasion but fortunately something goofily over-the-top intruded and brought the film back into the realm of escapist fun.

But here’s an odd reaction I had during the opening action scene where civilian health and life are treated in a typically cavalier manner as the British agents chase the bad guy: I kept thinking about Popeye. When I was a kid, I watched Popeye cartoons on TV just because that’s what was on – but I disliked Popeye. I have a distinct memory of Popeye rescuing Olive Oil, who was tied to some train tracks, by punching the train, causing it to crunch into itself. I didn’t say to myself, “Thank god, Olive Oil was rescued.” No, I said, “There were people on that train and Popeye just killed them.” That was how my brain already worked at 5 years old.

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review of “ANNA KARENINA”, directed by Joe Wright

I saw “Anna Karenina” last night with a Q&A by the director Joe Wright and D.P. Seamus McGarvey. It’s a directorial and below the line tour de force. That’s not to say that the acting isn’t good to excellent – it is. But the concept (clearly a lemonade out of lemons budgetary decision) involves creating the artifice of the action mostly happening in a theatre. The movie is intensely choreographed, both literally in the dances (and one sex scene is staged as a kind of dance) and in the actors every day – yet stylized – movements, all in relation to an often moving camera. For example, scenes shift locations by moving a few feet and changing a jacket. A simple action used to transform space, which is very much a theatre convention. Thus, the way the action has been staged / filmed captures much of the magic inherent in both mediums. The effect is often surreal and disorienting, then the frame refocuses into more standard film realism and we’re brought back into the comfort of “reality”.

Wright has created an odd amalgam of Brecht and Russian Romanticism as we get pulled out and sucked back in continuously, in its own kind of dance (kudos to the editing). I think if you have a great love of the theatre, you will be fascinated and will overall quite like the film, but if you don’t, then then there’s a greater chance you will be feeling a bit cold and dissatisfied by this film. I quite liked it myself.

But this methodology works because it’s more than a clever trick to avoid the expense of shooting on location in Russia. It thematically underlines the artificiality of the rules the aristocracy lived by and provides enormous contrast to the literal breath of fresh air for the Leven major subplot which is filmed all on location, often in the fields. (The Leven story is essentially Tolstoy’s fictionalized autobiography.)

The breaking of the 4th wall may have given me a different emotional experience than one where I would have been fully enveloped in a suspension of disbelief, but it is a valid emotional experience nonetheless. It takes a bit more work on one as an audience member, but is very rewarding in a rather unique way.

As I have said nothing of the script, I should note that Tom Stoppard had done an excellent adaptation of a rather long novel with a parade of characters with long, unfamiliar names with both a minimum of confusion and a great deal of emotional impact. The writing effectively captures the parameters of the story, the feel of Imperial Russia and the spirit of Tolstoy. Without the grounding of the script and what it gives the actors to work with, this dance of real and artificial that Wright and his team have some impressively created never would have been possible.

Again the acting is quite fine, from leads to minor characters. The score (much of it composed to the script, before filming thus making all of that choreography possible) and all of the technical elements are stunning, but a special mention must go to the sound design which constantly created an impact especially in scenes staged in the “theatre” (p.s. not a real theatre but a theatre facsimile constructed on a sound stage in England which is just one more layer of the artificial here…). No, I take that back, the sound of the scythe cutting wheat was as important as any in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy.

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Hostess Snacks Going Out of Business Today

I hate to admit it but I have a soft spot for Twinkies.

When I first went to New York City to study theatre at NYU, I regularly went to a mediocre deli on Broadway and Waverly Place, where I often would buy some very bad coffee to go. Now it must be understood that while there were some fine Italian pastry shops that served good cappuccino in the Village, this was B.S.E. (i.e. Before the great Starbucks Expansion and the ensuing decent to very good coffee boom of it and its rivals). Thus this java had the taste of what one would imagine what edible gasoline and milk would taste like. This was true New York deli coffee served in those famous blue and white coffee cups with ancient Greek icons encircling the cup. If there were sizes to order, they were small, medium or large, not grande or venti… a “regular coffee” was milk with sugar; a “dark coffee” was a little bit of milk. I ordered a “light coffee, no sugar.” It was immensely important to specify the “no sugar” – otherwise the default was 2 heaping, overflowing teaspoons of sucrose. I have never been one to add sugar to hide the bitterness of the bean, but instead crave something sweet to contrast that bitterness.

That sweetness was Twinkies.

Obviously, if I could get a good pastry or a decent bagel, I would, but at this deli nothing surpassed the packaged yellow sponge cake filled with “creme” in taste bud goodness.

I heard on the radio (KPCC) that of the 36 ingredients only two are plant or animal based: there is only a smidgen of flour and 1/500th of an egg per Twinkie. So, they may get hard but they will never rot. I’m very tempted to buy one and save it for a future time when I’m in the need for hygenerated nostalgia.

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