Wonder Bread, Twinkies and My Father’s Oldsmobiles

11 12 2008

Good post from Dana on identity in home education— she’s got me thinking about movements and communities, businesses and lobbies. Human groups. All the ways we individually brand ourselves for love and money, comfort and survival.

Waking up to the radio this morning, I heard NPR telling the story of how the Wonder Bread and Twinkie company has been bankrupted for years and probably isn’t coming back. It seems our generation of moms grew up with those foods as staples but we changed as American culture changed — or we as individuals WERE the change in the culture — and now those products aren’t healthy enough to feed our own kids.
twinkie

Healthier kid foods weren’t mandated by government or public action, nor Wonder Bread and Twinkies banned. We as independent individuals over time collectively determined as community, that we should change family by family; each of us remains free in the so-called free market to decide what we think about Twinkies and Wonder Bread, and to spend our own money as we choose, but that’s not the whole story.

Once the brands lose their luster and too many of our neighbors turn away, then a shrinking minority can’t keep the company (or cultural meme) in business no matter how much we want to keep choosing it for ourselves.

Live by the brand, die by the brand. The once-golden bakery brand that had cornered the corner market’s market, turning it into its own community of happy loyalists, gradually “obsolesced” when the company didn’t respond to changes in information and attitude in that same community.

Interstate Bakeries introduced a whole grain variety of Wonder Bread to appeal to more health-conscious consumers. Getty Images

Interstate Bakeries introduced a whole grain variety of Wonder Bread to appeal to more health-conscious consumers. Getty Images

When finally their mistake was realized and they tried to change, adding whole wheat to the white bread and taking the trans-fats out of the snack cakes, it was too late. Public opinion had moved on and once that happens, no advertising can get it back, said the bankrupt bakery CEO.

Just like My Father’s Oldsmobiles, I thought drowsily. We always had GM cars when I was growing up, and they always broke down when we were on family vacations. I spent so many hot hours languishing on roadsides and in crummy out-of-state gas stations that General Motors isn’t likely to get me back. Ever.

My story with cars is personal and individual, but I wasn’t alone in changing my mind about brand loyalty to my father’s oldsmobiles. GM got itself written out of too many family stories like mine in our American community, after too many decades of not changing and not caring, banking on big business and big politics as usual.

So GM can fiddle with its brands, dropping some that aren’t selling anymore and building new ones. Government can create a car czar and take taxpayer treasure to bail out all our automobile companies and scold them about being clueless and hidebound. At this awfully late date it somehow might even lead to some good cars, maybe even to exciting personal transportation that wouldn’t be “cars” at all. Something truly changed rather than just rebranded.

Or they might just wind up where Twinkies and Wonder Bread went, anyway.

Perception is everything, says the marketing expert. If the public isn’t buying what your community or business or lobby is offering, it doesn’t matter how good you know you are, or it is, from the inside. Or how fickle or unfair you think public opinion is within any identifiable community:

Change for Left, For Right

Guess who was better in THIS time and THIS place for THESE fans, who today are so weary of ego over team, so disenchanted with incoherent self-absorbed media antics and Manny’s literal lashing out at those who won’t hit him back in kind, because they know he’s changed and not in a good way, and just think it’s time for him to go.

What matters utterly is the very different power of story inside their heads, and ours. That’s what creates the reality we live in, not stats and not paychecks and not the cynically divisive claims of their profiteering agents.

In our modern interconnected cultures where even quirkiness finds community and the apocryphal stories of isolated survival off the grid as an ideal are by definition all about NOT community, what about our beloved home education brand?

. . . without criticizing the stories other folks have in their heads . . .I sure can’t see how contracting into a little hardshell at home, each homeschooling family pulling into some self-contained, self-sufficiency survival mode script, would help the hard economic times get better. Much less be the change we want to see in the world!

This family’s homeschooling, for example, won’t be helped by mom tilling a garden, hoarding gold or not driving the family car to the library anymore. The economy isn’t so much about her family budget as her community’s thinking.

Where are we in home education’s story or its series of stories, would you say, the beginning, middle or end? — and what genre? Is it history we’re writing together or creative free verse, collected fables, science fiction, legal analysis, personal diaries, all or none of the above? Whatever it is, will it keep selling if we let the brand ossify while the larger community changes, and do we care?

Shall we continue to worship the veterans as larger than life leaders, as they bide their time off-camera and snarl under their breath at us like Jesse Jackson?

Or shall we learn from this next generation of young leaders, how to change history by refusing to believe that the past is the future already?

And finally, if our homeschool brand loyalists as a self-defined community don’t know and don’t care about such questions and answers, will that define our reality right out of existence along with Wonder Bread, Twinkies and my father’s Oldsmobiles?

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31 responses

11 12 2008
JJ

Of course home education shares the showroom (or bakery shelf) — we’re just a specialty item with a speciality image and a very small, rather self-serving market share. So even if things are peachy-keen and hunky-dory inside our own little self-defined community, we can’t protect it from all that threatens the rest of the shelf or store or industry, from infiltrations and infestation to climate disruption and economic disaster.

So what about education, not just HOME education? What about, in other words, the School brand in our inescapably connected American education community? Its brand is in Car Czar bailout sized trouble, imo:

. . .which kinds of education (if any) are best preparing future citizens to survive, and even help prevent, all manner of potential catastrophes to come? I’d put a high premium on self-reliant yet socially responsible technology, schedules, lifestyles, networking, world views and income generation. The kinds of learning based on intrinsic motivation, privacy and sustainability, learning that doesn’t require or prepare people to live and work in assigned dorms and barracks under constant public supervision and scrutiny.

. . . I think our kids need to learn differently and do differently, SO much better than we did and so far past school. Someday soon they’ll replace us as thinkers, caregivers, problem-solvers, diplomats, designers, and story-tellers. (If they survive!)

11 12 2008
Dana

Nice post, JJ. One thing that struck me in reading this book (Customer.Community) was its discussion about the so-called early adopters. It makes the point that early adopters of a new technology or application are almost never representative of what the users of the future will be. Too much was invested in the interests of these early adopters in the character and flavor of internet sites on one hand, businesses tried too hard to replicate the industrial mindset of their offline businesses on the other.

It seemed to have a lot of application to homeschooling, at least in my right brained world where I tend to connect everything. 🙂

It reminded me a lot of discussions about whether or not “homeschooling” is even ready to become mainstream.

11 12 2008
JJ

YES! My whole master’s program in education technology and media, was about understanding and working with the adoption cycle for innovations.

And have you read “The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets” with half a brain cocked toward home education as an innovation? 😉

11 12 2008
JJ

It’s not just how the innovation is shaped by its appeal to the early adopters, but also the personality “community” of early adopters generally. They are a breed unto themselves, the type of person who embraces the new and eschews the old, who takes risks, experiments, leads the charge, etc etc. A minority of approximately 20% for any given innovation. A bell curve, of course! (Remember I said they taught me this in education school.)

I imagine that I would not have considered homeschooling back in the go-to-jail days, for example. I’m usually a pragmatist who sees pros and cons in everything (old or new) and doesn’t go looking for perfection (or thrills!) and also has no problem moving on when the returns diminish. I feel like there’s a wide range of ways for me to be satisfied, happy, comfortable, engaged, contributing, etc. When I was 16 and a big honor student I got a job at a Bonanza steakhouse mostly to see what a real timeclock workplace job was like (besides babysitting, teaching guitar lessons, etc.) and found all sorts of interesting little ways to entertain myself around the salad bar and cash register, thinking about ways to do something useful that wasn’t boring or disgusting . . .but then I also learned something that made it immediately unacceptable (the boss cornered me in the back office.)

So for most types of innovation adoption, I think I tend to wind up in the middle quadrant (where I most often find myself politically, too.)

“The Hedgehog, The Fox, and the Magister’s Pox” by Stephen Jay Gould is about reconciling science with the humanities, or how to understand them as an integrated whole, and “The Ant and the Peacock” is about reconciling this seeming paradox in nature: are individuals or collectives favored?

Is home education the single-minded and prickly hedgehog or the lithe, inventive fox? (”The fox devises many clever strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy.” )

The Hedgehog/Fox suggests our human tendency to make every question a simple dichotomy between two opposite choices is probably just baggage from caveman decisions like fight-flight, sleep-wake, mate-wait.

I suggest that tendency itself should be evidence against institutionalized education! – look what “school” does to knowledge and wisdom by breaking it up into little disconnected learning “standards” with forced choice right-wrong answers and discrete disciplines. Okay, that’s a whole nother thread, clearly connected though. . .!

The “ant” could be home education in this discussion — insignificantly small, renouncing tooth and claw — but as easily could be schooling, because it lives in the “public-spirited ways of the commune.”

Or is learning beyond school the flamboyant peacock? Cocky, hardy souls renouncing the collective to strut their own path into Harvard, never mind the nattering peahens all about?

The question isn’t simple. It goes deeper than choosing between individual and institution. The only right answer seems to be that unschoolers, indeed all humans, are both and neither, which makes the real trick being able to appreciate the full spectrum of individual and collective characteristics, in all its complexity.

11 12 2008
Crimson Wife

Homeschooling has definitely become “mainstream” when families like mine have embraced it. As much as I cringe at the “yuppie” label, I have to concede that it’s not an unfair characterization of us. Stanford-educated former junior executive-turned-homemaker mom and Stanford-undergrad-Harvard-MBA financial services executive dad living in a fairly affluent suburb of San Francisco. All I’m missing is a Lilly Pulitzer sweater set and a Volvo station wagon :p

11 12 2008
JJ

Well, I do think more active and involved parenting is mainstream now at least, and home education (among many, many social changes and trends) is part of that.

But see next comment.

11 12 2008
JJ

Nah — your homeschooling isn’t mainstream. You’re just a deviant yuppie! 😉

11 12 2008
Crimson Wife

It’s become mainstream enough among yuppies to merit a 2006 article on the subject in of all places Business Week magazine.

12 12 2008
Jenn

I think homeschoolers are like bread, not one brand. It will survive over the ages, I think different packaged curriculum and “How to do it” books will come and go, some staying much longer than others. Who knows what they’ll be driving or riding? Everyone will always try to define them but there are , wonderbread, your very expensive bakery bread, store brands, buns, rye bread, 12 grains, nutty and oats, buns, bagels, french bread, pumpernickel, sour dough, etc, etc, etc… not to forget the homemade loaves. Not to forget the pita bread, wraps and banana bread(although it could be considered cake?). Is there a way to define bread?
I was going to say that education was the yeast, but heck some breads don’t have yeast, are they any less bread?

What will happen to the big 3, yea even up here we are watching to see, eh. Should the executives and people who work for Wonderbread not get the same protection as the the car manufacturers. I nearly chocked when I heard the car dealerships starting to complain that they needed a bail out package too. Would I have had more sympathy for them if the sales man did not brag so much about his huge upscale home, when I was paying for a second hand car?

12 12 2008
JJ

Not to mention different shapes and all the different ways to slice the same loaf.

12 12 2008
Dana

There is no way I would have begun homeschooling in the early days. It is rather a strange thing that I ever did it at all…probably owing almost entirely to the fact that I have never agreed with mandatory kindergarten. My husband wanted to homeschool, and I had no qualms keeping them out of kindergarten. Never envisioned I’d do it any longer than that, however. 🙂

Another interesting thing in this book is about Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. This is all about internet usage and commerce, but it lead to some interesting comparisons. In the early days of the internet, there was an emphasis on safety, with stories in the media about identity theft, hackers, etc. Internet security issues was big business, firewalls and anti-virus software was worked on, improved and given away to help people feel safer, it was a part of almost any package, and websites gave assurances that your credit card information was safe online.

As we’ve gotten more use to it and feel more confident that a little common sense, and some decent software is adequate, our focus is no longer on these issues. Once there was a heavy emphasis on never using your real name or location online, and now we feel like so long as you’re not an idiot arranging meetings with some dodo that has been making passes at you in a chat room, using your real name isn’t much different than being listed in the phone book.

So we’re beginning to use the internet for more social means, for more “self-actualization” activities and to reach out and help others, hence the tons of free information you can find on any given topic.

12 12 2008
Dana

Applied to homeschooling, and not meaning in any way to criticize anyone because all levels are important and you don’t just ignore one level because you feel safe, it does seem sometimes that we can get stuck on those lower levels of safety, perceiving threats even when there are none…or when they are minimal…or even where their likelihood of being realized are slight.

I feel safe. I don’t feel like the legislator is sitting in darkened rooms thinking about how to get control of those homeschoolers and I have a tough time envisioning state officials pouring over the minimal amount of homeschool paperwork I turn in trying to figure out some way to pry my children from me.

I think you can see a lot of the difference between those who feel relatively safe as homeschoolers in some of the discussions about the Subway boycott. I had no problem with people feeling they couldn’t patronize Subway because of it, but it got weird when they attacked those who didn’t see it as a big deal. The discussions got heated and fighting for our “rights” even in the little things, never compromising our rights and vigilance all came up. All fine on their own, but I thought a little misapplied to a contest. Our rights do not extend to public perceptions of us which are not well-served by boycotts, protests and angry words.

But perhaps it makes more sense thinking of the whole thing in that light…that some of us are still overly concerned with the overall safety of homeschooling. I was way more worried about that when I started, and now don’t even think about the school schedule when I do errands…except when making doctor’s appointments. Then I make sure to schedule them during school hours because it is so much less stressful. 🙂 But I know people who homeschooled while the state was arresting people, and they have a much different and more intense view of these things, and think I’m a little nutty for taking a Wednesday off to do errands and get ready for a trip.

12 12 2008
JJ

Yesterday’s NYT had a front-page story about how people are suddenly making six-figure incomes by making funny Youtube videos . . .
whodathunk when these folks were growing up, such would be rewarded as a realistic career option?

12 12 2008
JJ

About safety concerns, oh yes, surely one’s past experience colors one’s perception of present reality and future potential, like the way folks who lived through the Great Depression see things differently than we do. Or the way his Jewish upbringing and the Holocaust affected the storytelling of Maurice Sendak.

As I wrote in the original post: “What matters utterly is the very different power of story inside their heads, and ours. That’s what creates the reality we live in. . .”

A powerful personal example — my 13-month-old somehow got out the back porch door and fell into the swimming pool while I was carrying a laundry basket down the bedroom hallway, bustling around getting ready for my MIL’s visit. I literally found him in less than a minute, knocked out cold and floating face down. End result, no PHYSICAL damage and I am sure, no emotional scars, not on him! But his mom was changed forever . . .even though I live the self-examined life and work hard not to be neurotic or overprotective of the kids, and the ensuing years of health and happiness have helped reassure me somewhat, I still am forever changed.

12 12 2008
Dana

That would have been terrifying! But those things happen so fast, and statistically more likely to occur when the parent is supervising the children and the last time the child was seen is usually less than five minutes from when the child is found. Safety, supervision, etc., are all good things, but unless you want to tie children to the wall, the affixing of blame in some of these circumstances is unrealistic. Who hasn’t had that moment as a parent when your child slipped out of sight? Any number of things could happen in that time. It usually doesn’t, but it can.

What would we do to our children if we lived always as if that were an imminent threat?

12 12 2008
JJ

Right, it’s what happens AND then how you experience it in your own mind, what you make of it and how you deal with it. What you decide it means, and that you should learn from it. 🙂

Maurice Sendak with all his dangerous-world power of story is connected in my mind to all of that, because Young Son’s favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are — his first birthday party the month before was so themed! — and we all had the entire book memorized, with all the voices, from reading it so often.

And so in the emergency room as Young Son screamed even as he tried to nurse for comfort but couldn’t help himself, I mindlessly repeated the story to him in that familiar cadence, almost like a catechism or mantra, comforting us both with the only thing I had in that moment and putting my faith in it pretty much because we both felt otherwise completely helpless to change or affect anything happening inside us or around us. . . probably the experience that even in my very intellectual life, taught me the most about real power of story. 🙂

12 12 2008
COD

@ CW: We are in the same boat and in fact we were kicked out of the local “eclectic” homeschool group for being “too materialistic.” Apparently my 53″ HDTV offended them 🙂

Do you think that HSing has un-yuppified you to a certain extent? I definitely feel more comfortable these days with the hippie crowd than I do with the yuppie crowd, or at least with the hippies that are open minded enough to appreciate a movie of sports event in surround sound!

12 12 2008
Nance Confer

Oh, didn’t you yuppies get the memo? We’re all enjoying the simple pleasures now and nobody really wants big cars or big TVs anymore.

Except my DH — he would kill for a 53″ TV. 🙂

I saw this bank ad last night that made me want to LOL and barf at the same time. Now that everything is hunky-dory and we’ve all learned our lessons and won’t be greedy — come to our bank!

Anyway, Dana and all — many good things to think about here.

Fear in new hsers — this happens soooo many times when I am talking to newbies. What kind of documentation do they need to have or carry to prove they are hsers? That sort of thing. After I explain to them that nobody cares, nobody’s going to question them and they should go about their lives without acting like they are truants, most relax and enjoy. But damn if that school mentality isn’t drummed into most of them. Even withdrawing their own children from school is a traumatic event for some parents — what if the lady at the front desk is mean to them?

Fear in experiences hsers — concerns about going out on Wednesday? what the hell! I’m lucky I know what day of the week it is! 🙂 — is harder to understand for me. Do they like the drama, have they been taught to fear the government, do they think the schools could do a better job than they are doing, etc.? I don’t get it.

Maybe this is why I like Obama — part of it. It feels like he is the next generation and he is smart and now it’s his turn and their turn. The problems are with the oldsters who insist on staying in charge. 🙂

Nance

12 12 2008
Crimson Wife

I guess I *MUST* be a deviant yuppie because not only do we not have a fancy television, we don’t even have cable/satellite, LOL!

We’ve always been more interested in spending our disposable cash on experiences rather than on accumulating stuff. In a certain way it’s what led us to homeschooling. We could afford private school tuition or housing in a neighborhood with better government-run schools if I went back to full-time employment outside the home. However, we prefer the experience of me being home full-time to raise our kids.

Here in the Bay Area, there are lots of “crunchy” yuppies, or what David Brooks calls “Bobos” (for Bohemian bourgeois). In general, I feel more comfortable with those folks than with those who are more classic yuppies. Except when they start talking about religion and/or values issues, in which case I feel like I have more in common with Joe or Jane Six-Pack.

12 12 2008
JJ

See??
Deviant. Just like the rest of us. 😀

12 12 2008
Dana

Nance, I think it depends greatly on your circle of friends and personal experiences. It is natural for newbies to be uncertain and insecure. Most people I know are pretty easy going, but the few I know personally who really seem to still want to hide, were in hiding at one point. One had her child in what I guess would be a cottage school and the school had an escape plan to get the children across the border in the event of a raid. I think that can affect you, even when the threat is over, and make you a little more hyper aware of every slight.

I never know how to take it on the internet, though. Here, you are socialized into extreme statements and hyperbolic speech, so I’m not totally convinced the outraged and fearful are half as outraged and fearful as they seem to want to portray themselves.

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12 01 2012
JJ

Twinkies and Wonder Bread Maker Files for Bankruptcy:

Hostess acknowledged that its business model was in need of a shake-up. . . .

In 2010, the company hired Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to explore a possible sale [gee, talk about unhealthy for real human beings!] . . .

For now, Hostess has secured bankruptcy financing of up to $75 million from a group of lenders led by Silver Point Finance, according to the filing. That will allow the company to continue operating its bakeries and 570 bakery outlet stores — extending the already long shelf life of Twinkies.

13 01 2012
bpbproadrunner

Oat nut bread for the house, twinkies for the storm shelter. Because they last 20 years and are full of sugar.

But yea, we don’t eat white bread or twinkies often. All that refined flour and sugar is not good for us.

13 01 2012
JJ

How about the Oldsmobiles? 😉

13 01 2012
bpbproadrunner

Never much cared for that. As for the Veterans–Who snarls at you? I am unaware of anyone directly that does that, I still have post privileges.

And given the fact that a lot of vets cannot use their benefits or suffer substandard medical care, I would say that hardly constitutes worship. Certain political factions prop us up for political gains, but in all honesty they do the same thing with pregnant women—who get about the same level of care and actual deference in the real world. Having been both and associated with both for many years–I feel safe in pointing that out.

Honestly if it isn’t as simple as waiving a flag, or buying us a drink at a bar, no one does much to even help their vets get what should be theirs by contract. And the moment that baby hits air, you are on your own–single or married. So that political faction benefits from using our image for it’s emotional currency but we see no direct benefit from that in any meaningful way.

Perhaps you are expressing frustration at the wrong group. Maybe it’s not veterans who are snarling, but people hiding behind the image of a vet that you should be concerned with.

15 01 2012
JJ

I’m confused.

Maybe when I was writing about homeschooling veterans, you thought I meant military vets?

15 11 2012
JJ

Figures it would come full-circle and somehow the corporation would wind up blaming the people doing (or in this case refusing to do) the actual work . . . both misplaced blaming and well-placed blaming share the simple truth that either way, what makes the difference is Power of Story.

16 11 2012
JJ

Speaking of working and not working, GM not-workers were very much part of the essay I wrote on THAT at Culture Kitchen some years back. So again, Wonder Bread, Twinkies and My Father’s Oldsmobiles share powerful power of story: Hell Is Not Working

Right this minute, thousands of auto workers are being paid to languish in a sort of no-fun, school-busywork holding pattern, literally assigned to sit in a big room that sounds for all the world like study hall or detention. There they doze with their mouths open and read the papers, drink coffee, engage in dispirited bull sessions about sports and television, and step outside to smoke.

They are going nowhere, doing nothing — trapped by work-a-day reality in their uncertain present waiting for their uncertain future, caught in some sort of wicked (laid-off, laid up, on the shelf yet on the job) purgatory being preached by their peers-in-control as all that stands between them and Hell.

Under the oh-so-clever contract, they may languish in this dubious state of not-working work for years.

Officially it is still work, but they are auto workers in name only and it’s not working, not for anybody – not the corporations and managers, the stockholders and Wall Street, not for the purgatory-bound “employees” and their families.

Work and change may be hell, but the lesson of the day seems to be there’s nothing heavenly about not working and not changing, either.

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