Register Tuesday | September 18 | 2018

A True Diabetic Original

The Hostess Fruit Pie perseveres through the postmodern age

The average Hostess Fruit Pie advertisement in a Marvel comic book, circa 1977, would involve a character from Marvel's menagerie of colourful, angst-ridden oddballs who defeats a bank robber by distracting him with an armload of Fruit Pies. In the midst of, say, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" in Uncanny X-Men-when Jean Grey was about to die on the moon, for instance, or when Captain America was having tea with his next-door neighbour (a Holocaust survivor in Brooklyn Heights)-one could suddenly find themselves reading an entire page devoted to O.J. Simpson shilling for cowboy boots or Spider-Man taking a break from his ennui to fling Hostess Fruit Pies at a clutch of bank robbers.

To be honest, if you were to encounter a super villain, bank robber, purse-snatcher or ding-a-ling and, rather than beat them about the head, you decided instead to force-feed them an armload of Hostess Fruit Pies, I have no doubt that the villain would be sufficiently incapacitated and ready to crawl into police custody.

Of course, maybe that's a far too literal read of the Hostess Fruit Pie legacy. Being in the 18-35 man-child demographic, I would actually prefer my Hostess Fruit Pies to offer ringback tones and play mp3s. Perhaps if I hadn't eaten so many Hostess Fruit Pies as a wee lad I'd be a Twelfth-level intellect. Instead, I periodically succumb to cravings for Hostess Fruit Pies, X-ray specs and Dingo Boots.

These pies are like Ted Kennedy. There is something undeniably comforting and authentic about their familiarity-an enduring rarity in the modern world, where terms like "old school" and "vintage" are signals that our past is being aped, not asserted. The sugary awfulness of a Hostess Fruit Pie can always send me back to my childhood. The simple packaging has remained constant throughout aeons of history. You might think this unimportant, but for a fruit pie to have weathered the tacky packaging upgrades of the eighties and nineties without opting for a foil wrapper, employing the word "Extreme" or venturing into such exotic flavours as raspberry, mango, or cantaloupe is a wonder to behold.

As a casual observer of television commercials on networks such as Nickelodeon, I've discovered that kids seem to dig skateboarding in a cartoon environment populated by brand icons and giants bits of cereal. They also dig wild-coloured straws and bite-sized comestibles that rap. Hostess Fruit Pies offer none of these things. I'm sure that the marketing wonks at Hostess have polled the youth of today and compiled metrics, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and have branded squeeze toys to be given out on Employee Appreciation Day-and yet, despite it all, they continue to opt for the original design: apple, cherry, peach, blueberry and lemon pies wrapped in wax-paper adorned with an understated font and a grinning creature that-in the vein of Twinkie the Kid-turns out to be an anthropomorphic fruit pie.

These things have not undergone a noticeable change in decades. They have never cow-towed to the demands of a new generation of children. There are no free prizes inside; they don't thrash, ollie or grind and the only thing they transform into is cholesterol. And yet they endure. You could conceivably purchase a Drake's Fruit Pie at half the price-and that offers a mildly fresher taste-but why? Why go for the regional snack when your childhood comic-book friends and the folks at Hostess went to so much trouble to create brand synergy between Hostess snacks and kelp?

But I digest. Consumed with nostalgia, I ate a Hostess Fruit Pie not too long ago. It tasted like diabetes baked in plaque-which isn't to say that I did not enjoy it at the time. I went for cherry, as it was always my favourite. It was lathered in frosting and the tangy richness of cherry ooze bit the back of my throat in a manner not entirely unpleasant. After consuming the thing I staggered around in a sugar haze looking for my next score, neon lights and jellybeans shimmying in the night air. But the rush soon faded and I felt sure that I wouldn't be having a Hostess Fruit Pie again for a long while.

Francis Joseph Smith reports on unpopular and underground culture from behind the sofa. His column appears every two weeks. Read more recent columns by Francis Joseph Smith.