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Publisher’s view: Guilty pleasures

Last month, The Washington Post reported that people were stealing Spam out of convenience stores in Hawaii. You know Spam: that canned pork-and-preservative blend that (don’t question it) needs no refrigeration. After 80 years on the market—and many recent decades gathering dust—the lowly Spam was being snatched by the caseload and treated like a hot commodity. In other words, stolen.

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

“The thefts have proliferated to the point that some businesses are putting Spam in plastic cases under lock and key,” The Washington Post reported. “To buy a can of Spam, you have to ask a salesperson to retrieve it.”

My grandfather would roll over in his grave.

Sales of Spam took off during World War II when more that 150 million pounds were used in the war effort. It was the only canned meat on the market at the time. And those holding down the homefront ate their fair share of the packaged meat as well because times were tough, and Spam was cheap and filling and had a long shelf life.

After spending years surviving on it during wartime, my grandfather—not a wealthy man—said he would never let Spam pass his lips again. As a child, I remember thinking (as I chewed my sodium-nitrate-saturated hot dog) that Spam really must be disgusting.

But now Spam is making a comeback so much that it’s being stolen and sold on the black market. As a society, this finally proves once and for all that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

We have made trash a treasure.

And, of course, this isn’t the first time in our culture that we have elevated trash to a level in which people would punch out security guards and (pull the car around) steal a grocery cart full of trash. It’s cheap and nasty, but we want it.

Just look at the Kardashians. Guilty pleasure No. 1 for this country. We have elevated a family of cheap-and-nasties thanks to reality TV, and word on the street is that all Kardashian sisters are now pregnant at the same time. Why do I know this? I’m not sure, but I blame Spam.

I also blame Spam for our desire to elevate trashy clothing to a level only the almost-rich-and-famous can afford. Of course, this is nothing completely new. Dolly Parton is notoriously quoted as saying, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” But precious Dolly is an anomaly and not the norm. Most middle-schoolers don’t want their mom showing more skin than she’s covering during parent-teacher conferences, and spending a load of lunch money in the process.

There’s a whole generation of people who only know Spam as one thing: junk mail. And while I originally thought it got this moniker because Spam is fake meat (and junk mail is fake mail), this isn’t true. The origin of the term came from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit in 1970. In the skit, all the restaurant’s menu items contain Spam. When the waitress repeats the word Spam to a customer, a group of Vikings in the corner sing, “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!” drowning out other conversations.

Junk mail is repetitive and drowns out authentic mail. Spam it is.

So the cheap of the world drowns out the authentic of the world until we are so beaten down with the nasty that we think that’s exactly what we want. Spam, Spam, Spam. And we’ve been eating meat from a can for so long that we’ve forgotten what fresh food actually tastes like. Or what good entertainment looks like. Or how well-made clothes make us feel.

Soon we not only demand the nasty, we will pay high dollar or we will beg, borrow and steal for it. Supply equals demand. So give the people what they want, and for right now, they want Spam in all shapes and forms.

It’s glorified guilty pleasures.

Right now, my guilty pleasures demand that I have a Kardashian marathon-watching weekend wearing nothing more than a pair of shorty shorts and a pre-pubescent-size halter-top. But no Spam eating for me.

I’m popping open a coveted can of Vienna Sausages.