According to legend, in 1788, just a year before the onset of the French Revolution and but a mere five before she’d lose her head completely, Marie Antoinette responded to the news that French peasants were out of bread: “Let them eat cake.”
In reality, the phrase in French was “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”–more accurately translated as “Let them eat brioche,” a different confection fortified with butter and eggs–and the historical evidence argues decidedly against the Queen’s having ever said it. Credible accounts depict Louis XVI’s wife as a woman who was neither as callous nor ignorant as the statement implies, who was in fact a generous patroness of charity moved by the plight of the poor in the run-up to the events that ended her life.
But my purpose here is not to conduct a seminar on historical accuracy. Rather, I bring it up to illustrate how popular understanding of events transpiring today can often be unhinged from reality itself.
Last Friday, news hit that Hostess Brands, the nation’s #2 bread baker and a company with more than $2.5 billion in annual revenues–makers of iconic American foodstuffs including Twinkies snack cakes and Wonder Bread–would ask a federal bankruptcy court for permission to close its operations. The company filed for bankruptcy a second time this past January, after a previous trip to bankruptcy court in 2004. It emerged from restructuring in 2009 after a four-and-a-half year process, controlled by hedge funds Silver Point Capital and Monarch Alternative Capital.
Two or three generations of commentators took to the Internet, decrying the imminent disappearance of the only food product ever to spare a man from the Electric Chair. Uncounted tweets lamented the denouement of one of the more widely lampooned products in American history.
And nearly everyone blamed Union Labor.