The term “the greatest thing since sliced bread” started out innocently enough, a 1928 marketing strategy for Kleen Maid Bread in Chillicothe, Ohio. The original phrase was “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped”, although the abbreviated version is certainly catchier. Frank Bench, the proprietor of Kleen Maid, was on the verge of bankruptcy when he gambled on a cumbersome bread-slicing machine invented by Otto F. Rohwedder. Other bakers scoffed, but we all know how significant Mr. Bench’s decision has turned out to be.
So should Mr. Bench and Mr. Rohwedder be congratulated as pioneers of American innovation? I think not. Instead, they deserve a long overdue reprimand for bringing about the collapse of American independent thought.
Just look to any headline to see what I mean.“The Greatest Trio Since Kirk, Spock & McCoy” (bloombergnews.com) “The Greatest Threat Since FDA Tried to Turn Nutrients into Prescription Drugs” (blog.lef.com) “The Greatest Leader Since Mickey Mouse” (desertpeace.wordpress.com) “The Greatest Breakthrough Since Lunchtime” (abebooks.com)
Everywhere you look, you see echoes of “sliced bread”. In fact, the following sentence structure is pretty much the go-to statement for just about everything.
The (superlative) (noun) since (event/time period).“US braces for Worst Hurricane Threat Since 1985” (bloombergnews.com) “The Three Dumbest Neocon Predictions Since the Disaster in Iraq” (alternet.org) “Amy Winehouse’s Upcoming Album Proves She’s the Hardest Working Dead Artist Since Tupac” (queerty.com) “East Coast quake one of the biggest since 1897” (azdailysun.com)
Why the need for all the superlatives? Have we become nothing but hyperbolic morons? Can we think of no better way to describe something other than by making some superlative, and mostly irrelevant, statement?
In life we are constantly referring to past experiences as a means of understanding current ones. Comparison is essential if we are to learn from the past. However, why should everything be a superlative version of a previous event? Don’t we benefit more by recognizing that most things that happen to us fall within the same experiential range, as opposed to standing out from it? For if everything that happens to us is a superlative version of something else, then we become rapidly ill-equipped to deal with anything life throws at us. Because nothing can prepare us for what’s happening now!
Case in point every panicked event of the last six months.
Oh no, a nuclear disaster! What will become of us? Oh no, a debt ceiling! How will we make it through? Oh no, a hurricane! The end is nigh!
We forget that we’ve managed to plod through enough government crises, natural disasters, and personal misfortunes to give us ample tools to cope. We should be more than prepared to tackle the worst that life presents.
So are we just addicted to panic, fear, and hyperbole? The media would certainly have it so. After all, it keeps us distracted and them in business, with their round-the-clock breaking news mentality. Where would CNN be if it couldn’t dispatch some all-too-attractive reporter to the site of the most heartwrenching/significant/outrageous/bewildering news story since 3pm?
Perhaps we need to do away with commercially driven news altogether and with it eradicate the need to trump up every situation just so people will tune in and join the party panic. Then we might actually see people taking adversity in stride, sans elevated heart rates and raving eyeballs. Maybe we all need to donate a little bit extra cash to PBS or NPR. Maybe that will free us from this mad mad panic driven society.
And maybe, having reclaimed our sanity, we can sit back and enjoy a well-prepared sandwich, using sliced bread of course (I had to bring it back to sliced bread). Because sliced bread is indeed wonderful. Especially sliced white bread, the most texture-pleasing thing to play with since Play-doh.