These are not good times for venerable institutions. The U.S. post office just announced that it plans to drop Saturday mail delivery. Before that came the news that Muzak, the original elevator music, is being phased out, at least in name. And Canada declared that it’s deep-sixing the penny, which now costs 1.6 cents to produce. This could prod Americans to do the same.
In the halls of power, Democrats are up in arms about gerrymandering, the antiquated stratagem that allows state legislatures to carve out weird, geographically implausible congressional districts to maximize the dominant party’s chances of winning seats.
Getty ImagesIt’s high time for the fortune cookie to crumble.
Let’s be clear about this. Muzak is stupid, the penny is an anachronism, Saturday mail is pointless and gerrymandering is unquestionably a scam. Be that as it may, these are all revered national institutions that define who we are, or at least who we have been. To throw them overboard is to tamper with the very fabric of American life.
The question thus becomes: Is nothing sacred? After these old standbys go the way of the dodo and the eight-track player, will the floodgates open and the tide of modernity sweep away all sorts of other iconic if useless institutions? Here are some examples.
U.S. savings bonds. What purpose do they serve? They used to be a valuable social-engineering mechanism for teaching little kids the value of slow-and-steady investing. Now they teach little kids that if they don’t start buying Emerging Nation ETFs while they’re in kindergarten, they’ll wind up eating dog food when they retire.
Dachshunds. There’s little evidence that anybody actually likes them. They’re yappy, they can’t walk up steps and they’re a safety hazard for elderly people. They also have a bit of an attitude. If ever a species was a prime candidate for the pink slip, these guys are it.
Fortune cookies. Once useful and fun, they’re now lame phone-in jobs. Things like: “He who follows the right path will arrive.” Gee, thanks, guys. And sayonara.
Fedoras. Irony trampled this once-beloved example of classy urban hat gear right into the ground.
Hatchbacks. Stupid, ugly and dumb. Never made any sense in the age of vans and SUVs.
Coleslaw. Vile, hard to digest, unfathomable. The culinary equivalent of the appendix: hideous, extraneous yet potentially fatal.
CNN. If Muzak were news, CNN would be it.
Ice hockey. Kind of like the flintlock rifle. It once served a purpose, but nobody can remember what.
Rhode Island. Exactly like the penny: cute, pocket-size, but way too expensive to maintain.
T-shirts reading “Paris,” “Rome,” “Peoria,” etc. Ditto garments reading, “I Went All the Way to Dar es Salaam and All I Got Was This T-shirt.”
The intentional walk. Should have been phased out decades ago. In its own quiet way, more annoying than Muzak.
There are many other examples of revered institutions that once served a valuable function but are now no longer necessary. Galoshes. The Beach Boys. Rice pudding. Business cards with raised, embossed lettering. The 20-second timeout. Fanny packs. The Commerce Department. Soul patches. Poundcake.
Passbook savings accounts could easily go right onto that funeral pyre, too. And those “$10 Off Your Next Oil Change” coupons that nobody ever uses. To their ranks can be added TV dinners, desktop computers, polenta and men of a certain age who still think that wearing stonewashed baby blue denims with white sneakers is a really good look. (In this instance, the best solution might be to hang onto the jeans and sneakers for their immense comic potential, but deep-six the men wearing them.)
I’m not suggesting that any of these proposals are especially nice or moral or even helpful. I’m just saying that if Muzak can go, then white sneakers, CNN and the National Hockey League could soon follow. And you can throw in those complimentary motel breakfasts too.
A version of this article appeared February 9, 2013, on page C14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: If Muzak Goes, Will Rhode Island Be Next?.