Unhappy tidings from the Philadelphia suburbs: the inventor of SpaghettiOs has passed away. Like their mother and uncle before them, my niece and nephew consume SpaghettiOs with a zeal that borders on the competitive, and while both of them are too young to imagine that someone invented their favorite lunch, this news saddens us grown-ups, as I’m sure it will give pause to any parent or caregiver who’s ever uttered those timeless words, “No! Not on the carpet!”
But you know, like a belly full of those diminutive sliced franks, something in the Philadelphia Inquirer obituary just doesn’t sit right. Behold, the official origin story of SpaghettiOs:
One of Mr. Eberling’s early challenges for Campbell’s was creating a spaghetti-and-meatballs product that would fit neatly in a can. He had a breakthrough, his son said, while cleaning up from dinner one night. He noticed a strand of spaghetti twirled in the sink and took the concept for SpaghettiOs to his supervisor, Ralph Miller. The new product, promoted by the popular “Uh-oh SpaghettiOs” jingle, became a big success.
That fable may have fooled the credulous media, but several years of graduate school taught me that there’s no reason to accept the homely simplicity of truth when one can weave an ingenious tapestry of fantasy from the wispy threads of whimsy and supposition.
The inventor of SpaghettiOs was born—aha!—in the German city of Aachen. A masterpiece of medieval architecture stands at the center of Aachen: Charlemagne’s octagonal chapel. As UNESCO reminds us, “[a]n octagon can be made by drawing two intersecting squares within a circle. The circle represents God’s eternity while the square represents the secular world.” Although “circularity” applies to any individual SpaghettiO, it also may signify the lesser known RavioliOs, a product that need not be circular in order to fit neatly in a can. Thus, the post-formalist rejection of square ravioli in favor of the circular demonstrates a deliberately supra-utilitarian intention to transcend the secular and destabilize the traditional reading of canned pasta. We can at last begin to de-problematize the systems of knowledge coordinated to produce SpaghettiOs by calling attention to the original name of the company that evoked the circular plan of the chapel of the rex Francorum by representing eternity in pasta: Franco-American.
I’ve much more to say on this subject, and in the coming months I’ll develop and defend my ironclad thesis in a lengthy paper, which I shall deliver at several hundred academic conferences. My peers, I predict, will be stunned into silence. Who will blame them if they’re forced to flee the room?