The Essence of Spam: Things You May Not Have Known About the Canned Wonder & the Electronic Annoyance

By Last Updated: November 1, 2021Views: 2650

Recently this site was attacked by that most dreadful of foes, an army of relentless and tireless robots; robots with only one goal, to deliver their package of evil and horror. A payload so unpleasant we of the civilized world could only have one name for it … spam.

Yes, spam.

It clogs our email and our arteries. It is the butt of jokes and the butt of … well, what is spam anyway? And why exactly do we call that glut of electronic penis enhancement and over-the-counter drug messages that we receive every day the name of a canned meat product? And how do people make money from junk mail? And does anyone eat Spam anymore? Basically, what’s the deal with spam (both in its physical and its virtual form)?

Let’s start with the physical form, the “meat” version.

To be fair, Spam is actually meat; a special kind of meat, but meat nonetheless. (Note: In the previous sentence the word spam was spelled with a capitol ‘S’ and in the sentences before that a lowercase one. That is because a capitol signifies the product and lowercase signifies the nuisance. It’s a copyright/branding issue that I will attempt to adhere to but will inevitably forget about and eventually be sued by a bevy of corporate lawyers with nothing better to do than harass silly bloggers attempting to be entertaining. Also note: This is the longest parenthetical I have ever written)

Spam is a canned, pre-cooked meat product of the Hormel Foods Corporation. The product was first introduced in 1937. Spam is (according to the ingredients label) “chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar, and sodium nitrite as a preservative”. Spam’s gelatinous glaze, or aspic, forms from the cooling of meat stock.

So like I said, it is actually meat; although a pressed a combination of meats that are probably not the best cuts, if you know what I mean.

Spam became popular (albeit by default) during World War II when there was meat rationing and the non-spoiling, canned nature of this product allowed it to be sold in abundance during the war; especially in England. For many people in the UK and the US Spam was the only meat they could get on a regular basis. As a consequence there a lot of people who grew to despise Spam and the growth of the “mystery meat” joke/meme emerged.

This is epitomized in the classic and gloriously wonderful skit by Monty Python seen below.

FYI: You should watch that video in its entirety for two reasons:

1) it’s awesome.
2) it will be important later and may be on the test.

Before I continue I must confess something. I like Spam (the meat product that is). I have not actually eaten it in long time… 20 years maybe. But my childhood is filled with mornings with my grandfather, who loved it, chopping it up into tiny squares and frying it into crusty, charred bits and mixing it with eggs. Spam and eggs was a tasty, wonderful treat. And these mornings were also filled with my grandmother saying repeatedly in a stern voice that she would never allow another sliver of “that stuff” to pass her lips because she’d had enough to last a lifetime. (I assume that it was also a symbol of poverty, of what was missing; a regression in a way. But I am reading in to this, she never actually said that). My grandfather and I would shovel the egg and fried meat-product into our mouths and exchange knowing glances at one another. That woman is crazy, we silently said. More Spam please.

Do people still eat Spam?

Oh, yes. I was amazed when I went to Hawaii and the oversaturation of Sam and Spam- related products. They have a Spam festival in Waikiki and span sushi. This is actually the last time I ate Spam, on a bed of rice wrapped in seaweed. It was not bad.

Skip ahead to the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Internet is new and… boring really. In early chat rooms like PeopleLink and Online America (this would later become AOL, they would upgrade the name but never the service) members would use the word “spam” to scroll other users off the text screen. For instance Star Wars fans would attack Star Trek sites with “spam” to irritate users, and retaliation would occur. Why? Because geeks are vicious but silly.

Eventually certain users would flood the screen with quotes from the Monty Python sketch which would slow down the load time. Keep in mind these were phone connections of, at best, 1200 bits per second or bit/s. That’s right, I said bits. Most connections had 300 bit/s. It was a sad world then.

Sending an irritating, large, meaningless block of text in this way was called spamming. The name stuck.

Later it became a repeated term on Usenet (everyone remember Usenet?) for excessive multiple posting or repeated posting of the same post. When email became common the term carried over.

So do people make money from spam?

Yes, sadly. It costs nearly nothing to send spam. Hundreds of thousands of emails sent out for pennies. If only one person purchases something it is an estimated 50% return on investment (ROI). But spam is usually of a more dubious nature. Viruses and Trojans, Key loggers and other ways to infiltrate your computer, steal information, steal you. Identity theft and privacy invasion is the big threat of the 21st century.

How quickly do we just agree to terms of service? Or a privacy policy? That’s what spammers want us to do … click and don’t think. Spam, spam, spam, spam … so repetitive we don’t think about what we do, so commonplace we just accept the inevitability of hacks.

What Do We Do?

Unfortunately spam, the electronic version, may always be with us. If we all learn to detect it and ignore it there is a possibility it may be diminished. Don’t click on links. Don’t download attachments. Don’t buy stuff from someone you don’t know. It’s the equivalent of “don’t talk to strangers” that we tell our kids.

As for the meat product … I don’t feel it will ever go away or that it should. The fact is I’m tempted to fry up some in eggs right now. Don’t judge till you try.

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