I am a supply-sider where Girl Scout cookies are concerned. Every spring, I find myself possessed by the conviction that if I can only consume enough of them a kind of goodness -- the goodness of scouting -- will radiate out from me, trickling down in time to lighten the gathering gloom of a world steeped in human frailty and sorrow. It is a tall order that I put on Girl Scout cookies, which is why I'm regarded as an easy mark by every brownie, junior scout, cadet and senior scout for 20 blocks around. And yet, while my specific orders for boxes and boxes of cookies are faithfully filled each year, it seems to me that my taller order -- that of gathering the goodness of scouting unto myself -- is increasingly less satisfied.
Part of the problem is that the cookies are not very good anymore, and getting worse. It was only a few years ago that "scot-teas," a kind of wafer-like shortbread, replaced the cream-filled vanilla cookies as Girl Scouting's finest; but the sad truth is that not even "scot-teas" have much spark left to them, bearing about as near a resemblance to honest Scottish shortbread as Henny Youngman does to Wee Bobbie Burns.
Still, merely to note that the cookies are not much to eat anymore is only to scratch the surface of the issue. Girl Scout cookies have always been as much food for the soul as for the stomach; and here, in the delicate business of informing the soul, the Scouts have been forging a perilous course in recent years.
The new logo of the Girl Scouts -- the logo is impressed upon the face of most of the cookies -- is part of the problem. Once, forever it seemed, that logo was the trefoil emblem, its three lobes symbolizing the three parts of a Girl Scout's promise: "To do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, to obey the Girl Scout Laws." If you ate the cookies as I did, in three bites, one lobe at a time, you could think of yourself almost literally as ingesting the promise. God, country, thrift, charity, courtesy, cheerfulness, trust, loyalty -- all of them were there, a bite at a time; and the soul was better for the exercise.
Today's logo has far more to do with membership roles than with the soul. A kind of four-humped circle containing the cleverly disguised profiles of three girls, the logo is enormously handsome; and by the terms of marketing tools, which is what the new logo is, it should be enormously successful, too. Only the most callous pigtailed 10-year-old would not want to have something to do with it. Perhaps, then, it is small to suggest that, of all groups, the Girl Scouts might have held to a logo that stands for more than itself, that suggests something beyond the insistent claim of our well-marketed age: Notice Me.
The newly designed boxes that the cookies come in are a marketing tool as well, and here it seems to me the loss is both more subtle and more profound. One box, for example, shows a cute girl of Asian descent hard at work over an architect's model. Turn the box over and the camera has moved back: She is now among a group of cute girls, all at work on the model under the guidance of an almost giddy woman architect who you know, deep down, is tough as nails at contract time. The photos vary from box to box, but always the two slogans that accompany them are the same: "I'm not like anyone else." "We have a lot in common." The message is clear: Girl Scouts are bound together by a rugged individualism in an age that asks nothing less from its womenfolk. Yet, there is a hard glint of calculation to that box -- to the scene as well as to the slogans; and one cannot help wondering if the Harvard Business School is more on the minds of those girls than their next assault on the old-folks home. Nor can one help asking what has happened to that equality of goodness -- that sense of being bound by nothing more profound than the wish to be among friends, serving the common weal -- that once informed scouting on both sides of the sex barrier.
Perhaps the time has come for the girls to get out of the baking business altogether. Let the Boy Scouts sell the cookies so that they can grow up to be New Men, with one foot in the oven and the other on the squash court. One even suspects that the girls may have something like that in mind, for their very best offering this year -- the Golden Yangle, a y-shaped copy of the Pepperidge Farm goldfish cracker -- goes far better with a scotch-and-water than with a glass of cold milk. Not enough pleasant things can be said for anything that complements a stiff drink. But for all its merits, a fistful of Golden Yangles, even with a scotch, has very little to do with what Girl Scout cookies one meant, very little to do with the soul.