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Apr 13 2014

The cupcake as weltanschauung

Is this a parody? It certainly looks like one, but…it’s not clear that that’s what the Guardian intends.

Beware of cupcake fascism, it tells us. Oh come on, that has to be a parody.

The constellation of cultural tropes that most paradigmatically manifest in the form of the cupcake are associated in particular with infantilisation. Of course, looking back to a perfect past that never existed is nothing if not the pained howl of a child who never wanted to be forced to grow up, and the cupcake and its associates market themselves by catering to these never-​never-​land adults’ tastes. These products, which treat their audience as children, and more specifically the children of the middle classes – perfect special snowflakes full of wide-​eyed wonder and possibility – succeed as expressions of a desire on behalf of consumers to always and forever be children, by telling consumers not only that this is OK, but also that it is, to a real degree, possible.

Parody. Has to be parody. But then you scroll down and come to

Something became clear to me in the aftermath of the London riots in 2011, when I sawthousands of people take to the streets with brooms at the instigation of a twitter hashtag (#riotcleanup), and “clean up” the effects of the anger of the rioters, which was already in the process of being dismissed and demonised in the media as opportunistic looting long before the police would find a way to have their killing of Mark Duggan declared “lawful”. This realisation was that if you wanted to found a fascist reich in Britain today, you could never do so on the basis of any sort of ideology of racial superiority or militaristic imagery or anything of the like. Fascism is, if nothing else, necessarily majoritarian, and nowadays racism is very niche-​appeal (just look at how laughable every EDL march is, where the anti-​fascists outnumber the alleged fascists by a ratio of more than two to one). But you could get a huge mass of people to participate in a reactionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cupcakey imagery, and persuaded everyone that the brutality of your ideology was in fact a form of niceness. If a fascist reich was to be established anywhere today, I believe it would necessarily have to exchange iron eagles for fluffy kittens, swap jackboots for Converse, and the epic drama of Wagnerian horns for mumbled ditties on ukuleles.

So beware of cupcakes, I guess.

But I refuse to get rid of my jackboots.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    anbheal

    It’s the princess dresses that scare me most.

    Heh heh, I’m semi-serious. Honestly, how many Disney and Pixar films targeting young girls involve the worship of hereditary royalty, who doesn’t work, who’s daddy is the richest in all the land, and for whom all of the nameless peasants who clean her bathroom and bake her bread will cheer wildly in the streets below her balcony the day she finally chooses which preening rich boy she’ll heterosexually marry?

    We called it propaganda when children’s cartoons in the former USSR or Cuba portrayed a union leader heroine or a rebel mineworker heartthrob. Meanwhile, the standard fare in the U.S. these days for girls (e.g., Frozen) just hammers home the Libertarian 1-percenter ideology. With cup-cakey frosting.

  2. 2
    Blanche Quizno

    I’ve always wondered how those cupcake businesses that sell nothing but cupcakes stay in business…

  3. 3
    lorn

    There is some truth to the fact that fascism and authoritarianism tend to couch their abuse as being good for the victims. Antiabortion crusaders bemoan the loss of poor black babies and the vitality they might bring while ignoring the burden of unwanted pregnancy. Priest raping children focus on their looking after the eternal souls of the children even as they ignore the abuse they heap on their bodies and minds. Creationists seek to maintain hope and faith in an irrational belief system because they think people need faith and abstract hope more than the truth or intellectual honesty.

    The near universal constant is that people have a very hard time seeing themselves as monsters. So the self serving desires inflicted upon others are dressed up as being a service to them.

  4. 4
    brucegee1962

    Translation:

    “I am smart.
    Everyone else is stupid.
    Smart people like me get to use the word ‘fascism’ to refer to anything we find even mildly distasteful, regardless of how much it may look like the opposite of fascism to stupid people.”

  5. 5
    Benjamin O'Donnell

    Delores Umbrige. ‘Nuff said.

  6. 6
    RJW

    @4

    Agreed.

  7. 7
    Z

    It’s Comment is Free, not the Guardian proper. If you are unfamiliar with CiF, I suggest reading RationalWiki’s description of it:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Comment_is_Free#Comment_may_be_free.2C_but_sense_is_at_premium

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    I’m not unfamiliar with CiF; I’ve written for it several times. I would still be writing for it if they hadn’t fucked up the tax reporting in such a way that they can’t ask me again until I find tax returns that I threw out years ago.

  9. 9
    mefoley

    As I’ve long said, the essence of foreignness is a difference in common sense. By our common sense, that editorial looks farcical, but over here? Not so much… Not long after I moved here, I heard a radio report about the growing trend for workers to bring their lunches to work, and there were businessmen who were dead set against it. First they assumed that wives were packing the lunches for their husbands, and talked about the men being mamma’s boys and stuff, and then, when the presenter asked “What if a man brings a lunch he packed for himself?”, they said things about how they’d never hire a man so set in his ways that he knows in the morning what he’s going to want to eat at lunchtime. The bottom line is, I think, that packing your lunch is not the done thing, and you have to conform — but I’m sure that’s no different from the bottom line in lots of American industries. Still — it really shocked me. What else were we going to be judged on, when we didn’t know we were acting strangely, if packing your lunch to work was a minefield? Food…touchy subject.

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Really?? I thought the packed lunch of cold tea and bread&cheese was a grand old tradition.

    I think the cup cake fad is very odd, and worth examining, I just don’t think it will bear the load this piece tries to balance on it.

  11. 11
    Shatterface

    Usual Guardian shite.

    X has property Y, Z has property Y, therefore X = Z.

    Hitler had a mustache, Chaplin had a mustache, therefore Hitler = Chaplin

    And dressing up authoritarianism and elitism as ‘niceness’? I wonder if there’s an example of a newspaper which exemplifies that?

    A newspaper that would defend any kind of homophobia or misogyny in the name of cultural tolerance?

  12. 12
    mefoley

    Re #10 — It’s a class difference. Saying “businessmen” was meant to indicate people who would consider themselves of the managerial class, where your cold-tea-bread-and-cheese is a step down. Further down yet get your miners with pasties (some say the fluted crust is for holding it with, and then discarding, because of the coal dust on their hands).

    It was radio, but you could just *see* the umbrellas and bowlers on these guys…

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh, I getcha – I saw “workers” and thought the businessmen were their bosses as opposed to colleagues.

    I did not know that about pasties. I do that if I eat something outside and don’t have a napkin – I throw away the bit where I hold it.

  14. 14
    mefoley

    My fault — I put it badly. I reckon they were the bosses of Mini-Mes, little bowler-hatted junior bureaucrats on their way up.

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