Why we need to stop with the 'cupcake wars' already

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

It wouldn’t be a normal day without a fresh dose of outrage from the Daily Mail, right?

I’m a particular fan of those times when the outrage misses the point and gets things completely wrong – personally I’ll never forget the legendary day in 2006 when the Mail warned parents about the ‘emo cult’ sweeping through the UK, leaving a trail of despair, capes and scooters (yes, scooters) in its wake.

This time, however, the paper’s simply arriving late to the party with its tirade against a foodstuff that’s so controversial it’s inspired a thousand articles in recent years – the cupcake.

The story is ridiculously familiar to us. Once upon a time, we ate cupcakes at children’s birthday parties. Then the late 90s happened, bringing Sex and the City to our screens and showing us grown women eating cupcakes from a fancy bakery.

Lo and behold, the rise of the cupcake got so out of hand that these days, you can’t escape them. Cupcake shops, parties, blogs, books. People who appear to base their whole lives around them. It all fitted in quite nicely with the Noughties mania for ‘the new domesticity’, Cath Kidston homewares, shabby chic and ‘make do and mend’.

And by 2008 – the backlash had begun. Who hasn’t seen a good few blog posts and newspaper articles wondering why everyone’s just so damn obsessed? Generally, I wouldn’t say no to a cupcake, but I was in full agreement with Cate Sevilla when she wrote that there can be such a thing as sickly-sweet domestic overkill on BitchBuzz last year.

All this seems to have passed Christy Campbell by, however.

“Who of my generation (remembering fishpaste-flavoured Fifties teatimes with mixed feelings) would have expected a world years later where post-feminist women pour from Cath Kidston polka-dot teapots and nibble cupcakes beneath Keep Calm And Carry On posters?”

“Where did this kitsch recreation of a Neverland of pinafored mums come from? Is there a deep, dark reason behind the new female infantilism?” he rages.

He can’t quite seem to believe that celebrities, the fashion pack and even taxi drivers eat cupcakes these days, writing incredulously about the number of successful bakeries which have sprung up and the people who patronize them as if it’s the newest trend in town, as opposed to something that’s been a fairly regular feature in newspapers, magazines and on the web for at least two years now. Indeed, a quick search of the Mail’s archives throws up cupcake-related stories dating back to 2008 – most of them referencing this ‘new fad’.

And because it’s the Daily Mail, readers are predictably outraged – cupcakes are so tacky, so overpriced, so calorific!

Granted, the piece doesn’t go into too much detail about the oft-discussed implications of the cupcake-baking, floral print-loving, 50s housewife-idolising ‘trend’ and whether it’s anti-feminist or not – and this makes me kind of glad. Can you imagine the drama that would start in the comments section?

We know that unbridled adoration for an era untroubled by equality and choices for women is somewhat dodgy. We know that all too often this fad has involved affluent, privileged women ‘playing at domesticity’ without the associated drudgery. And we know that some people think it’s gone too far. In the Guardian last year, Helen Brown even predicted the death of the trend. She felt that the recession would force middle-class women to stop fetishizing the 50s housewife once they longer had the masses of cash needed to finance a house full of floral aprons and special cake tins.

Bearing all this in mind, isn’t it time for the papers to get over the great cupcake debate? They are, after all, just cakes. Plenty of other foods taste good and look nice.

The endless and pointless discussion has been done to death and it becomes tiresome when people have nothing new to offer on the subject.

This Noughties brand of sprinkles-obsessed twee looks like it’s going to be around for some time – and whether you think that’s a good thing or not, let’s move on to arguing over something else.

Originally featured at BitchBuzz. Image from Dynanna's Flickr.

1 comment:

sian and crooked rib said...

ha! the daily mail...
still, i do love cupcakes and i love a polka dot vintage skirt, but i don't idolise or fetishize the 50s. i think it is certainly worrying this trend to see domesticity as something idyllic and not something that women have often not had a choice about. women fought hard to not have housework seen as symptomatic of their 'femininity' or 'morality'and we mustn't forget that. which is where the problem lies, in my view.


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