As someone who considers cake to be the highest expression of the dessert form, and, arguably, of human civilisation, it pains me to say this. But the fact is that cake is sometimes special in a bad way.
IMAGE: A baby shower cake wreck.
I’m not just talking about cake wrecks (although I could easily lose entire days browsing the horrifying and hilarious parade of misguided creations featured there). Bread’s frivolous, egg-and-sugar-laden cousin, perhaps by virtue of its ceremonial, celebratory nature, has acquired an unfortunate cultural resonance as a harbinger of doom.
From fate-tempting hedonic nihilism of the “let them eat cake” variety to the puritannical injunction that it is impossible to have one’s cake and eat it, and from the beetles scuttling in and out of Miss Havisham’s rotting wedding cake to the Betty Crocker-veneer barely concealing Kathleen Walter’s psychopathic housewife, cake’s simple sensory pleasures are frequently tainted with destructive overtones.
IMAGE: Apocalypse Cakes‘ collectors’ edition recipe cards.
At Apocalypse Cakes, advertising executive Shannon O’Malley celebrates cake’s dark side, partnering with film-marker Keith Wilson to bake, style, and photograph cakes that openly embrace the very doom that they would usually only imply. From a Pharma Nation Nut Cake to a Pastel de Sublevación Migratoria con Chocolate Mexicano, O’Malley’s Red No.40-spattered, packet-mix recipes mock America’s prejudices, first-world anxieties, and enduring fondness for end times.
IMAGE: The Jonestown Kool-Aid cake, via Apocalypse Cakes.
Meanwhile, Doom Cakes collects examples of the genre from film and television. A cinematic cake, according to the site’s curator, Tom Blunt, conveys at least one of two kinds of doom: the more elaborate it is, the more likely it is to be physically destroyed; yet even intact, its destructive energy is simply unleashed upon others. In the latter case, the entrance of the cake — ostensibly a symbol of celebration, home-making, and maternal or marital love — serves instead to reveal the underlying inadequacy, futility, or tragedy of the film’s characters.
Blunt has collected dozens of examples of each variety, including a few that encompass both fates. After watching elaborately decorated cakes magically dropped over Muggle heads, delivered alongside disastrous career news, and left on kitchen tables while their creator contemplates suicide in a shabby motel room, each new cultural sighting of cake comes freighted with impending doom — it is dessert as an edible Chekhovian gun.
As Blunt concludes, “to a person whom had never encountered a cake in real life, it would seem that they possess a strange talismanic power over humankind, one that we should perhaps consider wielding a little more carefully.”
IMAGE: The cake Barbara Hershey tries to give Natalie Portman in Black Swan encapsulates their destructive relationship.
Thanks to Geoff Manaugh for the Doom Cakes link.