A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want? (Oscar Wilde, 1890)
Oh well, Oscar. Back then, you were imprisoned for being a fag.* Now you’d be prosecuted for publicly smoking one. The perfectly unsatisfying pleasure of late postmodernity is a quaint little cupcake.
When did the contemporary cupcake craze begin? There’s one good way to check it. Go to the library and read a recent culinary history book, or if you can’t get one, browse the cookbooks section and find out when more publications dedicated to cupcakes started appearing.
Just kidding. Try Google Trends.
It seems like the interest in the sweet treats started slowly growing around 2006, and they officially became a thing in 2009, when a rather influential journalist called Daniel Gross predicted that the cupcake bubble would soon pop. How mistaken he was! Since he wrote it, the number of searches has grown exactly threefold.
Where did the fad originate? One could blame SATC’s Carrie and Miranda, who were caught talking about men in the Magnolia Bakery – a NY shop that sold cupcakes before it was cool. Or celebrity chiefs. Or the dieting obsession and food fundamentalist movements, which begged for a backlash. Or the recession, because everything can be blamed on the recession.
However, cupcakes can also be seen as part of a broader social trend for everything playfully retro. They belong to the same realm as Christmas sweaters, high-rise bikinis, Urbanears and Someecards. Contrary to popular opinion, they weren’t invented in the 50s (in fact, they were already known in the 18 century), but their modern-day fabulous version was developed by D.R. Rice in 1947, the same year in which Christian Dior introduced New Look – the ultra-feminine style with which we associate mid-century fashion. Coincidence? I think not.
And, just like Joy’s moustaches and “vintage” blouses, cupcakes are fake. And I’m not talking about the ingredients, though I do suppose they’re mostly refined sugar, plastic and E-666. The whole experience of eating a cupcake is illusive. You may instinctively describe them as delicious (I often do), but how many tasty cupcakes have you actually ever had? I’ve come across a few good ones,** but most taste exactly like what they are: some insanely sweet dough with some even more sugary frosting. If they looked like porridge, you wouldn’t like to eat them, unless you’ve spent the last month on Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet.
Let’s admit it: we only love cupcakes for their appearance. Their good looks constantly fool us into believing they’re equally pleasant to the palate. They’re not. The cupcake is a lie.
And so what. Reality is overrated, guys! Eat your cupcake while it’s still legal.
*The word is written in ironics, just for the sake of a lame pun. Absolutely no homophobia here.
**The tasty exceptions can be found in MADD, an awesome spot in Soho, London. More importantly, they look lovely, too! Just see the picture at the top of this post.