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If You’re Reading This, You’re Cake Too

Viral cake videos are taking over the internet. Here's why it's happening now.

That eggplant? It’s a cake. Bulldog? It’s a cake. Single Croc, roll of toilet paper, houseplant? Cake, cake, cake.

If you’ve spent any time online in the past few days, you already know that everything is cake. Or rather, that every video on your feed seems to open with what appears to be an everyday object only for a knife to invade the frame and slice into it, revealing its true identity.

This concept isn’t exactly new — the illusion cake challenge episode of British Bake Off aired nearly three years ago — but a Buzzfeed Tasty video posted to Twitter has racked up over 30 million views in less than a week. It appears to have launched the current craze of cake mimicry and memery. The question is why, and also why now.

Virality is normally pretty uncomplicated. A video might go viral because it captures a particularly clever idea, shows a cute kid singing an inappropriate question, or has a cute dog.

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The cake videos are different because their appeal is multifaceted. There are the twin pleasures of the artistry of making cakes that really don’t look like cakes and the climactic moment when a blade cuts into the cake and its true nature is revealed.

On these dimensions, cake videos are probably most like viral videos of Rube Goldberg machines, which also combine impressive feats of construction and satisfying moments of release. But cake videos offer a third element, and it’s this one that’s making them resonate now as COVID-19 and protests dominate the news and reveal that things aren’t the way we thought they were.

Seeing the disastrous federal, state, and local response to COVID-19 makes one question the wisdom of keeping our current political system. That’s scary, and watching cake videos and pretending to wonder if, actually, things we assumed aren’t cake are cake is a way to exorcise that particular demon. It’s just a bunch of nervous people making jokes nervously.

The next extension of this kind of Inception-style metathinking prompts one to wonder if external objects camouflaging their inherent cakeness might mean that we, too, are cake. Given the chaos of the world, aren’t there moments when you would rather be a carefree piece of cake than a burdened person?

Going one step further to the natural conclusion of the seemingly simple cake meme brings us to this tweet, a mash-up of the cake discourse and the “Wait it’s all…?” astronaut meme that’s been making the rounds for the same reason.

Stuff is cake. You are cake. I am cake. All is cake.

Questioning assumptions, like that a pandemic could never happen or that the cops are the good guys, is hard work, and it can leave a bad taste in your moth. It makes sense that cake, a food with lots of aesthetic and gustatory appeal and almost no nutritional value would be the object of the internet’s obsession, a comforting presence that’s helping people get through it all.