Cupcakes and the decline of Western Civilization

Updated
AP Photo/Larry Crowe

The most intensely gluttonous part of the holiday season is upon us, and with it comes a quantity of baked, sugary goods deviating from what God intended by an order of magnitude.  I would say that I’m as guilty as the next person, but that would be a lie: I’m worse. I’m the type of dude that licks the spoon, scrapes the bowl, and shovels down half the batch before anyone else has had the chance to so much as whiff the warm sugar. If this sounds like you, don’t worry, you’re among friends.

So if you’re like me and you’re looking for a way to cut back on the holiday stuffing, here’s a tip from a chronic overeater: skip the cupcake. Once upon a time this was advice that an adult did not need to hear. Cupcakes were small, came in a plastic box, and were intended solely for celebrating children’s birthdays at school. However, the past several years have born witness to a disturbing trend in which ever larger and more decadent single serving cakes are invading the workplace birthday celebration scene and yielding, I argue, damaging results. In fact, the replacement of large delicious cakes with boxes of bakery cupcakes is not a cute trend but a metaphor for the atomization of American society.

Indulge a flashback….

It’s my first job out of college,  I’m working long hours with a close group of about eight other hungry souls in an office with about 50 people about whom I know more or less nothing. Once a month we would all gather to celebrate that month’s birthdays. There would be cake and ice cream; everyone would get a slice followed by a brief period of mingling and socialization. I would meet people who worked on projects based on the other side of the globe and learn that they lived a few blocks from me. It was something to look forward to that I now remember fondly.

How would cupcakes have changed this situation? First of all, there’s the placement. Whereas a cake is usually put in some communal space large enough to accommodate a line of eager plastic plate holders, more often than not a box of cupcakes will live near the desk of the birthday boy or girl. Instead of bringing everyone together, this forces a “kiss the ring” situation where you have to ask yourself tough questions like, “How well do I even know this person?” or, “Ugh, what will they think of me for eating this ridiculously unhealthy sugar vehicle when health and fitness are the new corporate social currency?”

Second, the world is a diverse place and even the most uniform corporate office is home to individuals with widespread dietary tastes. A cake accommodates all that. Trying to diet? Have a small slice! You’ve got a sugar tooth? Get a corner piece with tons of icing! It’s true that a variety box of cupcakes may offer some flavor options to business casual revelers, but it also breeds a whole new set of “cupcake politics” issues over who gets the one with the most chocolate and who’s stuck with the lemon one.

Most importantly, a cake is almost infinitely accommodating. No one likes splitting a cupcake–it’s awkward, messy, and potentially gross. Any normal cake can be sliced into small enough slices so people visiting from other departments, passers-by, janitors, etc., all can get a taste. The cupcake forces a situation where the recipient is automatically forced to pick their 11 or so best friends in the office. There is nothing like a tension-inducing dilemma to celebrate the passing of time, right?

So next time you’re trying to be “that guy (or girl)” in the office and step up to the plate with the birthday goodies, think about the unintended consequences of your action and choose a cake. Society must be defended, after all.

Cupcakes and the decline of Western Civilization

Updated