April 14, 2010

Cupcakes and Cursing

new sally By Sally Raskoff

Have you noticed the plethora of both cupcakes and cursing lately? It seems there’s a new cupcake store in every shopping center and all the news media can discuss are the nasty diatribes that people are having with each other, whether in political arenas or in their neighborhoods.


The growth of cupcake businesses have been impressive, yet one writer is predicting the end of this trend. If you’ve visited one of these stores, you know that these are no ordinary cupcakes. Red Velvet, Espresso Ganache, Cranberry Orange, Chocolate/Vanilla Swirl are just a few of the amazing creations in one of my local shops. The Food Network has a reality show, Cupcake Wars, in which cupcake bakers compete against one another. The blogosphere is even filled with cupcake bloggers at sites like http://bakeanddestroy.net/, http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com, and http://www.cupcakeactivist.com/.

On a seemingly unrelated note, the debate and reaction to health care reform legislation reached new lows in public decorum. From our elected officials aiming personal barbs at each other to those people making threatening calls to the offices of elected officials or neighbors, it seems like our society is getting rather scary. I’ve had former students contact me to discuss why the debate over health care got so rancorous and downright mean.

Seen sociologically, I’d like to suggest that the plethora of both cupcakes and cursing are related!

We are living in a time of tremendous social change. While our power structure is still intact, the people running it look a bit different. With a president who is African American, a speaker of the house who is a woman, and a few Congress-people who are gay – some of our politicians now hail from groups that have previously been underrepresented. (Whether or not those people are doing things differently from those who still hold the majority of the power positions is not a topic for this particular blog.) People are clamoring for equal rights in marriage and in some states they already have access. Our economy is in tatters and the promises of rebuilding have not yet netted any gains for most people as both joblessness and mortgages remain high.


Sociologically, what happens in times of tremendous social change? Normlessness!

Anomie is a wonderful word for a terrible situation. With social change, the norms that typically operate to keep society functioning smoothly stop working. When social conditions are changing, there is pressure to change the norms, yet society doesn’t change rapidly enough and those new norms don’t often appear in time to reshape social expectations about what our behaviors should be.

Bringing in Marx's critique of capitalism, we can see that our capitalist economy is having trouble generating profit since it has exhausted its sources of cheap labor and materials (world wide, mind you). As our financial system struggles to keep looking for sources of profit and we don’t work toward restructuring the economy into something that would resolve these problems, people continue to get laid off, educational systems struggle to provide classes and programs, and the news media keep telling us about these real problems and many others that are not necessarily probable threats.

We are a nation scared, afraid of everyone else out side our borders and afraid of each other. The cursing is a sign of anomie, as we no longer trust, well, anyone. Different social strata put their trust in different societal entities: some trust law enforcement, some the government. imageEven the trust levels of different areas of government have oscillated in interesting ways 

As you can see, trust in the legislative branch of government has taken a dive in the last decade!

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports increases in hate groups and extremism, something that often happens during economically troubled times.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Republicans and those on the more conservative side of the political spectrum are getting more conservative. With all of this increasing divisiveness, mistrust, and frustration, people are lashing out at each other and at their elected officials.

It is time I brought the cupcakes back in: what is one of the most affordable (to make) and comforting (to consume) items that you can think of? For many of us, it would certainly be cupcakes. The explosion of cupcakes can also be interpreted as a sign of how we are responding to the anomie that characterizes our society right now. We need comforting in cute small packages!

Cussing out a politician and eating a yummy cupcake may be some of the most visible ways that we are acting out to express our anomie, our frustrations with the social changes and situations we have around us and our lack of guidelines on how to get out of this mess.


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I think that it's difficult for people to understand the dip in our economy and the changes socially. We have moved on from a cake decorating obsession to a cupcake show obsession - a small leap. People probably find it difficult to take a bit out of our current society because the changes are overwhelming.

Wow this is a great blog I definitely agree that people are so angry and curse because they are scared and can't trust anyone. They aren't giving any of these new changes any time. They need to give them time before they judge the new political leaders because they still can't see what the outcome of their decisions may bring. Being scared is what it all comes down to.

This is a great blog. I really like the way you brought together the concept of normlessness with the current government issues. I definitely agree that we need comfort, and we turn to these things to find it!

I completely agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.

It would appear that a time of greater social change is coming up. People are tired of not having a voice in the government and tired of the lies that many politicians are feeding us. Pretty soon something big is going to happen, possibly another revolution, only this time not for freedom but for a new government. I don't know if I agree with cupcakes being the most affordable and comforting food out there. I'd have to say that it's either chocolate or ice ream that is. And chocolate comes in an even smaller package than cupcakes. I also think that chocolate tastes better.

I agree with the above comment. It seems that Americans are getting more and more restless, and are on the edge of revolting. However, I'm not sure if that is the right thing to do or not. Everybody judges our political leaders and tells them in negative and even demeaning ways what they are doing wrong, and how much they dislike them. I don't think that harassing calls or e-mails are the best way to express our disagreements with our legislature. I also agree with the part of the blog that says we swear because we can't trust anyone. People get nervous or scared with our political system, and feel that swearing is the best way to make their feelings known. The words are harsh, and people believe that harshness will be remembered over kindness- which is unfortunately the truth. I understand that by running for office you are basically signing up to be criticized, but I think as a country we are a little too hard on our political officials. Everyone needs to understand that we are in a time of a lot of social change, and we need to give things a little bit of time to see how they work out.

I really like the unique connection you made between cupcakes and cursing! I know that cupcakes are one of the ultimate comfort food for me, so it would definitely make sense to see a correlation with raised distress followed by a rise in cupcakes (even though I think I would reach for cheaper junk food first). It is inevitable that change is happening all around us, but I don't think that people should automatically feel concern at every little change. Change is always scary at first but it is important for people to realize that in order for things to reach the way they liked, things had to change from the way they were even before that! Before resorting to cursing, which I consider vulgar and excessive, people should try to take some time to get used to what is going on and try to broaden their minds to variety.

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