Socialist Worker

The Great British Bake Off - A conservative fantasy of cup cake capitalism

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2418

Cup cake with a union flag

Britannia rules the bake off (Pic: Del Adams)

Along with eight million people, I’m watching cup cake capitalism this summer.

The first challenge in this year’s The Great British Bake Off was to make a Mary Berry cherry cake.

Waitrose said that demand for cherries rose by 25 percent that week. 

Books by the judges, including recipes in the contest, are in the bestseller lists.

The show follows the rules of the genre. There are the slow pauses before revealing the results of elimination.

There is the carefully constructed cross section of contestants.

The young, nervous, middle class over-achiever. The stressed super mum. The ethnic minority member who is complimented—patronised—on their use of spicing.

As the contestants get fewer, the space for mawkish backstory increases.

There is something annoying in the idea that everything in society has to be competitive. But Bake Off adds something else.

There is food intimidation—“What? You mean you don’t make your own fondant icing?” 

And aspiration—“The brioche disaster was a brave effort.”


It also feeds into the myth that “cooking from scratch” is cheap and easy. What is certainly cheaper and easier is to watch it.

Programme makers and product placers Love Productions say it’s not a game show, but a documentary. It’s neither—but a constructed, conservative fantasy.

It deliberately offers what it thinks is quintessential British eccentricity and niceness. 

Cricket is being played on a village green somewhere and empire is around, but not in revolt. 

It’s Jane Austen without the slavery.

That explains the endless bad puns, because the show’s defence is that it’s like a seaside postcard.

And that is the problem. It is a self aware world of Keep Calm and Carry On films aren’t just sexist you know. 

Escaping from austerity is been sold back to us as austerity chic with irony.

Now, there is nothing wrong with escapism.

It’s like a bit of cake, good to lift the spirits when you’re a bit tired. 

But it’s very far from substance—and too much of it can make you feel sick.

The Great British Bake Off
BBC One, Wednesdays 8pm 



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Article information

Tue 26 Aug 2014, 17:22 BST
Issue No. 2418
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