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Magazine

26 January 2013
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Cupcakes

Peio Aguirre

We have no idea what two everyday aesthetes, such as Adolf Loos or Roland Barthes, if they’d lived in our “interesting times”, would have said about this recent fashion of obsolescent consumerism, namely these decorated fairy cakes or muffins also known as cupcakes. No doubt both of them would have had something to say about it; the first could have quite calmly called upon his violent anti-ornamental arsenal, driven to despair by the gratuitous, decorative fantasy of these fairy cakes, while the second might have referred to the displacement of habits and customs in the West. Lacking both reflections, we are only left to study the phenomenon, without a morsel of guilt. Cupcakes are these colourful, decorated fairy cakes that are beginning to appear in overcrowded, highly commercial, urban centres, where their mere their aroma already denotes an immediate gentrification of the zone; their presence can also be traced in advertising, in blogs and even specialised workshops. Their appearance is inoffensive; cute, little fairy cakes wrapped in a paper casing with glazed colour icing and an excess of creativity. They seem to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. Having nothing against their taste (sponge and fairy cakes always move within a more or less agreeable taste range) what makes them really detestable is their gratuitous iconicity that simply extolls the vacuity of consumerism and advertising.

A Cupcake would be like a postmodern sweet of the old fashioned kind, a designed object that signifies for today’s fashion and style what in the domain of architecture was pastiche (Jencks), the return to decoration and ornament (Venturi), or even kitsch (Graves). From an artistic point and cinematographic point of view there are also referents; Warhol would no doubt have used it or maybe one would have to look at the peak of post-modern irony such as Marie Antoinette (2006) by Sofia Coppola to find a more contemporary appropriation? Remember the scene where, to the rhythm of “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow, a colourful orgy of shoes and cakes takes place. But maybe the current emergence of the cupcake, in itself an indicator of the retro fashion that is so in vogue, would seem to indicate not a stylistic return so much as a change in consumer habits, whereby global franchises such as Starbucks or Costa’s no longer offer any attraction to a new class of young experts with authentic radars for detecting the hip, the new-old and the semiotics of a more sophisticated style. This consumer is the hipster, and they are legion. In the same way that a hipster moustache is worn ironically, cupcakes are equally ironic “products”, their ornamental excess serving solely as a form of gratuitous retro-alimented creativity, with no other aspiration than perpetual consumerism.

Peio Aguirre writes about art, film, music, theory, architecture and politics, amongst other subjects. The genres he works in are the essay and meta-commentary, a hybrid space that fuses disciplines on a higher level of interpretation. He also (occasionally) curates and performs other tasks. He writes on the blog “Crítica y metacomentario” (Criticism and metacommentary).

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