Is It Real Or Is It Cake?
Life in the era of deepcakes
It’s been a banner year for Cake Zine! We launched the magazine, published two issues, and threw some excellent parties and pop-ups in New York and LA. While we’ll be doing it all (bigger and bolder) in 2023, there’s one thing we hope to leave behind us in the new year: Cake pretending to be something else. As a treat to close out 2022, we’re sharing Reece Sisto’s fiery op-ed condemning our digital era of “deepcakes” from Wicked Cake, in full. It might be too soon to call it a eulogy for the trend, but we live in hope.
Is It Real or Is It Cake? Life in the Era of Deepcakes
My eyes are glazing over, but I ignore their quiet resistance to my interminable scroll. My face falls, sickly in my phone’s fluorescence, as a woman begins to butcher a pair of jeans—with a literal cleaver. My passion for well-structured denim sounds the alarm. Are those 501s? The split jeans reveal not frayed threads but pillowy layers of chocolate with delicate combs of buttercream. A fork, a bite, a betrayal. It’s just cake.
The grand majority of the internet is either catastrophically boring or bordering on catastrophe; “deepcake” neo-pastiche (à la deepfake AI software posturing as humans online) is no different. “Is it cake?” is a question that now permeates all corners of the internet zeitgeist to deadening effect—these hyperrealistic cakes are everywhere. The eponymous show on Netflix is so monotonous it dulls the mind and palate into a sort of gustatory oblivion—there’s no way that much fondant tastes good, right? However exhausting, deepcakes also have the paradoxical effect of jolting me to my senses. They’re terrifying. I’m constantly bamboozled by cakes masquerading as alarm clocks, turtles, derby shoes, and human extremities. My screen bubbles over with heart reacts and emojis, but my stomach churns. It’s all cake, but should it be?
Deepcakes are as much the culmination of contemporary art’s tendency to simplify down to the culture’s lowest common denominator as they are a harbinger of something much more sinister. Twitter and Instagram overflow with irony poison—the embittered flouting honesty in commitment to The Bit—and bona fide fascism from the Extremely Loud & Incredibly Far Right. I would have hoped that turning to the less political annals of lifestyle TikTok would offer some reprieve, but the sucker-punch of an original Breuer cane Cesca chair revealing itself to be a meticulously constructed pile of marzipan is nothing more than a harrowing reminder of the reality that everything is a lie—or could be—and we have granted unbridled primacy to spectacle over truth. An exception proves the rule: a delectable Victoria sponge glides across my TikTok feed only to betray itself as a clever sleight of hand—no sponge, no buttercream, just an augmented reality, a bunch of 1s and 0s. I throw my phone at the couch, miss, and hear it shatter on the floor. Good; at least I know it’s actually broken.
I’m exaggerating deepcakes’ significance, sort of. Unlike deepfakes, deepcakes reveal themselves, rendering my disquietude the butt of a joke—more metaphysical banana peel than existential landmine. Still, they remain unsatisfying for me. Food has long been a rhetorical and visual vehicle for communicating political propa- ganda, from American battalions fighting the Third Reich to Third Wave coffee shops portending an onslaught of gentrif ication. Constantly hoodwinked by more sinister streams of misinformation, I can’t shake the feeling that these wicked cakes are emblematic of the increasing futility of locating the truth in a media landscape slick with lies and facism. Looking at my busted phone screen, I’m dizzy. Fractals of fake news and fake cakes glitch and fuse behind my broken phone screen, a parable so obvious it can’t be real (it isn’t). My hysteria balloons as a shimmering Noguchi lantern glides across my feed only to meet the same sordid fate as those cherished 501s: sliced in half. I take a deep breath, pick up my phone, and double-tap straight through the cracks. After all, it’s just cake.
Reece Sisto is a writer and editorial content strategist based in Brooklyn. He bakes about as often as he goes to Manhattan (that is: never).