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Why 'Everything Is Cake' is the perfect meme for our horrible era

By now you’ve probably seen a video, or maybe several dozen videos, of incredibly sharp knives slicing through a pair of Crocs, toilet paper, a potted plant, raw chicken (??) and much more. They’re all cakes, which is either a herculean feat of food design or proof that we’ve lost our minds. The hyper-realistic encasings make the Everything Is Cake meme enough of an uncontroversial brain-teaser to be widely shared and instill further distrust in every household object.

Creative food videos like this have gone viral many times over on Facebook and Instagram long before a global pandemic melted our collective brains into a soft icing. But this is the chameleon cake’s most powerful viral moment. Credit it to the impulse for any sort of escape from the mass death, job loss, and racial injustice, or the innate desire to cut through a rubber sandal. Although the first mega-viral video of cake deception went viral last week from BuzzFeed’s Tasty account, there’d already been some food oddities gaining steam online.

Back in June, Netflix released its latest cooking series, Crazy Delicious, which previously aired on Britain’s public-service network Channel 4. Not to be confused with Ugly Delicious, the show is effectively a psychedelic repurposing of The Great British Baking Show’s ASMR pleasures, which can also be found on that same channel. The series prompts three artistically minded chefs to bend and remodel popular foods into something that’s decidedly not the original product in appearance — while still tasting good enough to consume.

In a standout episode, imaginative chef Joseph Cumberbatch (no relation) prepared a jerk watermelon styled to look like a smoked ham. It was a dazzling optical illusion, that if we trust the show’s panel of Food Gods, also tasted sublime enough to be more than just a novelty item. It’s hard to quantify how much I’d pay to try any of the meals featured on the show, which probably bodes well for the chef’s successes without any monetary winnings.

Perhaps opening the floodgates of the viral voltron, two weeks after the show’s debut, Insider’s food account shared footage of a reporter trying a smoked watermelon at Duck’s Eatery in New York. The reactions largely spanned from disinterest to repulsion, but the video has since been viewed more than 12 million times, despite the dish being highlighted on the Today Show in 2018. The very next day, Tasty’s cake supercut was published, setting off the Everything Is Cake arms race that enthralled social media users for the better part of a week.

What’s followed has been nothing less than a nihilistic reassessment of everything we held to be true in hilarious fashion. Memes of people holding knives to their arms just to find out, failed attempts to slice up real Crocs, and the ambient paranoia that every object, food video, or hell, even person could be a cake in disguise.

In addition to lockdown distorting all sense of time, it’s seemingly warped our memory of loose cultural detritus. Old tibits of celebrity scandal and cultural relics that have aged poorly are on the chopping block once again, or for the first time to a new set of eyes. The cake videos aren’t new or really unfamiliar in any conventional sense, but fresh enough to numb our minds for a couple of days and then move onto the next thing to distract from the very tangible threats we’re facing every day. Much like the shouting mummy video that was reshared this week in an altered form from its January debut (I don’t want to talk about it,) the particulars of what we’re watching don’t seem to matter anymore as long as the rush is pure.