Everything is Cake now: The Semiotics of Digital Culture

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Earlier last week, the Twitterverse descended into a confectionery mirth. 

A Buzzfeed Tasty montage showing everyday life objects being sliced open to reveal their cake interior triggered an ‘Everything is cake’ existential crisis meme. If something that looks so obviously not-cake turns out to be cake when sliced...what else is actually really cake on the inside? 

Why was this buzzfeed video meme-worthy? 

In recent academic output on digital culture, memes have been studied as pieces of political commentary, satirical takes on society, and cultural interpretation. 

‘Meme’ has etymological roots in the Greek word ‘mimēma’ , which refers to an imitated thing. However, memes of today are far more than cultural replication. The act of meme creation mandates a knowledge of proper template use and in disrupting this - creating meme mutations and meme hybrids. 

At Quilt.AI, we don’t entirely specialise in meme studies, but it’s possible to speculate that the Everything is Cake meme possibly has its roots in another well-loved corner of internet content.

The videos of things being cut up call to mind the genre of “oddly satisfying” internet content, like soap slicing videos and kinetic sand being chopped. 

Only, this time, the slicing action associated with producing satisfying content like a neatly sliced section of sand, or a cleanly cut soap bar, ends with an unexpected twist. 

The ‘aha, gotcha!’ moments of childhood playground pranks have been brought online…sliced open, and revealed to be cake.

Illogical question? 2020 disagrees.

Shared ‘secret’ truth- Keeping up with appearances

Absurd times call for absurd escapes. And, the cake meme achieves the perfect blend of absurdism and pure, childlike humor.

The magic of the ‘Everything is Cake’ meme also lies in a shared act of ‘secret’-keeping: 

We’ve all been cut or injured before and we bled. We know not all shoes are cake underneath, we all know that it’s not true that everything isn’t cake, but we’re all going along with the make-believe, jointly holding up a non-truth truth in the name of fun. 

In a time of great worldwide distress, the virality of the meme shows members of the internet world letting each other in on the joke and not spoiling the joke for each other. Each retweet, like, or meme-creation is a rapport-building act of sustaining the fantasy. 

Giving darkness an exit cue

As we trudge past the halfway mark of 2020 with a global pandemic raging on amidst many other woes, do we still have space for dark humour? Apocalypse memes aren’t funny anymore. 

Our Culture AI analysis of a sample size of 500 ‘everything is cake’ tweets showed that most tweets were joyful (80%), a sizable portion was neutral, and a very small portion negative.

With the ‘Everything is cake’ meme, we see how the internet is transforming - people are avoiding making bald, dark half-joke statements. Instead, they are trying to keep things as light as can possibly be, which means reworking some jokes. Communication structures that enable this reworking are embraced. 

Some variations of the cake meme possess a syntax that allows for dark humor to be presented and then lightened through the joke itself.

Several cake jokes mention something along the lines of doctors sedating people on the operating table so that they don’t realize they’re really cake, or operating into people and realising that their patients are cake.  

In these joke constructions, the  ‘everything is cake’ segment of the joke comes in after the first clause containing darker content. 

Hospital-related topics are often more glum and cryptic than they are merry. When given the ridiculous cake twist at the end, these become decidedly silly, lessening the potential veiled anxieties and morbidity in the front half of the statements. 

A safe area to indulge in

Perhaps part of the meme’s virality could also be attributed to the safeness of the joke. 

Casting cake as the lead character for a joke avoids misstepping on the tightropes of inclusion and diversity, of microaggressions and appropriations. Cake, an everyday object more likely to be closely associated with kitchens and cafes than insult, is ‘safe’. This gives meme creators and amplifiers the green light to go mad with it. 

Results from our Culture AI analysis revealed that the twitterverse really did indulge in the cake meme-ing: the most detected emotion in our data set was ‘creativity’, which appeared slightly more than twice as much as the second highest emotion level - ‘affiliation’. 

The high levels of creativity present in the Everything is Cake content suggests daringness.

They show us how the cake joke space seems to be an “anything goes” playground for experimentation and artistry, which was the original purpose and joy of using the internet back in the day.  

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