The Great British Bake Off is utter nonsense, but it's exactly what we need in these grim times
Isn’t it nice to spend 75 minutes ignoring these big, difficult issues and instead think about pie for a bit?
The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) has returned, and so for the next two and a half months much of the country is going to be utterly obsessed with cake. The start of a new series is a siren call that even the most cynical viewer finds hard to resist.
Every year I tell myself I’m not going to get involved, yet every year I suddenly realise that it’s 8.10pm on a Tuesday and I’m yelling, through a mouth full of lemon drizzle that I don’t remember buying: “Why would you go for cardamom on your first bake? It’s overpowering!” at an ex-nuclear engineer who spends her retirement making sculptures of Disney characters out of spun sugar.
This sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s really not. The GBBO set is brightly coloured, quirky, and so twee it’d give Cath Kidston a headache – and it picks its contestants to match. There’s usually someone whose trademark is throwing Dr. Oetker’s entire range of edible sparkles on a plate and hoping for the best. There’s often an older gentleman who is gently, albeit concerningly intense about his decoration.
There’s almost always a sassy older lady with statement glasses. This year we’ve also got Briony, a woman who looks exactly like an illustrated character in a children's book, and she’s not even the most colourful person there. It comes to something when Noel Fielding is wearing a shirt with a candy pink house on it, looking like a ghost haunting a Wendy house, yet he’s still not the most extravagantly dressed person on screen.
And it’s not just the people on GBBO who are ridiculous; the challenges are just as absurd. Remember Nadiya’s giant chocolate peacock? Nancy making the Moulin Rouge out of sponge cake and profiteroles? And yet they are taken so seriously that you can’t help but get swept away with it. At one point during last night’s episode I found myself nodding solemnly as the voiceover said “getting the giant biscuit canvas baked early is critical”.
Then I remembered what I was watching, and that they were using the word critical to describe a step in a challenge where the contestants were making selfies out of biscuits. Trade negotiations this ain’t, but for a moment it felt just as important.
But isn’t that the joy of GBBO? We live in a world which feels, quite frankly, like it’s on fire. Our politicians are incompetent, evil, embarrassing, or some unholy combination of the three; natural disasters and wars are killing people faster than we can save them, and we can’t find the time to fight these problems as we’re all too busy fighting each other. Isn’t it nice to spend 75 minutes ignoring these big, difficult issues and instead think about pie for a bit?
Isn’t it a relief to put aside difficult conversations about structural inequality and instead discuss whether Prue’s colourful necklace was beautiful or batshit? (Both. It was absolutely both). Rather than having to wait and see whether Brexit is going to be a triumph or a disaster, we could all wait and see whether or not anyone was going to point out that Dan’s biscuit baby looked exactly like a penis. It’s the break from reality that we need – nay, that we deserve.
GBBO is a brilliantly produced bit of nonsense, and long may it live because of that. Man cannot live on bread and outrage alone, and anything that gives us a chance to have some cake and fun for a bit can only be a good thing.