Recently, we here at cactus garden received a comment on this post from August 10, 2011:
Due to a quirk of technology,1 we have lost the exact comment, so I will paraphrase here (if the original commentator would like to resend the comment, I will post it in full):
“This post is an insult to the Zulu nation. I demand you must take it down immediately. Shaka Zulu would never have eaten cupcakes. I don’t make comments about HRM eating cake.”
Let’s start with the simple:
It is highly likely Shaka Zulu never said this.
Here’s how we know:
- It’s from forgottenquotes.tumblr.com, a well-known fake quotes site.
- It’s (almost entirely) anachronistic. Shaka Zulu, widely credited as one of the most influential of the Zulu rulers, was assassinated by his brothers in September 1828. While small, individualized cakes were invented during his lifetime, they appeared in the United States and the name “cupcake” wasn’t documented until 1828, again found in an American cookbook. In my admittedly limited research, it does not appear likely that the concept of the cake or the name make it to Shaka Zulu.2
Now, let’s go to the more complicated:
Is it offensive?
Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how cupcakes are ever offensive.
But we here at cactus garden try to be aware of our privilege and Shaka Zulu is not part of our heritage, so we may be missing something. Having said that, here are some thoughts:
I speak for all of us at the cactus garden when I say that we certainly do not mean to disparage Shaka Zulu. But I admit that this complaint has left us a bit baffled. Here’s where I suspect it is coming from:
Shaka Zulu is known for having united the Zulu people. He was a military leader, a brutal man in brutal times (seriously, his life story is riddled with assassinations), the essence of machismo.
Cupcakes, however, are considered the height of femininity. They are 1950s middle class American feminine, all beautifully decorated, dainty, tiny – hours spent to get each one exactly right even knowing that they will be eaten in a couple of quick bites. They are, as Metro Goldwyn Mayer would say, “art for the sake of art,” or even, “civilization for the sake of civilization.”
Kirbycakes by kakisky
This forgotten quote is playing on gender norms. It is suggesting that even Shaka Zulu can have a softer side. It is asking why can’t a man’s man enjoy a sweet, and live as he wants to. And this commentator is objecting to it. He is playing out a gender battle.
The thing is, to me, this fake quote humanizes Shaka Zulu. It makes him more approachable for study. But I suspect that this commentator has a problem with that. He doesn’t want his hero to be human, because that would mean he would need to examine and possibly judge the actions of Shaka Zulu, instead of treat them as sacrosanct.
But that’s me making assumptions. If that commentator would like to have a conversation with me, I’d be happy to talk.
Here’s the thing, though. This commentator is making assumptions about us, too. I’m not sure why he thinks that we are British (we’re not, although AM the Younger has spent time living in the UK), or that we would have a problem with someone talking about Queen Elizabeth II eating cupcakes (we don’t). I don’t think even the British have a problem with people discussing the Queen and cupcakes. If you image google “Queen Elizabeth” and “cupcakes,” you get thousands of hits.
My favorite. You should definitely click through, if just for the corgis.
Of course, that’s missing the point. Because cupcakes are feminine, remember? You’d have to make fun of the queen for liking to hunt or something. But that doesn’t have the same taboo to it, does it? Women are expected to want to behave like men, but woe unto any man who wants to enjoy anything that has even the slightest whiff of femininity. This guy is upset because the cupcake is an insult to manhood. He’s coming from the assumption that being a woman is lesser, and forgetting (or ignoring) that his assumption also limits men. And, frankly, if that’s what he sees as so offensive, then I don’t give a damn.
So, unless someone can give me further clarification, then I’m going to go with this: this quote is not offensive. With this juxtaposition, it is challenging beliefs, but it is not offensive to anyone but the misogynists (or the confection allergic).
And yet, we still haven’t answered the bigger question: are fake quotes offensive?
This is a huge phenomenon online, attributing an idea to someone famous. It’s reverse plagiarism, willingly giving your idea to someone in the public eye, so it will gain attention and popularity. I worry about fake quotes, because it’s getting hard to sort out the real from the fake, and even quote collections are full of inadequate attributions.
On the other hand, what’s important is that the idea was said and people heard it. In many ways, it doesn’t matter that Patrick Henry never said “Give me liberty, or give me death!” We believe it, because it contains truth for us, so it has become ingrained into the American national consciousness. Likewise, maybe it doesn’t matter that Shaka Zulu never said, “I don’t care how macho you are. Sometimes a guy just needs a cupcake.” People are going to hear it, so it will change culture, breaking down, in some small way, some gender norms.
Of course, this is the problem. False attribution changes the perception of the person. Which is, in part, what this commentator is arguing. The big question is: is this a good change or a bad change? To me, it’s a good change, and who is to say that Mr. Zulu didn’t enjoy a sweet now and then? But to the commentator, it’s a bad change, for reasons that just make me sad.
If it were me making this meme, I would have chosen a different person to attribute to – one much more widely known for his machismo. Ghengis Khan, maybe. Or Chuck Norris.
So, false attribution is concerning, but effective, and possibly slightly unethical, but also a compliment of sorts. And maybe offensive? Sometimes?
I find I’m torn.
But I also think that this was a silly joke from 2011 that we’ve all now thought way too much about. I vote we all sit down at the table and take Marie Antoinette’s advice, “Let them eat cake.”
Oh wait, she didn’t say that either.
My actually birthday cake this year. It was delicious. Cake and photo courtesy SAAM.
1 i.e. SM marked them as spam because of the troll-like caps and repetition of submission, and now she can’t access them
2 Keeping in mind, of course, that even were this quote to be true, it would be translated anyway.
"Cupcake." Wikipedia. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupcake.
"Kirbycakes 014.jpg." MorgueFile Free Photo. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/602303.
Noble, Nicola. "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (in Fondant!)." Snowballs in Summer. July 24, 2012. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://snowballsinsummer.blogspot.com/2012/07/her-majesty-queen-elizabeth-ii-in.html.
"Shaka." Wikipedia. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaka.
"Shaka Zulu Forgotten Quotes." Forgotten Quotes. July 11, 2011. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://forgottenquotes.tumblr.com/post/7488423501.
"In the Words of Mr. Shaka Zulu Himself..." In the Cactus Garden. August 10, 2011. Accessed March 20, 2014. http://www.inthecactusgarden.com/seeds/2011/8/10/in-the-words-of-mr-shaka-zulu-himself.html.