Secret Pop

Sep 20, 2012

Your Cake and Eat It, Too

Your Cake and Eat It, Too

"Your cake and eat it, too." I had cause to use this phrase to describe something recently, and it occurred to me what an inane idiom it is. If I'm going to have cake, of course I'd like to eat it, too. And yet whenever someone accuses you of wanting to have your cake and eat it, too, the implication is that you breached a covenant of the social compact. You're greedy. You decided you're entitled to a different set of circumstances than everyone else. And what's more, you are an anomaly. NO ONE ELSE wants to have their cake and also eat it. We're ALL perfectly comfortable with one thing or the other. I will have my cake, or I will eat my cake. But as God is my witness, I WILL NOT DO BOTH.

You'll pardon me while I sway a little further in the literal direction, but I don't actually like cake much. So I'm neither inclined to have it nor eat it particularly often. And if this is a metaphor, I guess that says something about whether I take more than what's coming to me or believe I deserve special accommodation, and I would say that metaphor has some truth to it. I am so tightly wound around the pillar of fairness it's crippling at times. I expect it, strive for it, and believe in its possibility, despite the countless times so far I've been served a slice of cake that had the words "Life Isn't Fair" scripted on its icing in a bright sugary extrusion of curly cursive.

Things are not generally fair. Fairness is not the stuff of storytelling. Or when it is, the stories are decidedly jejune. And we don't generally root just for what's fair. We root for what's heroic. Who even gets out of bed in the morning for fair. Well, me, I guess. And even so, I seldom get it. But it's possible my insistence on wanting what's fair originates somewhere in this murky soup of cinematic upbringing that has been my second life. A black hat/white hat world where we see both sides. We see what happens in secret. We know when someone is lying And we all know exactly the same things.

My parents loved Taken. It's actually hilarious to watch them eat it up, because in that film -- spoiler alert -- everybody gets what's coming to them. To an absurd degree. To a laughable, comical, absurd degree. And they loved it. Watching Taken was not especially my favorite thing. But watching my parents watch Taken -- that was the stuff of dreams.

The trick with movies is that we all generally root for the same person. We root for the figure we're supposed to root for. It's disruptive when a filmmaker tells us a story where the good guy doesn't prevail. It's a breach of trust. Or it's a tragedy. Or it's German. It's part of what sucked about the Prequels. It's why it's no fun to watch Law and Order episodes where Jack McCoy learns that the system isn't perfect or where juries decide it's acceptable for someone to get away with murder. That's called jury nullification, by the way. Even unsatisfying moments in procedural television can be comfortingly educational.

But the point is life isn't like that. The point is you don't get the admiration of the audience for being forgiving or for being heroic or for letting people get away with murder. The point is that metaphoric cake I'm having but not eating, or eating but not having, or neither having nor eating should actually say, "Life Is Not the Movies." The endings are not always happy. The good guy does not always win. You don't get to see what people say about you at your funeral. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones and later Devo: Satisfaction is a Western construct. Would anyone care for cake?

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