Chaotic dork energy

The Great British Bake Off

I just can’t wait any longer! In the holiday spirit of giving, I’m unpaywalling this sweet, vicious guest post by Charlotte Shane. Next Monday: Sally Weathers, our final guest of the year, on Supernatural. I’ll be back on New Year’s Eve, probably writing about Jeopardy! Thanks to everyone who’s sent in your pitches for 2019, the volume is incredible, so please forgive me if it takes me a bit to reply!

I go to visit Andrea in the hospital the day after her operation and of course we talk about TV. I know the topic of my guest entry will be the Great British Bake Off because it’s the only thing I’ve watched recently with any regularity besides old seasons of Real Housewives. (And you good people, Andrea’s subscribers, are simply not prepared for my 40,000-word treatise on the same.) Sally has watched more GBBO than Andrea, and the former seems more interested than the latter—though to be fair, Andrea is also only 14 hours out of major surgery, swaddled in bandages, not allowed to walk, and connected to at least 3 different tubes that are either taking liquids out of her or putting them in.

“What do you think about Ruby?” Sally asks me in her sincere, inviting way.

“I love Ruby,” I say, preparing to launch into an ode to her high ponytail, but the expression I receive in response alerts me there’s been a minor disconnect. Sally is inquiring about Original Ruby, the exasperating, sickle-shaped, dehydrated sunflower from Season 4 who was repeatedly accused (by viewers) of making bedroom eyes at domineering judge Paul Hollywood to advance in a competition where she was otherwise outmatched. Original Ruby, who is now married to a woman, rejected this charge in an essay for The Guardian with the mystifying claim that she’d “rather eat [her] own foot than attempt to seduce [her] way to victory,” indicating she is ignoring or (less plausibly) unaware of the discernible fact that Paul Hollywood is a man whose erectile problems can only be circumvented by a handful of highly specific scenarios, one of which involves watching a woman luxuriously lick and suck her own painted toes.

I suspect Ruby’s Paul-related transgression was a side effect of living in the body of a tall, 21-year-old woman with bad posture, whose droopy head placement necessitated bashfully looking up whenever he addressed her—a guaranteed dick-plumper for a certain type of self-important man. But her worse crime, the one I and Sally and thousands or perhaps millions of people feel justified in holding against her, was wallowing in her insecurity, which was as tenacious and oppressive as any other form of narcissism. Just watch the elimination scene of the Season 4 semifinal, wherein Beca is sent home, but Ruby cries and trembles like a young mom braving the news that her husband died at war before he could meet his only son. Terribly self-conscious people, like terribly arrogant people, cannot get over themselves.

But I digress. My Ruby is New Ruby, Ruby Bhogal: blasé, charismatic, unassuming and unflappable. An anti-Original Ruby. The Wave of the Future Ruby. Conveniently, the two Rubys straddle the divide of original GBBO vs. new GBBO, a rift of which much was made back in 2016 when the show changed hands and fans fell into hysterics over impending alterations. At the BBC, the show featured judge Mary Berry and hosts Mel and Sue. At Channel 4, it now has Prue as a judge and Noel and Sandi as hosts. (Don’t make me write out their last names; it doesn’t matter and anyway, you got a fucking google you dumb bitch.) There were a lot of articles about what elements of the show made it so appealing but, weirdly, none focused on the fact that viewers get to spend an hour looking at carbs and desserts and gingham and pastoral England. Instead, commentators gnashed their teeth about the Bakexit of Mary Berry, and the two eminently expendable hosts who would have loved that dumb pun I just made.

Mary Berry—diplomatic, careful, reassuring Mary Berry, whose mere presence rebuked Paul Hollywood’s boorishness (the audacious classlessness of having the last name “Hollywood,” a surname that doesn’t even rhyme with his first name!)—is a true loss. But I’m so relieved to be rid of Sue, a yappy dog who graduated with honors from the British “comedy” school of Aggressively Silly Voices, and pantomimed peeing on the dean’s leg while collecting her diploma. Mel was less grating but I can’t forgive her for enabling Sue, whose manic behavior was given such free rein that she actually fucked up competitor’s bakes at least twice.

The proof of my love for GBBO is in the pudding of how long I endured Sue. Comedians who aren’t actually funny are bottomless wells of need who realized they could badger people into laughing at them by using certain cues in their delivery, thereby bypassing the work of producing something clever enough to warrant a real laugh. I don’t appreciate being conscripted into the impossible project of keeping someone’s existential dread at bay, and it violates my very sense of self to be coerced into faking laughter. Tap dance on the hot coals of your social desperation as long as you want, but don’t expect me to pretend it’s entertaining, I mentally shriek at my laptop whenever Sue appears on screen, like the superior person I am. I’d rather watch Original Ruby eating her own foot. I just don’t have the inner benevolence required to observe Sue’s chaotic dork energy without condemning it, even as I recognize we share the same human frailty.

Back in Andrea’s hospital room, Wendy, another visiting friend, voices her support of Sue. She puts up a respectable defense, some of which has occurred to me before: the hosts are annoying almost by definition—it is not an easy role to fill.

“Sue’s a try-hard,” Andrea decrees from her medical bed. “And a dandy.” Andrea is correct; even drugs can’t change her.

Wendy wisely offers Sally some sort of shrink-wrapped deli pastry which Sally eats and says is good. This is how mature people deal with the stress of being alive: They seek out desserts and limit the occasions when they inflict themselves on others.

I leave the hospital and walk across the street to a little market that sells No Cow bars, because I too want to put a chewy sweetness in my body right away, and that’s the only vegan thing I can find. It tastes awful, but it prolongs my sense of stability for a few hours. It is, as Prue says, “worth the calories.”

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