It is time to dust off those aprons, preheat those ovens and put up the bunting, because The Great British Bake Off is back on our screens!
Bake Off is returning for its 11th series, proving time and time again that once you discover that failsafe recipe (be it for a cake or a T.V. show) it never fails to disappoint. Although obviously things are somewhat different this year, there is minimal discussion of the pandemic which caused a shift in how the contestants and the shows production went ahead, for the first time there was a literal Bake Off bubble. In addition, the series opener of the show’s latest host Matt Lucas, walks onto a mock Government press conference, giving his best Boris impression in an attempt to make light of recent events to which we have become accustomed to and yet once this has been acknowledged in the first five minutes of the new series, we then move past this and are given the opportunity to forget about current affairs and rather get anxious for when a baking mishap happens instead.
After the comedic and very current opener, we are transported to a quintessentially British countryside setting, where we see and behold the tent in all its glory, like it has never gone away. Week one as per tradition was Cake Week, which saw the contestants modern take on the retro recipes as well as creating iconic figures from cake. And personally, I could not have enjoyed it anymore, from seeing the likes of David Bowie to Sir David Attenborough being formed from sponge, to being concerned that contestant’s had forgotten to line their cans properly, or even god forbid their cake’s came out raw. Or even when at the most dramatic part of the whole episode, which may follow the likes of previous mishaps regarding both ice cream and custard; when one contestants swatted a fly and accidentally knocked another when they were being their technical bake (a kitschy pineapple upside down cake no less) to the table for the blind judging. Bake Off has a way of allowing the stakes in life to be about those moments and nothing more.
In terms of characters, we had our expectations met, from the arch-types of the judges, with Prue Leith being the good cop and Paul Hollywood playing the bad cop. To the goofy double act pairing of Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas and even that of the contestants who ticked every box like they do each year as an excellent representation of all those who bake across the country. From the get go, the sense of community is palpable, we see humble human interactions and through our voyeurism are able to feel like we too are part of this picturesque competition.
The Great British Bake Off has been on our screens for a decade now, and although it has had a few alterations in judges, format and setting, the wholesome values of the show have always remained the same. And it is with this winning television recipe, that Bake Off, at least in my humble opinion is able to offer us nostalgia as well as the ability for a cooking programme to unite a nation as millions of us tune in each week to be part of what is now an instantly recognisable franchise based on its warmth and its humanity. In the word’s of Prue Leith herself from the opening of the latest series, the show is “the same old Bake Off. Familiar, comforting and lovely”.
Nostalgia has the power to conjure up images of warmth and happiness, it can act as a marshmallow scented blanket of childhood memory, allowing you to see the past through rose tinted glasses. However, nostalgia can also work to mask the reality of the past.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired in September 1990 and ran until May 1996. The show is listed under ‘comedy series’ on Netflix and for some that’s all the show is, a funny little show that takes up 20 minutes or so of your day while you’re getting dressed, waiting for someone or falling asleep tucked up in bed. The beauty of nostalgia works to hide the reality of what the production and success of the show truly represented, which was, for the first time, a predominantly Black cast, highlighting the widespread racial injustice Black people are subjected to.
Highly commended and successful Black actress Whoopi Goldberg has previously cited watching Star Trek as the first time she decided to be an actress when as a child, she exclaimed “Momma! There’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” after seeing Nyota Uhura on the popular television series. The show provided a Black role model, someone that a child could look at and go ‘they’re just like me’. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aided this revelation, it was the first time that Black actors were main characters and not ust pigeon-holed into some racial stereotype. There were Black lawyers, doctors, teachers: all blue collar jobs that, suddenly it seemed, could be attainable for a non-White person in 1990s America. The Banks family shocked America by demonstrating that it was possible for a family to be successful, while also being Black. The show itself brought a mirror to society, illustrating explicit and subconscious racial prejudice to the nation and, now thanks to Netflix, the world.
During lockdown I’ll admit to having a bit of a Netflix binge session in which series one to six were consumed in just a matter of days. In this time I also interviewed Leonard Chatonzwa and Josh Browne, the two men who organised the BLM protests in Lincoln (where I was residing for the lockdown period). During this conversation Browne mentioned how the parallels between The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and society are still very present. For example, there is a scene where Will and Carlton get pulled over by the cops. Carlton attempts to deal with the situation rationally, using his ‘pre-law’ education as a basis for any discussion with law enforcement. Will, someone who has had experience with law before, on the other hand, is prepared, knows exactly what is going to happen and, unlike Carlton, is not remotely surprised by the racial hypocrisy of the situation.
Nostalgia would have us believe that the racism raised in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is over but reality shows us that this is not the case. No, having a show that includes predominantly Black cast isn’t as shocking as it once was, but it still is not the norm in popular TV shows. Black-ish demonstrates how racism still plagues BIPOC communities to this day and Dear White People establishes another discourse surrounding racism.