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What's a Wreck?

A Cake Wreck is any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate - you name it. A Wreck is not necessarily a poorly-made cake; it's simply one I find funny, for any of a number of reasons. Anyone who has ever smeared frosting on a baked good has made a Wreck at one time or another, so I'm not here to vilify decorators: Cake Wrecks is just about finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places.

Now, don't you have a photo you want to send me? ;)

- Jen
Wednesday
Jul082009

Christmas in July: Going Dutch

Ok, sure, it's July, and the last thing on your mind is broadening your...uh...mind...with exposure to international holiday traditions - I get it. However, this particular post was deemed by the powers that be* too controversial to post back in December, so all my hard work and sparkling wit got shelved, its radiance cloaked all these long months.

So what changed?

Well, that's a long story. One involving too many mango mojitos, a Chuck marathon, and a malfunctioning alarm clock. (Ok, so maybe it's not that long of a story...)

But enough intro: you guys ready to have those minds broadened? I promise it will only sting a little.

*meaning me, John, and the cat

In the Netherlands Santa Claus (called Sinterklaas) doesn't have elves for sidekicks; he has Zwarte Piet (meaning "Black Pete"). Zwarte Piet is usually played by a white guy in blackface makeup, a curly black wig, and big gold hoop earrings. (I am SO not making this up.)

Here's a reference photo from Wikipedia:

"Get your hand off my robe; you'll make it dirty."

Zwarte shows up in cake form quite a lot, too, and in less than flattering ways:

However, if this seems a little insensitive to you, Wreckporter Kiki has a perfectly reasonable explanation:

"Dutch people claim Pete is black because of the soot in the chimneys he has to climb down to deliver the gifts."

OH, so it's soot! Ok, I get it. And you're right: this does look a lot like Bert the chimney sweep:


We all know how Bert liked his lipstick.

And dressing up like Aunt Jemima:


This one found by Wouter T. is probably the most wreckish; it looks like the remains of a melting muppet:


Ever heard the expression "in for a penny, in for a pound"? Well, since I'm already stirring up trouble here, I may as well share what Megan H. found at a bakery in Argentina:

They're little cakes called "Africancitos", or "little black men". With bows on their heads. I don't think they're a holiday treat, though, so you can enjoy your little-black-men cake heads any time of the year. "Great for parties!"

(Yes, I've officially crossed the line from horrified disbelief into horrified humor. It's more fun over here - won't you join me?)

To those of you offended by all this, you should know that Zwarte Piet was not intended to be offensive. (Argentina, you're on your own.) And to those of you who see nothing wrong with outdated and racially insensitive traditions, you should take a look at this poster:

« Copyright Unfringement | Main | Who Ordered the Poo Poo Platter? »

Reader Comments (336)

Hey, thanks for not being scared to post something that's funny. You have my complete respect.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBridgette

Maria,

We figured that this post would raise a few hackles. The thing is, this post was carefully written not to be offensive in and of itself but to show an odd tradition from another country. Who knows? Maybe the president of the Netherlands reads Cake Wrecks every day and will declare Zwarte Piet to be insensitive. Maybe the character will get banned. But to be sure, these are the some of the truest cakewrecks we've ever shown.

Tomorrow's post is more innocent.

john

Okay, so I can see going two different ways on this, depending on how this character is actually represented--and I don't know how that really is most of the time, since this is the first time I've heard of him (I'll be very interested to read the wikipedia page and the essay someone linked to later, when I'm not in a rush to get out the door). When we're talking about Zwarte Piet as represented in these cakes...yeah, I think this is (more than) a bit questionable, particularly because of the bright red/pink, enormous lips (good grief, people, stop doing that). If we're talking Zwarte Piet as he appears to be represented in that photo of him with Sinterklaas, though...I'm not seeing such a huge problem (but again, keep in mind that I lack context, so I could be wrong). Yes, it's blackface, but at least in that photo, it's not the exaggerated, nasty blackface that we think of when we see that term. It's just someone in a costume, playing a holiday character who happens to have a different skin color than the person playing him.

Now, whether or not that's borne out by the traditional origins and behavior of Zwarte Piet is entirely debatable (he's sooty, or he's a black person who was saved by Sinterklaas, or he's a former slave--sounds like there are a few options, some less appealing to modern sensitivity than others)...but holiday characters can always be reinterpreted. Just look at the American version of Santa Claus. Maybe it would have been better if they'd managed to change it to a bunch of multicolored Petes, but I don't think that the existence of a black helper for Santa is in and of itself automatically offensive and condemnable.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterspoofmaster

YAY! John, THANK YOU!!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

you are really going to have to come to my house for a FOTC viewing party when season 2 comes out on dvd (dubbed-video-dub) AUGUST 4TH!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSlartibartfast

"I'm horribly offended" laughed Jessica.

I heart FotC too--Albi was terrific in concert :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Wow. This is crazy!!! Thanks for posting this "Strange but True" custom. My jaw dropped about five times.

Tacky Weddings loves Cake Wrecks!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeath

You know, the actual photo of Black Peter doesn't look so bad. I could get that. A little weird and wouldn't fly in America, but eh.

The cakes? Not so much. They all look like demented Muppets and they scare me.

As a child, I read a book about customs all over the world, and it said that Black Peter was a fierce looking man with a rough, blackened face who threatened naughty children. I never pictured him as a black man, though...

Re: Demotivator--LOL that's awesome. I just listened to a piece on NPR about the running of the bulls and I thought "And people do this on PURPOSE?"

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa (& Billy)

Love all of it, you make me laugh every day here at work! Keep it coming!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

I haven't had a chance to read all of the comments, but if you haven't read (or better yet, heard) David Sedaris' short story, "6-8 Black Men" PLEASE do so immediately. It is available on YouTube in three parts. Listening to it has become my Christmas tradition, during which I laugh so much I cry--every time I listen. It is about Santa Clause. It is brilliant, and is the perfect match for this post.

I've been to Amsterdam for Christmas twice. Piete is everywhere.

The really remarkable thing about it is that black actors often play the character in store displays and posters.

And even they play it in blackface.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterApril Winchell

I can tell how upset maria is, using the term "humor-boner." Shredded to ribbons, she must be.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I love this Black Pete/Krampus stuff. The twisted original version of fairy tales is always so much more interesting and serves its purpose to scare the boogers out of misbehaving kids.

I also loved that the Krampus made a guest appearance in the Venture Bros. Christmas Special http://www.venturebroswiki.com/vbwiki/Krampus

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

Hmmm... I think that white beard is supposed to be a neck ruffle, like some of the other Zwarte Piets are wearing.

In short, I never cease to be astounded by cultural traditions.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Jen,I loved reading about the traditions and your brilliant commentary kept this potentially offensive subject in check. Thank you so much! Thanks also to the people who shared their memories about their traditions. I so enjoy learning about celebrations and traditions in other countries. And I so adore those little Aunt Jemima cakes. They took me down memory lane to a time when I once knew a kind hearted woman who dressed that way.

Coming to Cake Wrecks every day is like opening a box of Cracker Jacks.. You never know what kind of surprise you're going to get!!!

Cheers to all for a job well done!

Cara

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

personally, I love a little horrified humor once in a while. I was secretly amused and publicly horrified... good job!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlifeshighway

why are so many posters saying "funny post" and "oh wow i laughed so hard?" this just made me sad. shaking my head...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErica

aunt jemima meets william shakespeare. ohhhhhhh too funny! i feel like that muppet right now. shumbuddy turn on the A/C!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteriris

Isn't there a helper called Krampus with horns & he pulls little kids down to hell or beats them with a stick or something?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

This is freaking HYSTERICAL!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Fabulous job on balancing this post.... And I have "Tradition" from despair dot com as a skin on my laptop..... Great close to the blog. Although, I must agree with several of the previous comments, that looks more like Ernie than Bert and he looks chocolate dipped and somewhat melted. Guaranteed childhood nighmare material, right there!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

i can't believe only one other person mentioned this: a Chuck marathon!?!? total awesomeness!

fun post btw. not offensive at all.

wv: armens: what pirates say at the end of their prayers.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

The cakes are awful, but I don't think the tradition is necessarily. Like someone else said, it depends on the context Piet is presented in (if he's an actual black guy, then the blackface is stupid, but if it's a white person with soot on his face, then it's fine), but Sinterklaas having a black helper isn't automatically bad. It doesn't seem like many Dutch people find it derogatory, including black people who live there (at least in my limited experience with the Netherlands).

We're past the point where every black person is presented as a servant, and I think we're getting to this point where black people can't be presented as servants at all. Otherwise someone will get offended and, like someone else said, that someone usually seems to be a white person, which I almost think is more racist than the actual portrayal. Does the statement "Santa can't have a black helper unless because it's racist" strike anyone else as ironic? Even if you say there should be ethnic diversity, it still feels a little off to me. People don't make that much of a stink about Santa having all white midget helpers.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Oh, my word! Those look nothing like the guy in the photo.

In this heat, everything, including muppets, melt!
~Amy B.

wv: playisms (I'm not making it up! LOL)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I suppose that's the problem: Americans go absolutely insane if anyone produces anything that could vaguely be considered racist *in the United States*, but at the same time they're immensely hostile if the opposite occurs.

So we have to be incredibly, incredibly sensitive toward American sensibilities but Americans don't even have to acknowledge that ours exist, or if they do they have the full right to mock and belittle them.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharlene

Damn it!
Well, as an Argentinian, I never saw or heard about any "Africanitos".
Too bad.
Although on the other hand, maybe it's better that I never got used to eating black people's faces... I couldn't get over the feeling of being a cannibal, and a racist one at that.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBlackwood

I'm sure someone else has told you about this. But, you MUST look up David Sedaris' writings about 8 and 1/2 black men. His interpretation of the Dutch Christmas celebration. I was laughing so hard I was crying!!!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

A new friend of mine is half Dutch and half African so I mentioned to him that I learned about Black Peter today curious about his view on it since he grew up in the Netherlands and he seemed perfectly fine with it.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Ok, so, now I see that EVERYONE has commented the same thing about David Sedaris. I'm so glad I'm not alone in knowing what a humorous man he is! :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

mercy, I can't imagine any of those in North Georgia.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

i have the urge to buy about 12 of the commentors a deluxe dvd copy of MARY POPPINS!!

Just because you reference ONE Muppet, doesn't mean ALL refs are Muppetlicious! lol

BERT was the CHIMNEY SWEET in Mary Poppins.... Chim Chim Chereee!!

Oh my muppet/dis nerdness.. i can't help it haha

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermzmclean

I'm French, and for what it's worth, in any good pastry shop in France you should be able to find little cakes dipped in chocolate with meringue inside, and these are called "tête de nègre" which means, you guessed it, Nigger's Head.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentera l'ouest

Am I the only one who sees a direct resemblamce between the way that "zwarte piet's" cartoonish appearance may make fun of black people the same way that santa's elves' squeeky voices and cartoonish clothes may belittle little people?

great site tho! :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think it's funny that you have to over-exaggerate how you're not trying to be offensive... whatever.

Regardless, I think these are hilarious! Soot or not, how do you make that color icing?!?!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZ's Wife

Nikki at 10:40, I totally agree with you! Fight the big problems, like actual discrimination, but just let the silly little things like these caricatures go and have a good laugh at them instead. This kind of thing isn't worth the energy of getting angry or offended over it.

Hysterical post, as always!

Susan

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I am german and we have, as another poster pointed out, "Knecht Ruprecht". He is also a Santa Claus sidekick meant to punish the bad children while Santa (aka "der Weihnachtsman" = the Christmas-man)gives gifts and sweets.

Knecht Ruprecht probably evolved from the very old belief that the devil travels with St. Nikolaus thus presenting the duality of good and evil.
And he is mostly thougt to be a dark figure, not african american, but a dark and sinster man, perhaps even echoing pagen traditions.
These storys can be traced back to 1300 - 1400 and are far older than anything concerning slavery.

Sorry about my bad english, there a lot of cultural references tieing spain with the netherlands (same ruling kings for quite a while), long conflicts with the Moors in spain, the perception of people with dark skin being an actual threat to europeans etc.
Its rather interesting.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAva

Salutes to Nikki, the only person on this thread who is worth a candle. Nikki, you're a star.

For those of you who are busy being offended on others' behalf, lets just remind ourselves of what Nikki said, shall we?

"I wonder how quickly racism and prejudice would end if people would laugh at it like it's the silliest thing in the world (which it is)".

If someone of a particular race, sexuality, religion or culture is offended, then it is up to THEM to say so, not for others to sneak around worriting that to say something, do something or post a picture of a cake portraying of a traditional figure may "cause offence". To those who are offended - get over it. You're an adult. Deal with it.

And for all those outraged Yanks - if it aint your culture, don't think you have any right to knock it. Without European traditions, you'd all still be living in swamps eating racoons. But, as one fool has already said "Other country's traditions are scary". And that, my friends, is why there is so much hatred in the world.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapability Bowes

Why does their santa look like the pope?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hooray for an Albi the Racist Dragon reference! Flight of the Conchords humor is always appreciated.
And these cakes are truly wrecks.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

While we're at it, can someone from a UK-ish kind of place explain why gollywog dolls are NOT incredibly racist?

And then there's the gollywog cake wreck to consider....

http://www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com/coolest-golliwog-birthday-cake.html

Isn't that romantic? Yikes.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm laughing over here. Not because of the cakes, but because I live in a highly Dutch-American (there's really no other way to describe it) city and worked at the public museum a couple of years back. (Note: I'm not Dutch. Much, anyway.) At Christmas, they had a display of mannequins dressed as Santa from other nations. And Black Pete was...Santa with a black beard. White dude, black beard. Still with the sacks and the beatings, but definitely and decidedly sanitized for our consumption. So, while I've heard of Black Piet...never heard of the racial aspect.

(So...umm...does that make for a different solution to the racial issue? Keep Zwarte Piet, just make him Santa with a box of Just For Men?)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Such a bad day at work but everyday I check your site and its days like these that make me smile... I love the FOTC reference... absolutly loved it.. I must go watch 'Albi' right now!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm biracial and the cakes really didn't offend me so much for what they represent as that most of them are just plain ugly. All that black icing = something not to pretty in the tidy bowl later.

However, everyone has the right to their opinion and Capability, perhaps you should step down from your sanctimonious high horse and think about why so many here are offended. You may not be offended, Nikki may not be offended, I may not be offended, but that doesn't mean we're the only right ones here.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBree

I have lived in the Netherlands for about 30 years. The first year I saw Zwarte Piet dolls I couldn't believe my eyes. I have never got used to it and do my best to be out of the country when ZP and the Sint rutn up (which is in mid-November by the way and they hang around til 5 December). My one act of defiance was to print t-shirts in Dutch in the style we have done for political prisoners, simply saying "Free Zwarte Piet" - it does at least keep the dialogue alive.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmina

I just have to say, Jen, I'm lovin' the Flight of the Concords reference.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy

Capability Bowes - how dare you tell us to "get over it?" How dare you insinuate that anyone who is offended "isn't worth a candle?"

So it's not enough that we suffer enduring racism and hurtful stereotypes from every corner masquerading as "tradition;" we also have to listen to you tell us that we don't have a right to our feelings?

It's interesting how you seem to assume that almost everyone here is white, unless they identify themselves otherwise. And by "interesting" I mean something else.

To clarify: Am mildly offended Zwarte Piet, am not at all offended by the post mocking Zwarte Piet, am incensed by being literally told that I'm worthless.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhazel61

This post made me incredibly, indescribably sad. I can't wait until I never have to see one of those images again. And since the entire rest of the world still thinks its ok that probably won't happen in my lifetime. :(

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

LMBO! That's the most ridiculous tradition I've ever heard of. As if a flying man with reindeer wasn't dumb enough...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter:::b r a n d i:::

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