Prompted by a request from her parents, Rachel Gelmis received an optional drug test from her Alabama high school. As reported in an article by Michael Hafford of Refinery29, her mother was worried and felt that Rachel had been acting weird. Surprisingly, her results came back positive for everything including THC, cocaine, heroin, meth, benzos, and barbiturates. The school shared the results with her mother, who immediately began to research rehab facilities until the school called a second time to report that they had read the report incorrectly. To make up for the uncomfortable situation, Rachel’s mother made her a cake with caramel apple frosting that read “Sorry we thought you did meth & heroin & coke & pot.” As the treat was created upon her request, Rachel appreciated the gesture, later posting it to twitter with tagline, “Sometimes you have to admit when you’re wrong #apologycake.” Rachel confirmed on Twitter that she had no hard feelings.
Apology cakes, both edible and digital, serve as tools for many things. To make friends laugh, to gather likes, and sometimes to create true resolution. Physical and virtual, fraudulent and genuine, apology cakes can deliver morally troubling content, but they also serve a purpose, revealing the humorous and uncomfortable side of apology-making and generating a tasty addition to meme culture. Traditionally, cakes are only used as a medium for written messages of “Happy Birthday” or the occasional “Congratulations.” Apology cakes appropriate the cake as a device to mediate awkward apology conversations or at least poke fun at them.
More social media engagement means that more people are showing off for the screen. Online engagement has taken an earnest, classic, and often simple gesture and given it a chance to be flashy and exaggerated, which is notable considering the embarrassing nature of having to admit wrongdoing. Interestingly enough, no matter their delivery, these cakes are able to express that the gesture of apologizing is itself awkward, clumsy, and performative.
The apology cake, once a physical gesture, has come to be co-opted by online memers. On social media sites like Tumblr, users will even superimpose custom apologetic messages set in the Comic Sans typeface over images of cake. Cakes are meant to be consumed for one’s enjoyment, and apology cakes, no matter their form or content, are no exception. Both online and off, apology cakes are meant to entertain, which means that they can be sweet and kind, but also upsetting or calculated.
Our engagement with the web has created a situation where gestures as sincere, intimate, and genuine as the apology have become a production for the benefit of online viewers. These cakes may be heartfelt, or they may be meant for online popularity (virtual likes) and humorous effect, since the juxtaposition of icing and seriousness gives each cake a comical edge. Offline, in more traditional apology-making, apologies still can serve to sweetly augment a more private conversation.
When apology-making is done online, in public, the meaning is inherently compromised and its goals become less clear. In the world of the digital apology, the questions of intent (on the part of the apologizer and baker) become far more critical. The reader may be very removed from the author, thus generating misinterpretation about the author’s intentions. Or, in other cases, the author may indeed be using the platform for offensive communication.
Rebecca Reid, a writer for the Metro UK wrote, “How does screwing up and hurting someone become amusing when you put it in icing?” It’s because many people using social media are there primarily for recognition and entertainment. Amongst the cat videos, memes, and ironic humor, the sincerity of gestures, apologies included, begin to lose value. The trend of apology cakes is infused with the attention-seeking focus of internet culture.
Dave Stopera, a member of Buzzfeed Staff, “believes that every apology should be a cake.” And that the apology cake phenomenon is spreading in many ways. Recently, Bravo created a web series called “Baked Amends,” in which people bake and give cakes to people they have wronged. Offenses include, “Sorry I Broke Your Thesis Project (and blamed it on the dog)” and “Sorry I Made the Realtor Unsell Your Dream Home.” The episodes usually end with cake getting smashed into the apologizer’s face.
Due to its novelty and popularity, the apology cake has even played a role in social media-based advertising. It’s business as usual. Companies picked up on this internet trend and used it to provide entertainment, build perceived need, and exploit people’s sense of propriety. Using this consumer-based trend, Budweiser posted a series of sorry cakes on Imgur to celebrate Super Bowl Night’s designated drivers. The messages included, “Thanks for DD-ing Sry I made you stop for tacos… twice” and “Sorry about that thing with the chicken wings.” In another corporate ploy, Bake Me A Wish!, a gourmet birthday cake delivery service, offers Apology Gift Deliveries encouraging shoppers to “sweeten the forgiveness by sending your apology with a delicious bakery gift!” These cakes -– including the Tiramisu Classico, Chocolate Mousse Torte, and New York Cheesecake -– are not accompanied by funny text; instead they serve as delicious tokens of regret.
In its physical form, an apology cake provides an opportunity for one to literally swallow their pride; it is an apology that can be chewed and digested, homemade or store-bought. However, with the addition of the internet, digestion can become a cerebral adventure as much as a gastronomic one.
Cake apologies vary as much as the individuals that make and receive them. These apology cakes were all once edible, but have since been shared and distributed online. Take a look at a few—dealing with subjects ranging from the mundane to the illegal.
“Sorry I was late to your class every day.”
In the case of the academic apology cake, the student is likely trying to get something more than a reconciliation. The cake is meant to mitigate past indiscretions for a better letter grade or a recommendation letter. The message recognizes that a bad deed has occurred, and the extra effort—to say it via cake—suggests creativity and effort. I assume it was better received than a remorseful email, but that all depends on the teacher's degree of gluttony and appreciation for sugar.
“Sorry I tased you.”
In one of the most well-known incidents of an apology cake yet, this past April in Mercer County, New Jersey, a Hamilton Township police officer, Darcy Workman gave firefighter Rickey Wagoner a “Sorry I Tased You” cake to smooth over an accident they had when working together. Posted to Facebook and liked 2.2K times, commented on 246 times, and shared by 1.9K people, the occurrence was a social media hit. People loved the camaraderie and “sweet” action. A cake with the same sentiment (pictured above) was made in another incident involving two Massachusetts police officers, coworkers Jay Maloney and Katie Ross.
However, this type of apology cake has also been used inappropriately. A Florida Cop, former deputy Michael Wohlers, texted an image of a “Sorry I Tased You” cake to his former friend, Stephanie Byron, saying that he had baked it in order to “show remorse.” As reported by Kevin Robinson of the Pensacola New Journal, the event occurred following an incident in which Wohlers used a stun gun to shoot Byron in the chest and neck without provocation. The pair had allegedly been arguing over a glass of sweet tea. Though she only received the cake digitally, she believed it to be real. Byron, who goes by @IAmSteph_1 on Twitter, understandably did not appreciate his gesture, instead posting, “Pretty bad apology, considering the offense. And the cake just makes me sad.” Byron filed a civil lawsuit against the former deputy. He was given one year of law enforcement probation, which barred him from working with any Florida law enforcement agency.
“Sorry I think I might have peed in your dryer by accident”
Aren’t cakes taken out of context awkward? Accidents happen, and perhaps an apology cake is the best way to mediate the awkwardness that comes with them.
In the world of apology cakes, it’s not unusual to find crass language or gross situations illustrated or written about atop a cake. Most people will agree that it’s unappealing to read about peeing on a gift of this kind. Alongside or instead of cake, someone in this sort of situation should bring cleaning supplies. Or, if the intention is to be gross, a jar of lemonade.
“I’m sorry I blacked out, tried to kill you, and almost got us arrested”
Ideally, this cake lessens the severity of an earlier intense situation between close friends, poking fun at an absurd and over-exaggerated event. This cake could essentially embody the saying, “You’ll laugh about it later.” However, the extremity of the situation suggests that the apology cake may need to be accompanied by further efforts (like perhaps a cupcake promising to drink more responsibly) in order to have the desired effect of reconciliation.
By taking the time to make and decorate the cake, the apologizer is able to physically show their contrition. Though the cake is seemingly meant to be humorous and shared between close friends, it also touches on difficult subject matter, which can be hard to gauge from an outside perspective.
“Sorry I never refill the BRITA”
In this case, the grievance is just the right amount of offensive. It’s a delightful and deliberate joke. The cake serves as the perfect apology, it’s honest, relatable, and forgivable. This is a thoughtful response to minor thoughtlessness.
“Sorry I accidently removed your roof. –Roy Co.”
In incidents like these, the financial cost of the accident does not equal the cost of the cake. An apology of this kind would need to be accompanied by further monetary compensation, but the cake may soften the receiver and displays the shame felt by the Roy Co in a more physical and personal way. The potential litigation may go a little bit sweeter.
“So sorry that you’re leaving. We’ll never forget you err… um… Sorry… what was your name?”
Light humor and cake is typical of an office goodbye. This is one instance where the concept of apologizing is stretched to include two different types of “sorry.” The inclusion of the cartoon icon (Bugs Bunny) suggests a shared interest and further enhances this cake as a true and genuine item. No foul play on this cake; I have no doubt that it was enjoyed by all.
“Sorry I ate all the ham.”
Apologizing for loss of food using a different type of food is generally the wrong way to go about it. Ideally, the ham would be replaced, and an apology cake would not be needed. However, if this cake were to accompany a delivery of ham, it could be a nice and thoughtful gesture. Thanks to the decorative elements and absurdity of the offense, this cake is humorous without being biting or cruel.
“I’m sorry you’re on your period.”
Some might find this cake cute or sweet, others gross or patronizing. Something about it is embarrassing and something about it is good, as long as the maker was not attempting to use this biological event to create shame. Anyway, why apologize for something that we have no real control over?
“Happy Birthday Dana :-) Sorry I gave you crabs.”
Shockingly common online, the STD cake exists in many variations. Due to its prevalence, I’ve come to think that they are hoaxes, but that doesn’t change the importance of sexual health.
It’s important to get tested regularly and it is absolutely necessary to share details about your sexual health with your partner before engaging in sexual activity.
I wonder whether sensitive topics like these are ruined or trivialized with the proliferation of cakes. Ideally, these types of cakes are not intended to stigmatize. Instead, I hope that they are shared between two delightfully silly, cake-eating lovers who have happened to catch an unfortunate, but also very treatable STD.
“I’m sorry I watched an episode without u although I promised I’d wait.”
Perhaps there are things that we shouldn’t have to say sorry for? But some people hold shared television watching very dearly to their heart. An easier and quicker way to resolution would be an offer to rewatch the episode together, but if you enjoy baking cake and light, relatable humor, perhaps this is the cake for you. There’s also an interesting relationship between the addictive qualities of sugar and television. Who hasn’t committed this minor transgression against someone?
“Sorry for fucking your boyfriend.”
Does this cake really suggest that one is sorry, or does it just seem that they are gloating? These kinds of incidents likely take a lot more than an apology cake… This cake is at risk of getting smashed into the apologizer’s face. However, the dessert could be a greater gift than the recipient truly knows.
“Sorry I vomited on your jumper”
A truly sad and genuine-seeming cake referring to a rough night out or a bad stomach flu. The chocolate star shapes add a nice celestial touch.
“Sorry Day 2014”
A very different kind of apology cake—rooted in history and politics—this cake was made in 2014 in honor of a large-scale public apology dealing with the long-term consequences of colonization.
During the 20th century, Australian government policies resulted in what’s known as the “Stolen Generation.” Aboriginal children were often forcibly separated from their families under the pretense of assimilation. Since 1998, Australia has held National Sorry Day on May 26. The day is meant to commemorate the mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal people and it was originally held in absence of formal political recognition. 10 years later, this popular movement helped to result in the historic public apology delivered by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. In a 2018 media release from the Australian government, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said that “we must never forget the historic injustices and struggles experienced by First Australians.”
“Sorry for being fabulous”
You don’t have to apologize for that! And to be honest, the person who created this cake probably isn’t. Some might think of themselves as rainbows, sunshine, and pink icing, and they shouldn’t feel guilty for loving themselves. With this kind of attitude, you might bother some people but your confidence should serve you well in other parts of life. This is a cake to enjoy with a sense of tolerance and unconditional love.
This is a very common message; it’s been utilized on many different cakes with many different types of icings and languages. In terms of cake, writing a simple “sorry” perhaps delivers the message best. It’s less public and is hopefully delivered with a note or other type of message that goes through the ideal steps of an apology: confessing, taking responsibility, and offering amends to avoid future bad conduct.
Raina Wellman RISD ‘19 is the founder and director of The Museum of Apology. She also runs an apology consulting agency on the side.