bullshit with icing

I have a friend — an artist (by which I mean an actual, no-shit, serious artist who not only makes art, but thinks about art and the nature of art and what is meant when we use the term ‘art’) — who recently said he wasn’t sure how he felt about the whole Masterpiece Cakeshop situation. To which I have two responses.

First, what the fuck does that even mean? How can you not know how you feel about something? I can totally understand having mixed feelings. I can understand having contradictory feelings. But surely it’s pretty obvious how you feel about any given thing at any given moment because you’re actually in the process of feeling it.

Second, stop over-thinking the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation. Which probably leads a lot of folks to this question: what the hell is the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation? It’s your basic situation in which a Christian doesn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. There’s a good chance you already think this crap has already been settled, and you’d be mostly right. The law is pretty clear. If you’re providing goods or a service to the public for commercial reasons, then you have to provide those goods and that service to ALL the public. Even if you don’t like or approve of them.

If you run a rental agency, you can’t refuse to rent a folding table to a Muslim just because you hate Muslims. If you run a landscaping business, you can’t refuse to landscape the lawn of a Thai family just because you dislike Asians. And if you bake cakes for a living, you can’t refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple just because you think homosexuality is evil.

A baker can refuse to bake a cake if the customer is requesting a personally objectionable decoration. You can refuse to bake cake in the shape of a penis. You can refuse to decorate a cake with I ♣ My Wife. You can probably refuse to bake and decorate a cake if the customer behaves like an asshole. But you can’t refuse to bake a cake simply because you object to the customer’s race, gender, marital status, religion, and all that.

Jack Phillips, cake artist

But here’s why the Masterpiece Cakes situation is a situation — and why my artist friend and his feelings are so confused. A baker named Jack Phillips, who owns a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused, for religious reasons, to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He also refuses for religious reasons to make cakes that celebrate Halloween or a divorce, and he won’t bake a cake that includes alcohol. What makes this situation a situation, though, is that Phillips is NOT claiming he won’t bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because they’re gay, but because they’re getting married. His religion states marriage should only be between a man and a woman. He says,

“I’m being forced to use my creativity, my talents and my art for an event — a significant religious event — that violates my religious faith.”

In other words, Phillips sees his custom cakes as works of art, and he shouldn’t be required to make art that offends his personal sensibilities (in this case, it’s his religious sensibilities). His lawyers argue that forcing him to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding threatens the “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.” And let’s face it, the law wouldn’t force a Jewish painter to accept a commission to paint a portrait of Hitler. The law wouldn’t force a Mormon sculptor to accept a commission to sculpt a giant stone dildo with the face of LDS founder Joseph Smith. So why should the law force Christian Jack Phillips to accept a commission to create a cake celebrating a marital union his religion opposes?

It’s because of this free expression argument that the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation is a situation. This is why four of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have agreed to hear arguments on the case at some point in this term. And hey, if we agree that art is protected by the free expression clause of the First Amendment (and it is), and if we agree that decorating a cake can be a work of art (and sure, it can be), then that sounds like a solid argument in favor of Phillips.

But it’s not. It’s just bullshit with vanilla icing.

Happy birthday!

It’s bullshit for this reason: it’s still about the wedding. it’s about the purpose of the cake, not the decoration. Let’s say the gentlemen who wanted the cake asked Phillips to create a three-tier wedding cake decorated with rainbow hearts and with two tuxedoed male figures arranged side by side on top. Phillips refuses, saying he shouldn’t be required to use his talents to create a custom wedding cake because his religious views oppose same-sex marriage. Now let’s say those same gentlemen asked Phillips to create a three-tier birthday cake decorated with rainbow hearts and with two tuxedoed male figures arranged side by side on top. Unless his religious views forbid him from celebrating birthdays, he’d be required to make the cake.

It’s the same damned cake using the same ingredients with the same decorations created using the same artistic skills. The only difference is the purpose, and the purpose in the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation is to discriminate against folks having a same-sex marriage.

It’s not about art and it’s not about free expression; it’s about refusing to obey laws against discrimination.

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19 thoughts on “bullshit with icing

  1. I agree completely. But to play devil’s advocate, before these businesses perform whatever service their business is in the business of something they find “objectionable” couldn’t they just say upfront something like this: “We at Lollygag Bakeries believe in traditional marriage, so much so that every cent of profit from this sale will be donated to the Center for Traditional Man-Woman Marriage. I thought it you might be interested in that upfront.”

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  2. He should put a sign in the window : ‘We use the ART we use to decorate our cakes as an excuse to discriminate against folks we think are icky.”
    I’m so frickin’ tired of people being hateful. And to use the old ‘Ooh, but it’s my ART’ art argument is so infuriating. And at least refer the people you’re going to discriminate against to another reputable baker who can make them a nice cake.

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    • I actually like the idea of an artist using cake as a medium. In cake decorating contests, they don’t use actual cakes; they use cake-shaped forms. But all they’re actually doing is decorating, which can be artistic but isn’t really (in my opinion) creating art.

      I think Phillips is just another guy who wants to be able to discriminate against gays, but the notion of using cake as an art medium has merit. I mean, look at what Judy Chicago did with place settings in her Dinner Party piece.

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      • I agree that cake decorating is and can be a whole art medium in itself. But this dude has hung out a shingle saying he makes cakes for people, he’s running a business. It’s a form of commercial art where the object’s primary purpose is not to be art; the artistry enhances the final product but is not required; the art is secondary to the cake’s primary purpose. He can claim that the cakes are his art form, and that’s fine, but he’s selling cakes to the public. It really boils down to: should he be allowed to discriminate against gays?

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      • I think it’s theoretically possible for an artist to use cake as a medium; I don’t think this guy is doing that. There’s a difference between art and decoration. What he’s doing is high end decoration.

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      • “…High end decoration”?? Are you serious? Had the same cake been made out of a piece of stone and hand painted to look like a real cake and placed on display in a home, would it too not just be high end decoration? Art is in the eye of the beholder as well.

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      • Had the same cake been made out of a piece of stone and hand painted to look like a real cake and placed on display in a home, would it too not just be high end decoration?

        Had he done all that, it likely would have been art. But he didn’t do all that, did he. He baked a cake, put icing on it, then decorated it.

        Decoration is the act of adorning, beautifying, embellishing something. You decorate your house for the holidays, you decorate your body with jewelry or cosmetics, you decorate your car for a parade, you decorate your lawn with flamingos. Decoration can require talent and skill, but it’s not art. That’s not an insult, and I don’t deny Mr. Phillips has talent. But decorating a cake just isn’t, in itself, art.

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      • But unless told, you have no idea of the foundation. The creation is still the same. A man or woman who can carve life into the skin of a pumpkin is as much an artist as someone who can carve life into a piece of wood or stone. The material does not make the art, the canvas does not make the art, the artist does.

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    • I don’t recall anyone saying someone else was “icky, that is you making shit up.If someone has a real religious believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the only true marriage under god, who the hell are you to judge them?

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      • I’m not saying they can’t *think* whatever the hell they want, but I am saying they shouldn’t be using their business to discriminate against people they don’t approve of. If they have a real religious belief that other folks can’t marry who they want, they can hold that belief. But this is supposed to be a country where there is freedom. You have the freedom to hold those beliefs, but that doesn’t give you the right to discriminate against people. Religious beliefs are used as a tired excuse for atrocious behavior towards people who are different from themselves.

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  3. How about this, lets let private businesses decide whom they wish to do business with. There was a video today that went viral of a gay coffee shop owner who kicked out a bunch of anti-abortion people who were just sitting and having coffee. They were not protesting in his shop, just sitting. He realized who they were and kicked them out in a profanity laced tirade.

    Now other than the tirade I 100% support his decision to server whom ever he wants to serve, just as I support the Christian baker. I would support a Hitler lover who owned a car wash that only washed VWs if that’s what they wanted to do as a business.

    I think in America we should have the freedom hate openly, practice religion openly, or be extremely gay and irate openly. i would much rather know whom I am doing business with instead of them hiding it and taking my money.

    Government institutions should of course NOT have that option and as an employee of a gov institution you leave your personal issues at the door as you serve all the citizens.

    So let this cake artist practice his art to whomever he pleases and let the flaming gay guy who offered to f*ck his boyfriend in the A** in front of the patrons have the right.

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    • How about this, lets let private businesses decide whom they wish to do business with.

      How about this: let’s require private businesses to obey the law. I mean, we require bakeries to follow a LOT of laws. You need a licence to open a bakery, approved by a state health inspector. You have to get a permit to sell and/or serve food to the public. You have to submit to regular inspections by the state Department of Health (and possibly a county department and maybe even a municipal department). Bakers shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose which laws they want to obey.

      And yes, if you want to sell your cakes to the public, you have to agree to sell them to the entire public, If you don’t want to bake cakes for the public, then don’t open a public business.

      I think in America we should have the freedom hate openly, practice religion openly, or be extremely gay and irate openly.

      And yay, we DO have that freedom. If Phillips want to put a sign up in his window stating his religious opposition to same-sex marriage, he’s free to do that. But if a gay couple wants to buy a cake from his shop, then he has to obey the law.

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  4. I guess I’m kind of like your artist friend in that I have mixed feelings about this. Should a business owner be able to decide whom they will do business with, no matter what? Sure, except for the “no matter what” part. You can’t refuse to do business with a black person just because they’re black. But, should a person who makes a custom thing be required to make a custom thing that is against their religion? I don’t know. Religion can be so stupid, but it’s not my place to judge religion.

    If I was the cake guy, I’d just do it and be happy for the business, and that two people found love in this crazy world. If I was the gay couple I’d take my business elsewhere, because who wants to support religious bigotry, anyway?

    The real problem here is how we legislate where a couple shops for their goods or what a business owner can do with theirs.

    Because of that, this crap is a long way from being settled. The debate rages on.

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    • We can’t legislate belief, but we CAN legislate behavior. We do it all the time. I’d support Phillip’s right to believe in ‘traditional’ marriage, but not his decision to discriminate based on that belief. The SCOTUS case is only about whether he has a free speech right b grounded in his argument that cake decision is an artistic expression.

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