COVID bread-porn: Social stratification in a pandemic state
Mohabeer, Ravindra N.
Much has been and will continue to be made of ‘official responses’ to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly around the varying success of prescribed isolation practices and how well (or not) people, taken in aggregate, complied with them. This paper examines a more spontaneous response to COVID-19 isolation that emerged: bread-porn. Taken literally, bread-porn is the competitive display of gratuitous pictures of home-baked bread across social media (particularly in the ‘west’), shared by people isolated at home. On the surface, such pictures perfunctorily depict bread; yet, it is argued that these pictures are more nuanced than that, and that the bread itself is almost immaterial. ‘COVID bread-porn’ was a jockeying for social standing and represented one of many unique, if temporary, forms of do-it-yourself (DIY) cultural currency while people were less able to access other extant systems of representational social stratification. The paper discusses the value and significance of the suffix ‘porn’ with respect to struggles to understand the extremities of new systems of value, by linking how temporary COVID culture fit into the flow of the cultural changes that preceded it. The paper argues that the world faced the COVID pandemic at a tumultuous time, ones marked by liminality between historically ‘physical’ and emerging ‘cerebral’ cultural practices in many societies (i.e. the move from manufacturing to ‘knowledge’ economies). Thus, it situates bread-porn as an attempt to ‘win’ at isolation by demonstrating prowess with available domestic resources, and highlights the productive tension of bread-porn that extends and potentially resists the social imperatives of pandemic self-management.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cultural Studies on May 4, 2021, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09502386.2021.1898031