“Chocolate chocolate cake,” said the dessert menu; “layers of fudge and decadence. A must for chocolate lovers!”

Decadence? Surely that word belongs in the world of sociology, morality, philosophy, theology, and history, rather than of cake and fudge. Yes, it does—but I can see why the menu writer brought it in. He wants us to know that the taste of this chocolate chocolate cake will set us ecstatically indulging with no thought of long-term consequences (the thickening shadow, the bulging belly, clothes that no longer fit, shortness of breath, etc.). Irresponsibility about consequences is certainly a mark of decadence.

Also, he is encouraging those whom we may call choc-nuts to see their self-indulgence as right and proper, on the ground that sweetness, however sinful, should never be passed up. Putting pleasure first, and identifying happily with Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist anything but temptation” is another mark of decadence. Yes, the word fits.

What we have here is in fact the Playboy philosophy applied to the taste buds. Gluttony, like lust, was once recognized as a deadly sin—that is, one that kills the soul. Here, however, it is made to seem chic, and the hint is dropped that truly spunky souls will always settle for pleasure seeking because they will see it as the only wise way. Smart guys regard self-indulgence as a must; hail, hedonism! Any energy left over from worshiping the two great gods power and profit (status and success, if you prefer) should go into the service of pleasure, a third god hardly less great. I used to point to the Jacuzzi as the supreme symbol of our hedonistic mindset, but this come-on for chocolate chocolate cake would have done just as ...

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