Pedagogical Empathy and Kindness as Affect in the Great British Bake Off

Curator's Note

What strikes me, from a Curriculum Studies and Cultural Studies theoretical framework, is that the show is more educational than it is competitive.  In this sense, two elements come to play.  The first is that the judges, hosts, and contestants demonstrate what I posit as “pedagogical empathy” by sharing collectively in the triumphs and failures of baking with the hopes that competitors “learn” to be better bakers and, therefore, better versions of themselves.  Judges are rarely harsh in their criticism of the contestants and often are continually supportive in the face of an absolute disaster.  Hosts offer words of encouragement and help contestants finish their bake.  Contestants seem to be honestly rooting for each other and while they express joy when they aren’t eliminated they seem sad when others are.  In the American version, a contestant went so far as to say she hoped she would go home so others could stay.  In the end, everyone genuinely seems to want contestants to succeed and learn about baking rather than stoke competitive flames in the hopes of making conflict for dramatic television.  This brings me to the second element, kindness as affect.  Working with a broad definition of affect theory in which emotions, feelings, and more undefined qualities pervade in materially embodied ways, the show demonstrates that kindness is the underlying ethos of the show.    From the hosts ability to always undercut any perceived tension with humor (especially when the judges might lean towards slightly harsh criticism) to the contestants helping others finish their bakes or offer advice, kindness rules the order of the day.  This echoes the best qualities of a teacher and student relationship.  In the end, I contend that both shows are educative with a competitive element as opposed to vice versa.  The scene I have chosen captures both pedaogical emapthy and kindness as affect.  In it, contestant Dorret fails to execute her gateau and co-Host Sue Perkins attempts to comfort her by saying, "It’s just a cake" and "It doesn’t mean you are going home", elucidating that the typical rules of competition do not apply within the tent.  Sue is kind and honors Dorret’s process of becoming a baker by not letting her focus on the failure of the cake but remain open to the opportunity to learn more.  

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