You can't strap an apple fritter to your arm, get real high and lose friends and dignity in a day or two. Eating a bear claw won't make you forget to feed an infant child. Instead of skinny, it'll make you round and soft like the body they found in the river no one vacations at.
Despite all those things, the doughtnut's resurgent popularity is no different from heroin chic of the '90s.
In the '80s, the underground heroin industry suffered from a public relations nightmare. It deserved it, to be honest. Its long history of shoddy ingredients finally caught up with it (lactose and sucrose were the most common adulterants in street junk). Experts estimate the purity level of the stuff that took Billie Holiday from us was only seven percent. Janis Joplin's was maybe 20 percent. If it measured such things, Consumer Reports would have scored street junk poorly. The fact that it ruined our music collections only exacerbated its relationship with America.
The second problem was health. All drugs had the stigma of substance abuse, which hits the backspace button on your soul and leads to you robbing a liquor store at gunpoint, not for money but for Twinkies. But heroin was also to blame for AIDS, which at that point was an awful death. Heroin's third problem was associative branding. It was mostly tied to low-income, marginalized people who used it to forget life was a real thing for a while.
Then, boom. In the '90s, Colombians turned street heroin into a downright artisanal product -- the Jamon Iberico of street drugs. Instead of cheap filler, the purity of their stuff was said to be 95 percent and higher. Men and women of the middle class, afflicted as they are with an aficionado complex, perked up at this news. Next, the marketing machine kicked in. Ewan McGregor shoots up in Trainspotting, Uma Thurman gives it a disastrous go in Pulp Fiction. Granted, the final message was: Drugs make you poop on pretty girls when they're not making you die. But, still, Uma Thurman did it!
So heroin replaced cocaine as the pocket wingman for the affluent party set. The fact that it had recently been so taboo and dangerous only jacked up the thrill.
Just like doughnuts.
The deep-fried pride of early Dutch settlers hit skid row in the 1990s. America woke up and realized the bed frame sagged to its side. Fad diets and insulin levels became legitimate topics for dinner parties. Even if you started a conversation with the words "The genius of Fugazi was..." some fuckwad managed to steer it to the downside of carbohydrates.
Our waistlines now crime scenes, we needed fall guys. So we wrangled up the unsavory sorts -- pizza, ice cream, cookies... and, especially, doughnuts. Rocky Road may have sugar and fat, but at least it's not deep-fried. Pizza was more of a schedule-C drug like marijuana. It doesn't make chin No. 2 just base jump into existence below your current chin. But doughnuts could. So America's diet police tossed the book at the rainbowed and the sprinkled.
Doughnut shops, once happy treat havens, began to feel like bad strip clubs. Just sad, unloved places frequented by officers, churchies and grandpas who didn't know or care to know this Dr. Atkins' ideas on cake-bread.
Then, boom. Voodoo Doughnuts opened in 2003 in Portland. Portland, the Great Northwestern Pocket of Creative Lint. Voodoo does designer doughnuts. Fancypants frostings. Art-school claws. They put bacon on shit! (Scream "Bacooonnnnn!," smash doughnut on forehead.)
It's taken 10 years, but the designer doughnut revolution is now spreading into even less-cool cities that didn't grow Death Cab for Cutie in some magical compost. They're even ousting the grand poobah of the cute-food revolution -- cupcakes. We all knew cupcakes couldn't go forever. No matter how much metrosexuality cities pump through the water system, men still experience shrinkage upon seeing them. Doughnuts boast a gender-neutral cuteness. A confectionary androgyny. A Pippy Longstockingness.
There's still the health issue. Doughnuts have the nutritional value of radiator fluid. While that may seem a negative thing, it's quite the opposite. Americans have become relentless hand-sanitizers. Sneezes cause panic attacks. And we're constantly berated about health food and the probiotic, hormone-free, soul-nourishing super birdseed of the day.
Excessively safe and abusively preached-to, we need foods that flip the bird to our personal trainer. Bacon does the trick. And now, doughnuts. They make us feel dangerous and playfully irresponsible without getting burn marks all over our silverware. If that doughnut just happens to be made with rum, coconut and graphic designer pathos -- well, all the more justified.