Film

On Cheezer

Let me take you to the magical realm that is the 1990s of my youth. It’s OK. People were cool back then, you’ll see. Some­where in that myth­ical land of bound­less peak-cap­it­al­ist optim­ism, not to men­tion actu­ally the best music ever — feel free to try to debate me on this and run away scream­ing — we had some­thing called a Cheezer.

The Cheezer — pro­nounced chay-zer or /t͡ʃeɪzər/ — was an advert­ise­ment for some­thing you couldn’t buy. There was no shiny packet in the super­mar­ket that read “Cheezer”. Instead, the ad was an instruc­tion for how to make a Cheezer. The premise is simple: you take a small pita bread, slice it open, spread some jam in it  — that’s ‘jelly’ for you Amer­ic­ans — add some slices of cheese, and then toast the whole thing. Before we get down to the why of it all, let’s take a look at the com­mer­cials.

As far as I know, there were two ver­sions of the com­mer­cial, one star­ring a guy called Mar­tin, and one with a young woman named Titia. Both were the pin­nacle of attract­ive­ness in the Neth­er­lands of the 1990s, or at least, they were prob­ably inten­ded to be so.

Mar­tin is so care­free and cool that his feet barely touch the ground. His hair and ward­robe seem to be lif­ted straight from Beverly Hills 90210. As a proper Dutch­man, he intro­duces him­self with the phrase “Hey! That’s me, man!” (yes, lit­er­ally). Before sli­cing open his pita bread, he flings it through the air and catches it. He is so cool, he’s got graf­fiti on the walls of his apart­ment. When his Cheezer is in the toaster, he is vis­ibly and aud­ibly annoyed, because he has to wait for it to fin­ish toast­ing. Mar­tin is so cool that he hates wait­ing for any­thing, even some­thing as good as a Cheezer. In the end, though, he finds his sand­wich to be “errug lek­ker”. At the end of the com­mer­cial, an echo­ing voice-over asks us whether we’ve already joined the priv­ileged group of people like Mar­tin who’ve made a Cheezer for them­selves.

Titia is a clas­sic Dutch bomb­shell: long blond hair, big eyes, full red lips. She’s all busi­ness, as illus­trated by her being on the phone behind her desk at the begin­ning of the com­mer­cial, but she needs a good snack every once in a while. While she’s pre­par­ing her Cheezer, there’s a linger­ing shot — by the stand­ards of TV com­mer­cials — of her put­ting a slice of cheese in her mouth and lick­ing her fin­gers. There is lit­er­ally no Dutcher way of erot­i­cising someone than this. She sym­bol­ises the act of wait­ing for her Cheezer to fin­ish toast­ing (in the oven, this time) by push­ing the minute hand of her clock ahead a few minutes. Magic­ally, this advances time to when her Cheezer is done.

Two attract­ive, cool, envi­able, young, white, people. Of course we all want to be like them (or eat them), so what should we do? Eat lots of deli­cious Cheez­ers, of course. All we need is pita, jam, cheese, and some time. Luck has it that we can get the first three at the super­mar­ket.** My wife has an anec­dote of how her local super­mark­et had arr­anged a veri­table ‘Chee­zer dis­play’: a table where you could get all the in­gre­di­ents without hav­ing to look for them all over the place. Like I said, a Cheezer is not a fin­ished product: you buy the ingredi­ents and bring about its cre­ation through invest­ment of your own labour. It is, how­ever, mar­keted as a fin­ished product: you’re not just mak­ing a cheese-and-jam toasted pita sand­wich — no, you are mak­ing a Cheezer, which is far, far bet­ter.

This leads us to the ques­tion of who cre­ated the Cheezer. Since you could the­or­et­ic­ally make a Cheezer out of ingredi­ents from a pleth­ora of (non-)brands, it is unlikely that there is a single com­pany behind it. Now, com­mer­cials for an entire food group rather than a single brand are not unheard of in the Neth­er­lands: we’ve had ads for in abstracto chicken, bread, milk, meat, etc. How­ever, a Cheezer is not just one thing: it is an assemblage of foods. One of the com­mer­cials has been uploaded to You­Tube by an account called Neder­landse Zuivel Organ­isa­tie [Dutch Dairy Organ­isa­tion], which sug­gests that this organ­isa­tion was behind the cam­paign. If this is the case, pro­du­cers of pita bread and jam must have thrown a humong­ous a party. Free mar­ket­ing! Or, per­haps the cam­paign was a joint effort by the over­arch­ing organ­isa­tions of dairy, bread, and jam — a secret cabal to take the mid­day snack mar­ket by storm. If so, it might be one of the rare cases of joint mar­ket­ing of products without involving par­tic­u­lar brands, at least that I’m aware of.

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Whatever the truth may be, the Cheezer itself remains elu­sive. The pla­tonic ideal of the Cheezer exists still, in the heads of 90s kids like me. But are Cheez­ers still made? Do they actu­ally exist unless someone makes one? I can’t for the life of me recall if I ever made a Cheezer myself. If I did, it prob­ably wasn’t par­tic­u­larly errug lek­ker, or I would still be mak­ing them reg­u­larly.

But the concept of the Cheezer has haunted me for all these years. Per­haps it’s the snappy music and the gar­ish col­ours that remind me of a care­free youth. It could be the mys­tery of whence the Cheezer ori­gin­ated. Or maybe the fact that someone bothered to make com­mer­cials for a product that doesn’t tech­nic­ally exist. Maybe it’s all of these things.

Maybe it’s some­thing else. The anim­ated Cheezer resembles a Pac-Man­nish though eye­less cheese-chomp­ing smi­ley face: the pita its skin and teeth, the jam its red­dish maw — although the lat­ter isn’t actu­ally part of the anim­a­tion; what an over­sight! In itself, the Cheezer — and its lieu­ten­ants Mar­tin and Titia — are a meta­phor for a kind of Dutch­ness: blind, impa­tient, nar­ciss­istic… and fond of cheese.

Per­haps the Cheezer was never meant to be made; it could have merely been a mir­ror held up to an audi­ence raven­ous for new things to devour. We may never be sure. One ques­tion remains, par­tic­u­larly for those of you who are too young and/or non-Dutch to have ever exper­i­enced the Cheezer in its his­tor­ical con­text: heb jij er al één gemaakt? Let me know if it tastes good.

This art­icle was sup­por­ted by the gen­er­ous con­trib­ut­ors to my Patreon. Though they might not entirely have seen this one com­ing.