By Jake Levine
Charles Baudelaire, in describing the allurement of sin wrote, “the Devil pulls the strings which make us dance.” The power of evil lies not in the debasement of what is good, but in its accessible nature. Wickedness does not come with horns and a pitchfork, but rather it appears agreeable, almost welcoming. Sometimes, it appears as a sunglass-wearing, cheeto-munching anthropomorphic cheetah: Chester the Cheetah. In a series of disquieting commercials that appeared in the late 2000s, Chester acted as a facilitator of sin, Lucifer incarnate, leading people to corruption and damnation for the sake of the crunch of a cheeto.
The first of these commercials, appearing in 2009 during the Super Bowl, shows Chester provoking a woman to what appears to be murder. She sits munching on cheetos while being insulted by a derisive woman. Our cheeto chewing protagonist glances over to a nightmarish CGI Chester Cheetah, who sits somewhat bemused, grunting as he raises his head towards a group of pigeons. The noises of the commercial’s city setting – buses, cars, people talking – are reduced to a muffled hum and shadows shroud the plaza they sit in as the woman seals her fate. Making eye contact with an encouraging Chester, who growls “yes” in anticipation, the woman tosses cheetos at the feet of her adversary, chewing in delight as the pigeons swarm the woman and loudly munching to drown out her frantic cries for help. The commercial ends with a satisfied Chester, who sits with a pigeon on his arm, to which he coos “give daddy a kiss,” and the camera pans to an empty outdoor table as the return of unmuffled city sounds takes prominence in the scene as the viewer is left to reflect on the perdition and suffering brought about by Chester.
In the second commercial considered, we see Chester facilitate further anguish. He appears from thin air in the darkened cabin of an airplane as a loudly snoring man has kept his distraught neighbor awake. Chester looks at the woman with a knowing glance, disturbingly rubbing the shoulders of a sleeping flight attendant as he addresses our protagonist by her name, telling her that “[she’s] got the tools to fix this.” With this said, the camera pans to a bag of cheetos as our sleepless protagonist proceeds to shove two cheetos up both nostrils of the snoring man, silencing his incessant snoring (and possibly cutting off his breathing). The deed done, our protagonist drifts to a quiet and easy sleep, smiling as Chester smoothly sings “Rock-a-bye Baby.” We see Chester continuing to rub the flight attendant’s shoulders as a flash of lightning brings the screen to blackness, confirming a descent into depravity.
Finally, we come to the final commercial demonstrating Chester’s ungodly nature. We see the uncomfortable fluorescents of a laundromat illuminate focus on our protagonist as she does her laundry while eating cheetos. The drone of washing machines turning evokes a sense of limbo as our protagonist faces a rude woman who snippily remarks that “other people are trying to wash their laundry too.” Offset by the abrupt rudeness, the woman suddenly sees Chester playing chess with an old man, as he addresses her by name, encouraging her to put her cheetos in the rude woman’s white laundry. He nods encouragingly to her, and she smiles with reassurance as she dumps her cheetos into the woman’s laundry. The woman looks back to the table where Chester was sitting, only to find his seat empty and the old man he was playing chess while staring absentmindedly into nothing. Having pulled the strings and encouraged debasement, Chester has left, leaving the droning of the laundromat’s lights as the only sound in the picture.
Throughout these commercials, we see Chester manipulate things from behind the scenes, blurring the distinction between dreams and wakefulness, rendering the hellish and disturbing scenes an indiscernible nightmare. As a representation of the devil, Chester appears omnipresent and all-knowing, soothingly encouraging each protagonist to commit evil and damn themself. With a crunch of a cheeto and the laugh of one who has procured collected souls for damnation, Chester flits out of each scene with the job done. In this strange ad campaign, Chester Cheetah facilitates sin, bringing individuals to hellish throes through the temptation of Cheetos.
Jake is a junior History major with a double minor in Art History and French.