Sigmund Freud is popularly if dubiously credited with saying that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Were the Austrian neurologist around today, he might well be pondering whether a Cheeto is just a Cheeto. Much like clouds, these familiar, cheese-flavored snacks, a staple of the American diet since 1948, have long been the subject of ponderous interpretation due to their unique and varied yet not quite definable shapes. A consumer can stare at an individual Cheeto and imagine it to be the haughtiest of kings or the humblest of peasants. What one sees in a piece of puffed cornmeal, of course, reveals more about the interpreter than that which is interpreted.
The supreme expression of this phenomenon is Cheese Curls Of Instagram, an account that offers examples of so-called “cheese curl art,” i.e. staged photographs in which Cheetos are arranged into highly suggestive or evocative poses, some of which are violent or erotic in nature. Celebrity and religion are other popular motifs here. Perhaps the most ambitious photo is one which arranges four Cheetos into a diagram of the evolution of primates. The snacks themselves “have not been altered in any way,” reports the artist, who has annotated each picture with a descriptive paragraph. A photo in which two Cheetos appear to be engaged in sexual congress, for instance, is accompanied by these words: “In an Adult Film, Peter North Takes his Role as a French Professor Seriously by Wearing a Beret While Performing in a Scene with a ‘Failing Female Student Earning Extra Credit,’ and after he Finishes, he Points to the Director Because he Knows he Nailed it.”