HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 7, 2007, Herald Journal

Big cheese becomes big star

By IVAN RACONTEUR

The latest development in reality TV is as real as things can get.

The action is slower than watching paint dry, and offers less variety than watching grass grow.

In contrast to some other reality programs, the star of this show is as wholesome as can be. It is a 44-pound block of English cheddar, and in this case, the cheese definitely does not stand alone.

The plot is simple.

Cheesemaker Tom Calver wanted to show people how “real” food is made, so he set up a live 24-hours per day webcam to allow people to watch the cheese mature.

This process does not happen overnight. It will take a full year for the cheddar to reach maturity.

The famous cheese, as well as information about the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers who produce it, is available on the web site www.cheddarvision.tv.

The site includes a prominent shot of the maturing cheese, and a handy timer that displays the days, hours, minutes, seconds, and milliseconds that have elapsed since the project began.

This may seem like a joke, but the good people at West Country take their cheese very seriously.

Apparently, so do a lot of other people.

The web site has attracted more than 1.2 million total views since it was launched last December.

Predictably, most viewers are from the US, but 119 countries are represented.

The web site allows fans to monitor the progress of the cheese at any hour.

The highlight comes around 10 a.m. each day, when the cheese is turned.

Fans can even suggest a name for the cheese if they so choose, or subscribe to the cheddar fan club.

We may have reached a new low in terms of what passes for entertainment.

I have nothing against cheese. Quite the contrary, in fact. I have been a dedicated caseophile for years. But, a love of the finished product does not mean I am going to sit around and watch it age.

This is just another example of a way people can become entangled in the web and waste vast spans of time staring at a computer screen.

Perhaps it is a bit like the early days of television, when the programming was limited, but people would watch whatever was on because it was a novelty.

The web, however, provides a way to waste time 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

I have a great respect for the magical process by which cheese is made, but it is sad that so many people can find nothing better to do with their time than engage in cheese voyeurism.

Perhaps the Cheesecam represents a way for people to ground themselves in an increasingly complex world by connecting to something elemental and real. This, one could understand.

It is likely that there are others, though, who are simply addicted to passive entertainment, and will sit and stare at anything that is put in front of them.

The big cheese provides a sobering perspective on society.

Those who would destroy our country need not attack us with military force.

They need only put a few oddities up on a web site, and we will be so mesmerized that we will fail to notice our world crumbling around us.

As a society, we are addicted to being entertained, and it is important to note the distinction between active and passive entertainment.

The popularity of the latter is part of the reason that libraries are struggling and Cheddarvision is thriving.

The West Country people are to be commended for finding a quirky and unique way to promote their products.

Cheese TV is certainly a more wholesome and positive entertainment option than some that are out there (and it is probably a good indicator of the lack of quality of programming available on network television).

It is also an indicator of the level to which we have sunk, and of our need to be entertained.

We are (probably) not addicted to cheese. We are addicted to entertainment, and this could be a much more serious problem than an addiction to large dairy products.