by Frank Zappa

   This essay appears on the inside of the cover to Frank Zappa's album,
   You Are What You Is. It was submitted to Newsweek magazine for their
   guest feature column, but was rejected on the grounds that it was
   "too idiosyncratic." 
   It's been suggested that the Gross National Product is perhaps not the
   best indicator of how well we are doing as a society, since it tells
   us nothing about the quality of our lives. But, is this something
   worth dwelling on as we grovel our way along in the general direction
   of 21st century? When future historians write about us, if they base
   their conclusions on whatever material goods survive from present-day
   America, we will undoubtedly stand alone among nations and be known
   forevermore as, "Those who chose cheese."
   As you will recall, folks, nobody ever had as much going for them in
   the beginning as we did. Let's face it; we were fantastic. Today,
   unfortunately, we are merely weird. This is a shocking thing to say,
   since no red-blooded American likes to think of his or her self as
   being weird. But when there are other options and a whole nation
   chooses cheese, that is weird.
   Our mental health has been in a semi-wretched condition for quite some
   time now. One of the reasons for this distress, aside from choosing
   cheese as a way of life, is the fact that we have, against some
   incredibly stiff competition, emerged victorious as the biggest bunch
   of liars on the face of the planet. No society has managed to invest
   more time and energy in the perpetuation of the fiction that it is
   moral, sane and wholesome, than our current crop of modern Americans.
   This same delusion is the mysterious force behind our national desire
   to avoid behaving in any way that might be construed as intelligent.
   Modern Americans behave as if intelligence were some sort of hideous
   deformity. To cosmetize it, many otherwise normal citizens attempt a
   particular type of self-inflicted homemade mental nose-job designed to
   lower the recipient's socio-intellectual profile, to the point where
   the ability to communicate on the most Mongolian level provides the
   necessary certification to become "one of the guys."
   Let's face it, nobody wants to hang out with somebody who's smarter
   than they are. This is not fun. Americans have always valued the idea
   of fun. We have a national craving for fun. We don't get very much of
   it anymore, so we do two things: first, we rummage around for anything
   that might be fun; then, since it wasn't really fun in the first
   place, we pretend to enjoy it, whatever it was. The net result?
   Stressed cheese.
   But where does all this cheese really come from? It wouldn't be fair
   to blame it all on T.V., although some credit must be given to whoever
   it is at each of the networks that "gives us what we want." You don't
   ask, you don't get. Folks, we now have "got it." Lots of it. And, in
   our infinite American wisdom, we have constructed elaborate systems to
   insure that future generations will have an even more abundant supply
   of that fragrant substance upon which we presently thrive.
   If we can't blame it on the T.V., then where does it come from?
   Obviously, we are weird if we have to ask such a question. Surely we
   must realize by now, except for the fact that we lie to ourselves so
   much that we get confused sometimes, that as contemporary Americans we
   have an almost magical ability to turn anything we touch into a
   festering mound of self-destructing poot. How can we do this with such
   incredible precision? Well, one good way is to form a committee.
   Committees composed of all kinds of desperate American-types have been
   known to convert the combined unfilled emotional needs and repressed
   biological urges of their memberships into complex masses of
   cheese-like organisms at the rap of a gavel. Committee cheese is
   usually sliced very thin, then bound into volumes for eventual
   dispersal in courts of law, legislative chambers, and public
   facilities, where you are invited to "eat all you want."
   If that doesn't fill you up, there's the exciting union cheese, the
   most readily available cheese-type offered. The thing that's so
   exciting about union cheese from a gourmet's point of view is the
   classic simplicity of the mathematical formula from which it is
   derived. In fact, it's difficult to avoid a state of total ecstacy if
   one contemplates the proposition that no import quota yet devised has
   proven equal to the task of neutralizing the lethal emissions
   generated by the ripening process of this piquant native confection.
   Should we not be overtaken by some unspeakable emotion, when we
   consider the fact that the smaller the amount of care taken in each
   union cheese artifact, the more triumphant is the blast of the vapors
   streaming forth from every nook and cranny of whatever it was that the
   stalwart craftsperson got paid $19 per hour to slap together?
   Still hungry? Union cheese might be the most readily available, but no
   type of cheese in America today has achieved the popular acceptance of
   accountant cheese. If it is true that you are what you eat, then
   surely our national willingness to eat this stuff tells us more about
   ourselves than we probably wish to know. Obviously we have found the
   cheese to believe in. Why not? It's manufactured by people who count
   money, endorsed as nutritionally sound by civic leaders, and delivered
   by the media door-to-door. The quality of our lives, if we think of
   this matter in terms of how much of what we individually consider to
   be beautiful are we able to experience every day, seems an irrelevant
   matter now that all decisions regarding the creation and distribution
   of works of art must first pass under the limbo bar, a.k.a. "the
   bottom line," along with things like taste and the public interest,
   all tied like a tin can to the wagging tail of the sacred prime-rate
   The aforementioned festering poot is coming your way at a theatre or
   drive-in near you. It wakes you up every morning as it drizzles out of
   your digital clock radio. An arts council somewhere is getting a
   special batch ready with little tuxedos on it so you can think it's
   Yes Virginia, there is a free lunch. We're eating it now. Can I get
   you a napkin?