Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The KFC Cheetos Sandwich is Proof Capitalism WORKS

Remember: without a truly free market, $6 Cheetos-topped chicken sandwiches are an impossibility

By: Jimbo X

I ain’t gonna’ lie to you people. I went into the Kentucky Fried Chicken Cheetos Sandwich expecting it to be a horrendous, co-branded abortion of a fast food L-T-O. In fact, I had mapped out an entire article that was just going to be me railing against it, with the overall message that capitalism, as both an abstract ideal and physical economic system, had finally gone too far.

But then I actually ate the sumbitch, and realized “You know, this thing is surprisingly yummy” and had to reevaluate my whole perspective on international monetary policy.

Now, as an advertising ploy, co-branding ain’t exactly a new concept. Hell, it’s pretty much been driving the global Oreos market for the better part of the decade now. But the KFC Cheetos Sandwich, superficially, seemed to be the most egregious example of synergetic junk food excess imaginable. I mean, who in the fuckiest of fucks could ever find the prospect of eating a breaded chicken sandwich with fucking cheese puffs on it enticing? Even in a nation where the obese is quickly reaching supermajority status, such a stunt seemed to beyond the pale, even in the same market that just gave us Marshmallow Peeps-flavored milk.

But like I was saying, once I actually tried the thing I was preemptively making fun of, all of that went out of the proverbial window. Thanks in no small part to that delicious, semi-spicy Cheetos sauce, the co-branded sandwich was WAY more palatable than anticipated. Not only did the Cheetos and chicken not clash with one another, the overall taste, texture and mouthfeel was oddly harmonious. In other words, instead of being absolute shit, it was actually pretty damn good, which I guess kinda-sorta makes this thing the Summer 2019 LTO fast food sandwich equivalent of the Child’s Play reboot.

Before we even get to the sandwich itself, first, we’ve got to talk about its packaging. Really, KFC didn’t have to do much of anything to make the product more marketable, but holy shit, somebody deserves a graphic design award for this fucker right here. The entire container is basically a paper mache Chester Cheeto head, with this almost Funko Pop-like superdeformation to it. You could build this thing out of slightly sturdier cardboard and sell it as a pencil and eraser holder at Hot Topics for $14.99, easy — needless to say, it took me several times to convince myself to toss it into the garbage, and even now, I’m still experiencing a few pangs of discarder’s remorse.

But, as we all know, it doesn’t matter how damn snazzy the packaging is, if the sandwich itself doesn’t bring the wow, the whole damn marketing strategy is for nought. Well, thankfully, the KFC Cheetos sandwich certainly avoids that fate — if nothing else, by giving us one of the most aesthetically intriguing fast food items in quite some time.

Go on ahead, take a gander at this bad boy. That’s like, six or seven different variations of orange going on right there, and it’s freakin’ beautiful. The golden omber hue of the bun. The light amber glimmer of the chicken patty. The blazing apricot hue of the Cheetos themselves. And of course, the titillating titian allure of the titular Cheetos sauce, poured all over the damn place. This thing had an almost hypnotizing, Himalayan salt lamp glow to it, and as soon as I laid eyes on it, my instantaneous thoughts were “damn, that needs to be inside me, like, now.”

Another thing I like about the sandwich was how incredibly asymmetrical it was. Most fast food sandwiches are just various coils of circles and shit, but this thing looked like something Frank Gehry designed. I mean, there is just shit spilling all outta’ this motherfucker, and the bun is all like “alright, I give.” So many times when you order a fast food burger pretty much ALL you see when you open the box is the bun, but in this case, that was literally the most minute aspect of the entire product. When you talk about subverting expectation, this thing completely rewrites everything you THOUGHT you knew about fast food burgers, and right from the get-go you just KNOW things will never again feel the same when you crunch down on your next McChicken sandwich.

While the marketing appeal of the sandwich, I suppose, is the randomness of eating a Cheetos-stuffed chicken burger, let me tell you right now that the true star of the show here is the delicious Cheeto sauce. I have a hard time describing, exactly, what it tastes like, but rest assured it’s REALLY fucking great. Although it just looks like somebody shat out a bottle of Buffalo sauce on the burger, that deep ocher gravy doesn’t really have a pronounced spiciness to it. Rather, it has this very creamy, savory and — yes, Cheeto-ey — taste and texture to it. The only way I can think of explaining it is a super cheesy ranch sauce, but even that doesn’t get the total portrait across. Whatever it’s made out of, just recognize this; the Cheetos sauce is goddamn fantastic, I love it, and if KFC wants to make a lot of money, they ought to keep it on as a permanent condiment selection.

Now, you might be wondering something: “Hey, Jimbo, you no good sonofabitch, what’s that white stuff underneath the Cheetos sauce?” To which point I respond … umm, I’m not really sure, to be honest. I WANT to say it’s your standard mayo, but it didn’t really TASTE like mayo, you dig? Furthermore, I haven’t seen any marketing materials explicitly stating that the sandwich featured mayonnaise as a signature ingredient, so who the hell knows. Maybe the local KFC went rogue and decided to squeeze a little bit of Hellman’s on the sandwich for the LULZ, or maybe the all-black night shift crew was prejudiced and took turns Limp Biscuiting the final product before serving it to me. Regardless, whatever it was — Heinz Salad Cream, perhaps? — it didn’t have THAT much of an overbearing flavor, and honestly, whatever it was supposed to be it definitely got drowned out by all the Cheetos sauce.

OK, so we’re only about 1,000 or words or so into the article, so I guess I should actually tell you what the product tastes like, shouldn’t I? Well, gimmick or not, this thing was surprisingly yummy, and quite possibly one of the better overall LTO-fast food sandwiches I’ve had the distinction of digesting this summer. I never would’ve thought such in a million, billion years, but the combination of breaded, crispy chicken and Cheetos merged WAY better than it had any right to be, and all of that orange, Cheetos sauce lubricant kept the soiree from becoming too salty. Everything just plain gelled together, and instead of the Cheetos feeling like a random-ass variable, it’s almost like the sandwich engineers took a step back and said “Alright, here’s an idea — how about we build the burger around the Cheetos instead of the other way around?” which is something I think ALL fast food decision-makers ought to keep in mind the next time their envisioning their next great co-branded sojourn. So yes, while the sandwich as a whole is nothing more than mass marketing claptrap in theory, in execution it actually turned out to be MUCH tastier than I think anyone would have anticipated. Novelty junk food or not, this thing was legitimately enjoyable, and as Americans, why shouldn’t we celebrate things that rise above their mediocre expectations, regardless of the domain?

At this point, I’ve lost track of just how many intentionally-extravagant fast food behemoth burgers I’ve eaten/reviewed over the years. But this KFC Cheetos sandwich stands out from the likes of the Burger King HA1lowen Burger and the Hardeee’s Most American Thickburger by actually transcending its lowly status as a co-branded “for the LULZ’ product. Anybody could’ve just slapped together a chicken sandwich with Cheetos on top of it, but the suits at KFC actually took things a step further and actually reverse engineered a genuinely great burger out of a concept so goddamn ludicrous it almost bordered on the disgusting. And that, folks, is what American exceptionalism is REALLY about — our unparalleled knack for dreaming up the absurdly grandiose, then not only bringing it to fruition, but making it functional in the process.

While we here at TIIIA remain ardent anti-consumerists at heart — that being, we continue to loathe those who engage in and celebrate commercial experience simply for the sake of engaging in and celebrating commercial experience — we nonetheless have to tip our hat towards KFC and Cheetos, respectively and in tandem as business partners. They took what superficially should’ve been nothing but high-calorie consumer exploitation and instead elevated into a minor work of edible pop-art. Three thousand years from now, archealogists won’t give a fuck about who was president or the state of contemporary race relations, but I guarantee you they’re going to take one gander at the fragments of the KFC Cheetos marketing campaign and go “Yeah, this shit is important.” This is the kind of mass produced item that embodies modern America, a fast food item so rife with economic and cultural symbolism that it almost stops being a mere sandwich and becomes some sort of meta-social commentary that you can turn into additional glucose. The likes of Zizek and Baudrillard could write entire theses on the geopolitical undertones of the KFC Cheetos sandwich; fuck, Derrida might even be able to get a 300-page book deal out of it, pending he musters enough motivation.

But you see, kids, the important thing to take away here is not that the KFC Cheetos sandwich exists, but the fact that it exists in an economic time-space that ALLOWS it to exist. Something like the KFC Cheetos sandwich could’ve have been invented in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, or even Shinzo Abe’s Japan. Hell, I’m not even sure the sandwich would’ve been practical during the Barack Obama administration. But here we are, barely two years into Trump’s America, and all of a sudden, unfettered capitalism is cool again. Not since the heyday of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative has the American hivemind been so in love with the notion of “the big idea,” and it’s no coincidence that we’re seeing our fast food items likewise become more extravagant and ambitious. The KFC Cheetos sandwich is part of that new wave of self-conscious hyper-capitalist fast food items, the types that are aware of their own ephemerality and social media shareability, but also, of the changing tides of the marketplace. Sandwiches of the like are being marketed as true “event foods,” not so much digestible products as they are social experiences tailor-made for the Internet affirmation economy. People have no problem shelling out $6 for a KFC and Cheetos burger in THIS epoch, because society at large has a newfound respect for entrepreneurial risk. All of the millenials and Gen Y and Gen Z twerps are slowly but surely realizing that only through a capitalistic society can their insatiable hunger for experiential consumption be sated, and the mere fact that the KFC Cheetos sandwich even exists is proof positive that the masses are embracing the free market at least from an ideological perspective not seen since Ronnie R.’s “Morning in America” campaign.

And that, my friends, is how you defeat post-Obama socialism. Sure, everybody likes to virtue signal about universal healthcare and immigration and abortions and a whole bunch of other bullshit, but at the end of the day, if people don’t have their bread and circuses — or, in this case, KFC Cheetos sandwiches and Marvel Cinematic Universe movies — nothing else matters. The only intrinsic freedom all young people truly embrace is the intrinsic freedom to spend, and the sooner we show ‘em that a laissez-faire market is the ONLY way to guarantee them their consumerist desires and demands, the sooner we can show them how goddamn wrong-headed their correlated SOCIAL POLICY stances are, too.

So here’s to you, KFC Cheetos sandwich. Not only are you a shining beacon of hope for a truly free market, you likewise represent a faint glimpse of hope for America’s sociopolitical future. And in that, I think I’ve stumbled upon at least one of those famed 11 herbs and spices … good old-fashioned liberty, ya’ll. 


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