What happens if you throw a slice of cheese at a baby's face?
Some babies laugh and shake it off. Others grimace, stumble around blindly, recoil like they've been hit by a truck, flail their arms, or stare reproachfully at the cheese-thrower. Some eat the cheese. Generally, all look confused.
We know this thanks to a week-old viral phenomenon called the "cheese challenge," in which people toss shiny slices of processed cheese at unsuspecting infants and share their reactions on social media. Depending on whom you ask, it's either extremely hilarious or proof that the internet should never have been invented.
According to Eater, the craze started with Charles Amara, a dad in Michigan. Last Tuesday he posted a short video on his Facebook page, captioning it “Attack of the cheese Episode 2” and adding, “He wasn’t happy after this one.” In it, a baby seated in a high chair and clutching a sippy cup looks increasingly nervous as a luminous yellow slice of cheese gets closer and closer, then lands squarely on his face. Remarkably, the slice — which has not been identified but resembles Kraft Singles, a processed American cheese — proves to be extremely adhesive. As the baby blinks, his facial expressions revealing what seems to be a mixture of surprise and dismay, the cheese remains firmly plastered to his face, covering his nose and right eyelid.
Two days later, as the footage was shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook, a man using the handle @unclehxlmes posted the same clip on Twitter and added the caption “just cheesed my little brother.” Eight million views later, he felt compelled to clarify that the small boy in the video was not, in fact, his younger brother. He had deleted the tweet and apologized to the child’s mother for invading the family’s privacy, he wrote on Friday, explaining that the response “genuinely got way out of hand” and that he had never imagined that throwing cheese on babies would turn into a trend.
But by then, it was too late. Under the hashtags #cheesechallenge or #cheesedchallenge, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and babysitters were eagerly tossing cheese at babies and documenting the results for posterity (and for likes on Twitter and Instagram). Others tested it out with toddlers, full-grown adults, disgruntled cats and even a Jonas brother. Amara, meanwhile, has taken down the video that started it all and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
In certain corners of the internet, news of the cheese-throwing fad was received as a sign that we are heading toward societal collapse. Unlikely alliances were forged as people normally on opposite sides of the partisan political and cultural divide were forced to acknowledge that they agreed on something: Hurling dairy products at a baby for social media clout is really, really stupid.
"I'm not sure anything better sums up the current moment we're living in than the fact that adults are throwing cheese onto toddlers' faces for attention online," tweeted the Daily Caller reporter Peter J. Hasson.
The liberal writer Molly Jong-Fast concurred: "I can't help but feel humanity is doomed."
As Mashable points out, the cheese challenge bears a certain resemblance to "dog cheese," a short-lived meme from last November that involved — you guessed it — lobbing slices of cheese at dogs. But while the dogs definitely liked it, it's not so clear how babies feel about having things thrown on them for the entertainment of internet strangers.
Scroll through the comments on any popular #cheesechallenge Instagram post and you'll find all-out war: While some commenters feel that tossing cheese at a child's face and posting the video online without their consent humiliates them and is akin to bullying, others insist that it's ultimately harmless and the kids are having fun. One mother, responding to criticism on Instagram, fired back: "Maybe you could try smiling or heaven forbid laughing one day! You might like it!"
Somewhat surprisingly, so-called influencers have been among the most vocal critics of the trend. Social media personalities like Casey Neistat and Kalen Allen have politely asked parents not to throw cheese at their pre-verbal children, while model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen wrote, "I love a prank as much as anybody but I cannot get myself to throw cheese at my adorable, unsuspecting baby who has all the hope and trust in the world in me."
Others were much less restrained. "DO NOT THROW CHEESE AT A BABY," tweeted the British actress India de Beaufort. "What is happening?!?! How is this a 'challenge.' It's not funny. Your baby trusts you and has no ability to ask you not to mistreat them so just DON'T. I can't even believe this has to be said?!?!?!"
Apparently, it does need to be said. But there is good news for babies who are tired of appearing in viral videos with cheese on their faces: Internet fads are mercifully brief, and the cheese challenge will likely go the way of the mannequin challenge in no time.