There may be a cultural explanation for why there is a "Swiss Cheese Pervert" on the loose in Philadelphia. Over the past few hours, word has quickly spread about a Philadelphia man who reportedly approaches unsuspecting women in his car, "displays a piece of sliced Swiss cheese and offers to pay the women to put the cheese on his penis and perform sexual acts on him using it." According to one account, his behavior may go back as far as 2012.
But with such a peculiar fetish involved, it seems a little ham-fisted to not consider the particular cultural significance of this dairy-related act. After all, Philly is a city with a very specific history on matters relating to cheese. Among the things commonly associated with Philadelphia—right alongside Rocky, the Liberty Bell, and Brotherly Love—are Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Philadelphia cheesesteaks.
For more, I reached out to Brooks Rich, a Philadelphia-based academic (although not ordinarily on matters relating to cheese), to ask whether there might be a Swiss-related subtext that could shed some light on the latest development. Rich immediately noted the local bias against fancier cheeses. He pointed to the fact that there is only one socially acceptable way to order a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, which is "wiz wit," meaning a cheesesteak with cheese whiz and onions. (American and provolone may typically be offered as options for the cheesesteak novice who might prefer a solid cheese, but cheeses from the canton of Bern are rarely, if ever, mentioned.)
Back in 2003, former presidential hopeful John Kerry ignited a controversy on the campaign trail when he visited the iconic South Philly cheesesteak purveyor Pat's and infamously ordered his sandwich with the wrong cheese. Which cheese? Swiss cheese. At the time, the Inquirer crowed: "Swiss cheese, as any local knows, is not an option. The Massachusetts Democrat may as well have asked for cave-aged Appenzeller. But even when Kerry was given a proper cheesesteak hoagie, he made matters worse by delicately nibbling at it as if it were tea toast."
Kerry managed to eke out a victory in Pennsylvania, but ultimately lost the election, due in part to his lack of "common touch." (The world also cried "fowl" last year when Kerry ordered a turkey shawarma in Ramallah, but that's another story.)
Rich offered that it wouldn't be outrageous to suggest that the precedent bias against Swiss could be linked to deviant behavior of the "Swiss Cheese Masturbator." As Philadelphia continues its search, there may be more to this story than meets the eyes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.