On Tuesday, President Obama delivered the State of the Union. And then, on Wednesday, he answered questions about it – thanks to The West Wing.
It started, as all great things do, with a big block of cheese. Here’s the unabridged explanation behind the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay hashtag that kept showing up on your Twitter feed:
President Andrew Jackson brought a giant 1,400 pound wheel of cheese into the White House in 1837. He invited other high-ranking officials and the general public into the White House to mingle, share the cheese, and ask the government questions.
(I think it’s safe to say their security procedures were more lax in those days.)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the West Wing, here’s the Sparknotes summary on the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay plot: President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) held #BigBlockOfCheeseDay in his fictional Sorkin-made White House. Much to his staff’s chagrin, he’d invite groups who would not otherwise have the ear of the White House and would then require his staff (Allison Janey, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford) to meet with each group.
It’s possible that these West Wing details seem trivial and unnecessary to those of you who don’t owe their political fervor to this show, but I swear I have a point. The West Wing effectively made President Jackson’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay famous.
You have to hand it to Aaron Sorkin for making a historic political moment into a pop-culture reference, which then got reinstated by the government. You know your show has made it when it’s mentioned in a White House press release 8 years after it goes off the air.
Wednesday was the second year in a row that the White House observed #BigBlockOfCheeseDay, and this year, they hosted a virtual open house. Participants were encouraged to log onto Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr and use the hashtag #AskTheWH to send in questions. Senior White House staffers, including White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and Communications Director Jen Palmieri tweeted back answers. CJ and Toby would’ve been so proud.
In fact, they expressed their pride via Twitter. No, really. #BigBlockOfCheeseDay got plenty of media attention and engaged the fictional West Wing characters’ Twitter accounts, as well as the celebrities from the show.
The White House really leaned into the cheesiness of day – their announcement was laden with cheese puns. Their official release said, “We thought it’d be a gouda idea to brie-unite a certain cast of characters to help us bring back a tradition that dates back to the days of President Andrew Jackson.”
… Yeah, a White House official wrote that. God bless America.
NB: There is some speculation as to what type of cheese President Jackson used in 1837. Some sources are reporting it was a “wheel,” which would imply gouda. Other sources say it was a block of cheddar.