Celebrity Scat

I am happy to announce that we are now beginning to release some of the footage from our highly acclaimed World Toilet Day New York event this past November 19th, 2011.  For your viewing pleasure, I give you Ms. Megan Gerlach and Mr. Justin Lang, "Nerds and Turds." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyxLJNDSv-M

In other celebrity news, Oprah poops. I understand that this may not qualify as news.  Oprah and her creation, Dr. Oz, are pioneers in promoting poop-positive TV programming.  Nonetheless, it turns out that Oprah's own fame has forced her to become what Dave Praeger, in his book Poop Culture, describes as a 'shameful shitter.'  More on that soon.

In the clip, she says:

"This is me, who does not take public bowel movements, okay?  I am not gonna go, like, Number 2 in a regular... (Someone else: "In a stall...")  Oh my God, no."

At first I was offended.  Perhaps it was the tangible disgust and horror in her tone, or her choice of the word "regular," as if her derriere deserved much better.  Poop, like death, is a great equalizer; you can eat from a diner, a dumpster, or a deluxe 12-course banquet, but then the lines blur into a mighty blast of brown.  Of course, money can buy you a nicer place to deposit your doo.  $6,000 recently bought American Idol host Ryan Seacrest a luxurious birthday bidet (the gift that keeps on giving), while in the developing world, only the wealthy can afford the privacy of a home toilet.  So what about privacy for the super rich and famous?

Oprah continues:

"[laughing]...the only thing anybody's going to do is go home and say, 'Guess who was in the bathroom today?'  No!"

And you know she's right.  Oprah can poop in a public potty just like anybody else, but it could just make 'the splash heard round the world.'  Sure, your curry vindaloo explosion might make you the office laughingstock by the end of the day, but by the end of her day, the lady who's iPhone recorded Oprah playing the butt trumpet would have her own reality TV show on Fox.  The audio clip, in equal parts delightful and disgusting, would be downloaded in droves and remixed for the dance floor, hitting the pop charts and the elevators at Harpo, reaping royalties for Oprah long after the reality star had faded.  At least that's what I think; you can see Jimmy Kimmel's take in the video below.


The Urban Dictionary (clearly an irrefutable source of accurate information...) defines Dave Praeger's "shameful shitter" as someone who, "will hold it in for hours before daring to go into a public restroom."  If they must use the toilet, "they will do it in a continued state of terror and anxiety that someone will come in and smell their aroma or hear their farts..."

While we all know somebody who talks regularly about their colon health and strolls into the bathroom proudly carrying a newspaper, most of us struggle with shameful shitting to a greater or lesser degree. We might walk in to an occupied bathroom and pretend to be there just washing our hands, or tell the date who's been waiting at the table that it only took us so long because the restroom line was unusually long.  We're worried that someone will find out what we all already know, that as pretty and put together as we may look, all sorts of icky things ooze out of us once the door's been closed.  We deny poop because, as the "dirtiest" object with the lowest status, it has the magical, Midas-like power to pollute and bring down whatever it touches.  When the pedestal's been placed at celebrity height, the counterweight of poop can mean quite a fall.

Consider the case of Paris Hilton.  She made headlines in 2007 when she was sentenced to 45 days in prison for violating a reckless driving probation.  Three days into serving her term, and Paris wound up sedated in the medical wing after having refused to eat or drink since she arrived. Apparently the toilet was placed opposite a window through which the court guards could see everything. A Hilton insider quoted in the article reports, "'She was absolutely terrified that one of the guards or staffers would get her with the cell-phone cam and it would wind up on the Internet.'"

To be clear, you can find clips of Ms. Hilton in coitus with just a few clicks of your mouse.  Could the shame of someone (or the whole world) seeing you poop be that much worse?

Grimani Breviary- The Month of February (1490-1510)

Norbert Elias' classic text, The Civilizing Process, quotes old missives on manners to show the complex social maneuvering that first led Western Europeans to adopt now-common, "civilized" behaviors. Unlike Adam and Eve, who learned shame in the time it took to eat some fruit, humans 1,000 years ago had to be conditioned over time to look down on those who blow their snot onto their sleeve, eat with their fingers, or poop in the hallways.  Lest you accuse me of exaggeration, consider this passage culled from the Brunswick Court Regulations of 1589:

"Let no one, whoever he may be, before, at, or after meals, early or late, foul the staircases, corridors, or closets with urine or other filth, but go to suitable, prescribed places for such relief."

If it was necessary for someone to write this, obviously there was a problem.  But that's exactly it--these ideas are only obvious to you and me because society learned to be disgusted by such acts, and to shame those who committed them into seeking privacy for such things.  Modern society gives the responsibility of molding well-adjusted citizens to Mom and Dad, yet Community Led Total Sanitation programs are just now convincing rural communities in the developing world to feel shame and disgust over outdoor and/or public defecation. (For more information, read this article by The Last Taboo co-author Maggie Black.)

In reaction to our former animalism, we may have learned the rules a little too well, allowing for few shameless ways to shit.  But if Paris and Oprah ever want to ease their bowels, we may need to ease up on a cultural stigma in which we're all complicit.  We wind up shaming anyone who makes us aware that poop exists, paradoxically stoking people's interest through censorship, and thereby giving Oprah's poop the potential to make international news, whether she likes it or not.  But if Oprah pooped in a forest and everyone heard it, maybe we'd understand that she's really just like us.  And if we're all just like Oprah than we're all just like each other.  We'll beat swords into plowshares, doves will soar overhead, and Oprah's poop will leads us to an era of world peace.

Prosperous Pooping in this New Year,

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner

Picasso's dove

Not Everyone's Against Gas

What do you do when you have to pass gas?  Let it out and pray that it'll be dead on delivery--no sound or smell?   Or perhaps you  excuse yourself from the room to duck behind a wall or out on the patio, pretending you've spied a little bird.  You could cough, scoot your chair back, abstain permanently from beans. Or perhaps you are astonished, shocked, and have no idea what I'm talking about.

You wouldn't be alone in your denial.  Seeking etiquette advice for just such a dangerous situation, I turned to Emily Post, whose search engine could find no relevant pages. It seems that neither "flatulence" nor "gas," not "poot," "fart," or even humble "wind" has ever entered her vocabulary or life circumstances.

Paul Spinrad's The RE/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, quotes Miss Manners in 1983:

"Unacceptable Noises. Miss Manners does not plan to mention them, chiefly because they are unmentionable, but you all know who you are. What they are. At any rate, there are noises that are acknowledged by neither the noisemaker nor the noise recipient, because socially they do not exist."

Yet scientists proclaim that each of us are cutting an average 14 chunks of cheese per day.  What should we do?

The Egyptians and Romans, at least according to the French, created a mischievous Godling for the recognition and worship of intestinal sounds. Whether truth or satire, he is said to be referred to as Crepitus Ventris, or "noises of the bowels."  The word "crepitus" also referred to other sorts of ancient noises--such as strange coughing, the scooting of a chair, or Cicero's fingernails clawing down a blackboard.

While it's not impossible that such a deity existed in ancient times (Roman emperor Claudius did consider passing a royal edict to allow gas passing at dinner), this god's probable origin as satire may say more about the way we view the occasional toot.  As far back as the 4th Century, (Pseudo) Pope Clement I wrote appallingly of the Egyptians: "others (among the Egyptians) teach that intestinal noise (Latin: crepitus ventris) ought to be regarded as a god."  It's the original "You smell!"

(Crepitus may not have had temples to his name, but he did get a nice Wikipedia article, and an academic blogster has paid him some mind.)

That said, nearly everyone appreciates a fart joke.  The opening scene of Aristophanes' The Clouds hinges on it, as does the final scene of "The Miller's Wife" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.  Even royalty gets in on the act, perhaps epitomized in this story about Queen Elizabeth I recorded by anecdotal biographer John Aubrey:

"This Earle of Oxford [Edward de Vere] making his low obeisance [bow] to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, 'My Lord, I had forgot the Fart.'"

(Further examples in this fascinating essay on Class and Swearing from the Online Encyclopedia.)

Yet hold that up to another Miss Manners story, also about Queen Elizabeth (again quoted from Spinrad):

"The Queen and another chief of state were reviewing troops on horseback when a loud fart came from her direction. She immediately apologized for her horse's having broken wind, and her host graciously brushed it off but then added that had she not mentioned it, he would have actually thought the horse had done it."

Polite or not, acknowledged or assumed, it probably is best for us to go ahead and do it.  Greek physician Hippocrates wrote:

"It is best when wind passes without noise, but it is better that flatulence should pass even thus than it should be retained."

Benjamin Franklin sought freedom even for flatulence, and felt the unpleasant scent was the only reason farting was forbidden.

"Were it not for the odiously offensive smell accompanying such escapes, polite people would probably be under no more restraint in discharging such wind in company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their noses."

He continues by challenging science, "to discover some drug wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges, of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes." (Further excerpts from and information about Franklin can be found at Things that Stink.)

I'm sorry to say that I haven't yet come across a potion that can do that (Beano might be the closest...).  But I did find the portrait work of Hsin-Wei Hsu, who turns farting into art.

I know it might be hard to believe, but there's a lot more to say about farts. For now, let's leave with a simple rhyme that comes from Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, a collection of wisdom from the medical school in Salerno, Italy in the 15th century. This particular version comes from a 1608 translation by the very same Sir John Harington who invented the modern flush toilet twelve years earlier. It reads:

79. Great harms have grown, and maladies exceeding, By keeping in a little blast of wind: So Cramps and Dropsies, Colics have their breeding, and Mazèd Brains for want of vent behind. Besides we find in stories worth the reading, A certain Roman Emperor was so kind, Claudius by name, he made a Proclamation, A Scape to be no loss of reputation. Great suppers do the stomach much offend, Sup light if quiet you to sleep intend.

Thank you. And to all a good night.