No Longer Subtle About a Bodily Function
Posted May 25, 2018 5:15 p.m. EDT
Yeah, we all go to the bathroom. And these days we all seem to go on (and on) about it.
Flush nature down the toilet bowl and just watch it come flooding back in through the screen. Emojis, ads, toys — we’re living in a world that acknowledges, and even celebrates, excrement like never before.
Remember when Mr. Whipple, bespectacled salesman, delicately enjoined housewives not to squeeze the Charmin?
But now a chirpy narrator on a commercial for the toilet tissue bluntly tells us: “There’s nothing healthy about holding things in. Those who go with Charmin really enjoy the go.”
An ad for the air freshener Febreze is nothing short of a valentine to a particular secluded loo: “I love you. Your privacy makes you my No. 1 place to go No. 2.”
A pharmaceutical ad features a spectral figure who is meant to serve as the embodiment of a condition called irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea. We know this because her name is Irritabelle, her bodysuit is illustrated with a digestive tract, and she offers up what amounts to a travelogue of the alimentary canal.
“Mom, we have a situation,” says a little boy who is in the bathroom and, try as he might, can’t unbuckle his belt quickly enough for the task at hand, an example of a bleachable moment courtesy of Clorox. And welcome to Kiester, Minnesota (yes, a real town), the setting for a pitch about Preparation H.
It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment that Madison Avenue stopped trying to pitch laxatives with vague terms like “system slowdown” (as if talking about problems on the factory floor) or “irregular” (as if the discussion was of pesky French verbs), and began speaking in a way that held nothing back about elimination and its cover-up. (See the new uneuphemistically named toilet sprays PooPourri and VIPoo.)
Perhaps the way was smoothed by the publication of an English edition of the Japanese children’s book “Everyone Poops” in 1993; the introduction of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, during the first season of “South Park”; or the episode of “Scrubs” that featured the very catchy ditty “Everything Comes Down to Poo.”
Rajeev Jain, a gastroenterologist in Dallas and a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association, pointed to Katie Couric’s televised colonoscopy in 2000 as a turning point. “I think it kind of opened the door and made it more acceptable to talk about things like that,” Jain said.
Children have never had the slightest problem discussing the subject, but they are no longer being discouraged. Big at this year’s American International Toy Fair was a board game called Plunge It, which tests players’ dexterity in sucking up fake manure, and Poopeez, a line of squishy toys tucked in plastic toilet paper rolls. The similarly themed Pooparoos, a line of gummy collectibles that come hidden in a blue plastic toilet, was introduced at Walmart this spring.
Poo Dough, a molding compound for creating excrement art — à la Paul McCarthy — was very successful a few years ago, and now it’s coming back, said Adrienne Appell, director of strategic communications at the Toy Association, a trade group.
“The toy industry mimics what’s happening culturally in the adult space,” Appell said. “There’s a migration. Kids see what grown-ups are focused on and what they’re doing. It’s like makeup and a toy purse.”
Jeff Rothstein, a partner at Cult360, a branding and marketing firm, said, “The cultural change is real.” Rothstein said he thought it was related to Google’s expansion into the Asian market.
Because the “Pile of Poo” emoji, as it’s known, was a big part of Japanese digital communication, Google had to include it in the Gmail emoji package “and the U.S. adopted that aspect of Japanese culture as part of our culture,” Rothstein said.
He also cites women’s empowerment — yes, everyone, get ready for the #MePoo … uh … movement. “Guys love to share poop stories, the more embarrassing the better,” he said. “But that’s been off-limits for women.”
Now, he went on, “society is coming to grips with the way that women have been treated differently, and maybe this is another part of the revolution: Women are going to open up about not just their bodies but their bodily functions. If men don’t need to be ashamed, women can shed the shame too.” (Millennial women, having taken on “period shaming,” have led this charge, but actress Cameron Diaz, who is 45, appeared on Dr. Oz’s show not long ago to offer tips for regularity.)
For the new frankness, we can also perhaps thank social media, where to share is human and to overshare divine. “People talk about everything online, and nothing is out of bounds,” said Allen Adamson, a founder and partner at Metaforce, a branding and marketing firm. “So now they’re discussing what goes on in the bathroom.”