The Perils and Pleasures of the Scatological

Warning: Please do not continue reading if scatological references and language upset and offend you.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with some friends to upstate New York. We were on a Members’ Appreciation trip organized by the farm that supplies our local community supported agriculture collective (CSA) with its beef, pork, chicken and lamb. As we sat together on that early morning MTA train, suitably fueled by caffeinated concoctions, it quickly became apparent that stories of urination and defecation–sometimes public, sometimes spectacular, sometimes embarrassing–were gaining considerable mileage, provoking considerable chuckling, guffawing and chortling. I spun out a few stories myself; indeed, I may have been one of the ‘worst’–or ‘best’ depending on your perspective–offenders. And as our train rolled on, and through, the bucolic landscapes of New York farmlands, the air turning blue–or perhaps brown and yellow–in our corner of the coach, I was reminded yet again of the curious attraction of the scatological tale and joke.

Talk of shitting, pissing, farting, sharting, and the like comes easily to some; equally facile are the offended responses of others. It is still not quite clear to me what accounts for this difference. One conventionally drawn line has been between men and women’s tolerance for this species of conversation. A dozen or so years ago, after a friend and I had finished laughing our heads off at a suitably shit-stained joke, my girlfriend asked, “Why is it that men find such jokes funny?” My friend responded, ‘What is it about women that prevents them from getting the joke?” But it is not clear to me such genderized lines can be easily drawn. My company during my ride upstate was a mixed sex group, with contributions and appreciation roughly equally shared, so conventional stereotypes about the relative tolerance for, and indulgence in, this variant of humor certainly seemed up for contestation and redefinition. And neither does class or income explain the relative differences in tolerance. The rich–in the right company and circumstances–talk of their shit and piss just as much, or as little, as do the middle-class and the poor. (Based on some rather unscientific sampling.) So do the young and old. And of course, even the supposedly highly cultured and sophisticated, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, no less, have been known to give wings to their scatological flights of imagination.

Perhaps reveling in the scatological provides relief and release from daily, clenched-cheek, full-bladder, strictures on conversation and expression; perhaps tales of answering–in staggering variety and manner–nature’s many calls are one more way of emphasizing our sometimes malodorous connections with it; perhaps in recounting our incontinences, we make ourselves more human; perhaps as Freud noted, we are still proud of our ‘productions.’ Those of us that do indulge in these walks on the wild side might be entitled to look askance at those who refuse to let go and hold on tightly, veins popping, reluctant to acknowledge the ubiquity of the arse-wipe and pee-stain, desperately hoping to maintain the carefully crafted image of the pristine human, well above the fray and the spray. If only they’d relax and let the ease flow over–and under–them.

Note: While my diaper changing experiences in recent months have certainly induced new appreciation in me for scatology, they have not been my sole inspiration for this post. But they do deserve a post of their own. On which, as for many other issues, more anon.

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