The Ecphorizer

Mode de Commode and Toilet Taboos
Larry J. Dawson

Issue #60 (November 1986)



"Indeed, the more important the rule, the greater is the likelihood that knowledge is based on avoided tests."

Harold Garfinkle, Studies in Ethnomethodology

The world is a place where the commonplace is taken as a given. Our experience in the commonplace is taken for granted and as such it has power over us. When the commonplace is examined, we massage it until it makes sense. Then it is classified into the area noted as unproblematic. An example of this "common" place is the toilet. I do not believe that people [quoteright'/>have examined this area of their experience with sufficient thought as to make any meaningful conjectures. This being the case, I would like to render some of my feelings and experiences so as not to avoid this very important aspect of my life.

I believe that in earlier and less complicated times, the problems of life could be solved in the benign and hospitable place of intestinal cleansing. Besides being a place where an individual could meditate and find solitude, it was also a place where social bonding could take place. In my youth I remember visiting "outhouses" of some of the more financially secure households. Some of their "privies" had as many as four seats or holes. I wonder what lively topic was discussed among the social elite during these multiple seatings. This social view of the past is confirmed by my own experiences. During the agreed-upon times, and in mass, my fellow imps would attend the social event in the "room of repose." Conversation included types and origins of fetidness and appraisals of our bohemian art forms. Discussion also centered on the modus operandi of applying paper. Style and position were debated and demonstrated with arguments and critiques offered by the attendees, economical use of processed wood pulp being the goal and primary point of departure.

As one ages, life becomes more stressful and complex. Society constrains the individual and the primary group with its mandates of decorum and propriety. With these mandates comes a sort of alienation from this most natural and important act. What was once a loving and a somewhat symbiotic relationship of sharing and caring now becomes an act of aggression and dominance. Now people "use" the bathroom for their own selfish purposes. This position is in direct contrast to "developing a relationship" with the commode that our parents tried to instill in us. Our parents sought for us to cooperate with the toilet and the relationship that came about, though somewhat arduous, was fulfilling and complete. Now the impersonal world tells us to assert our power and dominance over the "object" by using anything that meets our needs and is handy.

The act of defecation, which once was accompanied by clapping, candy-issuing parents, has become an institution of shame, mortification, and debasement. All the social and interpersonal functions have been lost. An example of this phenomenon can be experienced by most researchers.

The procedure entails trying to strike up a conversation with the occupier of the adjacent stall the next time you are at the airport or the bus station. You will most likely find these friendly overtures are unwelcome and inappropriate in this place of disgrace and degradation.

My initiation into this "alienated state" came at a tender and impressionable time in my life. I left my valley home in rural Utah to attend the Boy Scout National Jamboree in Valley Forge. Every troop compound and encampment had their own tent in which to perform these biological necessities. A favorite prank of our troop was to wait until one of our peers would just be getting settled and then open the flaps of the tent and allow the tourist public and scouting officials to view this informational sight. This brought the remarks of shame and dishonor and served to reinforce this emerging Weltanschauung. Upon my initiation into this rite of passage, I became the "encumbered man of loneliness and shame" with its accompanying symbols and hidden meanings.

Another confirming instance occurred at the beginning of my dating years. I was visiting a girlfriend's house and part of the dating ritual in our culture is for the hostess to provide copious amounts of cookies and Kool-Aid. In performing my expected role, I imbibed sufficient quantities as to extend my bladder to uncomfortable limits. Seeking relief, I asked my hostess if I might "use" the restroom.

Just prior to extrication, I remembered my father's dating maxim (#4), "When at home, hit the center; when at the house of strangers, hit the side of the bowl". I remember my satisfaction upon returning to my hostess knowing that she heard no embarrassing splashes and the accompanying Doppler effect. I would hold my head high knowing that she had no idea what I was doing there. I had finally become civilized and was socially aware of the "toilet taboos."

My compliance to these "taboos" continued until I was invited over to another girlfriend's house for dinner. I shall never forget this candlelit dinner served on the bathroom commode. The dinner included link sausages and lemon-aid. Dessert was snacking on a giant Tootsie Roll. Needless to say, this night of entertainment gave me the courage to form the radical group known as the "Young Turks Of The Toilet" (Y.T.T.) for which I penned the famous document known as the "Flatulation Proclamation." This invited all peoples to come out of the bathroom and to totally accept themselves for what they are.

Now I am a liberated person. Not just because I have come to grips with my own body and its functions, but because I have examined the important roles that underlie behavior in our society. 

Contributor Profile

Larry J. Dawson




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