I Smell Something Fishy

Different porta potty scentsYes, it’s time for college football; if you work at a US university with a football program and you’re not paying attention to the other cuess — like the pretty sparse attendance on Fridays if Saturday is an away game — then you’ll surely know this by the difficult-to-overlook influx of port-a-potties that arrive midweek, to handle the game day, shall we say, demand.

At least at my school they’re lined up like dutiful soldiers all around the heart of the old campus, where I happen to have my office.

The company that makes them has an interesting website. In particular, their description of the process by which they manufacture their top-of-the-line Wave toilet — “a real step ahead in the portable sanitation industry” — caught my attention.

During the production of the unit’s walls utilizing injection molding, we are able to inject a scent directly into the polyethylene.

This range of scented walls represents a clear advancement in the evolution of portable toilets, and guarantees not only greater comfort for the user but also sheds a greater light on your company and makes you stand out from other companies who rent or clean toilets.

When it comes to what we do in those little plastic closets, shedding greater light is probably pretty low on the priority list; if anything, we likely want to do the exact opposite: disguise and thereby control the impression for what’s going on in there. But what’s interesting here is that the disguising is usually done for the benefit of those around us, those whose judgments about us concern us — so, when we walk into that little room in someone’s house we turn on whirring fans to dampen the noises that we happen to make and largely can’t control, we spray air fresheners when we’re done, maybe we even drop some paper into the bowl to deaden sounds as well. That is, we each know why we’re in there and even though we know everyone else does too we all participate in a grand charade so that everyone thinks we’re going in their to take a bath (hence “bathroom”) or just to take a break from the hectic world (“restroom”).

Does anyone ever get hired in there (i.e., “see a man about a job”)?

So what I find interesting about the injection molding technology is that I read it instead as mainly aimed mainly at us, the user, for there’s no getting around the point of that profoundly public plastic “water closet” (don’t you just love that euphemism?) — not only does everyone else know that, as well as why, you’re going in but there’s probably a line of 25 people or more right outside the door, all tapping their toes (or jogging in place), with eyeballs firmly locked on that handle, waiting for it to turn and for you to finally emerge.

The goal, then, is not to disguise your actions from others — that just can’t be done in the game day situation — but, instead, from yourself.

And thus the “comfort” that the manufacturer identifies is the result of persuading you, if only for a moment or two, that despite doing your business in a way that is everyone else’s business, it’s still a little slice of private me time.

For its not like you’re spraying the place with lavender after you’re done, erasing your presence before the next person steps in and locks that little latch; instead, it’s designed to smell nice all the time, when you walk in, while you’re doing what you’re there to do, and after you finish, leaving nothing but a pinewood trail before, during, and after you’re gone (and you’ve gone).

It’s as if you hadn’t dealt it while you’ve smelt it.

The idea, then, is not to erase the presence that was in there before you — sure, that’s part of it — but, instead, to erase your own presence while you’re in there, thereby liberating you from knowing that you’re pooping in a parking lot.

So, given how profoundly private we treat what it is that we go in there to do, the portable toilet industry can’t hide from everyone else at the tailgate that you’re pretty much relieving yourself (that’s another good one — though I suppose we sometimes say “Ahhhh…”) in front of everyone; but it can try to hide that fact from you, the one in that confined little strawberry field of a space. So, for a brief moment you willingly suspend what you know to be the case and float away on the rose sensations.

And that’s what I think ideology is — the name we give to devices that we use to disguise situations that we know we are in — not from others, but from ourselves. If so, then the very word euphemism may be among the most potently ideological terms in our vocabulary, for it simultaneously names, yet distracts attention (by softening) from, what we might as well just call propaganda. Making the very term euphemism itself ideological.

The definition of euphemismBy the way, does anyone really powder their nose in there anymore?

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