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Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 12:19 am
The cute poop taboo

"An elephant makes a big poop, a mouse makes a tiny poop. A one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop, and a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop. Only kidding!"

So begins Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi. It's the first (and best-selling) title in a series of books published in America by Kane/Miller (motto: "open-minded books opening young minds to the world") which also includes The Holes In Your Nose (about nostrils), The Gas We Pass (about farting) and Contemplating Your Bellybutton.

They're all by Japanese author-illustrators, and they're somewhat in the spirit of my 1991 album Hippopotamomus, a record you could file under "children's avant garde" or "cute taboo", inspired by Serge Gainsbourg's scatophilic 1973 song "L'Hippopodame" and Christian Enzensberger's 1968 book "Smut: An Anatomy of Dirt". Kane/Miller asks us to file the book under: "The Body, Potty, Self Esteem/Identity, Non-Fiction, Concepts", but we could as easily file it under "works inspired by the polymorphous perversity of babies and animals". (The Gainsbourg album was made when Charlotte was a baby, and features Serge on the cover surrounded by monkeys.)

Amazon's page about the book shows a division in attitudes to it as deep as the one that greeted my hippo record. Most readers seem delighted, and tell us their children love it. But publishing trade press people and librarians are appalled. "Okay, so everyone does it--does everyone have to talk about it?" complains Publishers Weekly. "Call it what you will, by euphemism or by expletive, poop by any name seems an unsuitable picture book subject." Denise L. Moll of the Lone Pine Elementary School, West Bloomfield, Michigan wonders, in the School Library Journal, "does anyone really need an entire book on the subject? ...The text is merely a series of rather dull pictures of back ends of people on toilets and animals, with captions identifying them and occasionally posing questions such as "What does a whale's poop look like?" (No answer is provided.)"

It isn't just spinster librarians who feel this way about poop. Check this thread on I Love Music for music fans begging Final Fantasy to change the title of their album He Poos Clouds. "Owen," pleads one, "please name your record something else, for your (and your label's) sake. Because while a lot of people here will tell you that they will listen to your record in spite of it, note that they have not promised to buy it. "He Poos Clouds" is a title that is going to cost you some money." Let's boycott that poop reference!

Taro Gomi himself describes the book's genesis in an appropriately down-to-earth way in an interview with Japan Foundation Newsletter:

JF: "Was it your intention to approach a “tainted” subject in writing this book?"

Gomi: "Yes, but more than that, I love poop. Because it’s fun, don’t you think? Actually, that book came about as a result of a direct experience I had one winter morning at the zoo. I went to the zoo to interview the animal doctor for another project, and I got there before it opened, so most of the cages weren’t cleaned yet. There was a lot of poop around. It was a cold winter morning, and steam was coming out from each pile as the morning sunshine streamed down on it. It was such a vivid scene. I was so impressed that on my way back home, I made up my mind to draw a book about poop. However, when I brought a draft of Minna Unchi to the publisher, the editors had an argument about whether or not to publish it. But there was one woman who loved the book and convinced the others to do it. When the book was published, I received an incredible response from children who said, “I look at poop, too.” I think they were so surprised and happy that some strange man drew a book about poop–something their parents had scolded them not to talk about. But they had also seen this weird thing coming from their bodies. Or, if there was a baby at home, they’d seen poop in its diapers. It was a funny, curious, and interesting thing for them. One boy who loved the book sent me cards entitled “Today’s Poop” almost every day for six months. There were many kids like that."





According to Freud, parents battle their own children during toilet training, and the degree of their success or failure during the "sadistic-anal stage" can fix the child's personality for life as someone either reckless, messy and generous (anal expulsive) or tidy, mean and passive aggressive (anal retentive). I can't claim to have brought up a child, but I did live with a rabbit for the best part of last year, and poop was an important part of our relationship. We didn't see eye-to-eye on the subject. In a conflict Christian Enzensberger would understand, Baker fought me angrily whenever I approached with a broom; what for me was "dirt" was for him "food" (rabbits eat their own pellets). Neither of us prevailed, and the conflict will resume when I return to Berlin at the end of May. But I did learn one thing from our messy war: poop is an important subject, which makes "Everyone Poops" an important book.

63CommentReplyFlag

scola
scola
Scola
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)

I don't poop.


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theskycankill
theskycankill
nicotine really goes to my head
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)

My father actually bought me this book when I graduated from high school. In the card that he gave to me with the book, he wrote, "I don't think they touched on this in your school, but it's a valuable lesson."


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gybexi
gybexi
gybexi
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:02 am (UTC)

..you might also be interested in checking out Dominique Laporte's "History of Shit" [MIT Press]:

Written in Paris after the heady days of student revolt in May 1968 and before the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, History of Shit is emblematic of a wild and adventurous strain of 1970s' theoretical writing that attempted to marry theory, politics, sexuality, pleasure, experimentation, and humor. Radically redefining dialectical thought and post-Marxist politics, it takes an important--and irreverent--position alongside the works of such postmodern thinkers as Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, and Lyotard.

Laporte's eccentric style and ironic sensibility combine in an inquiry that is provocative, humorous, and intellectually exhilarating. Debunking all humanist mythology about the grandeur of civilization, History of Shit suggests instead that the management of human waste is crucial to our identities as modern individuals--including the organization of the city, the rise of the nation-state, the development of capitalism, and the mandate for clean and proper language. Far from rising above the muck, Laporte argues, we are thoroughly mired in it, particularly when we appear our most clean and hygienic.

Laporte's style of writing is itself an attack on our desire for "clean language." Littered with lengthy quotations and obscure allusions, and adamantly refusing to follow a linear argument, History of Shit breaks the rules and challenges the conventions of "proper" academic discourse.

Dominique Laporte, who died in 1984 at the age of thirty-five, was a psychoanalyst and the coauthor of Français national: Politique et practiques de la langue nationale sous la Révolution Française.


(http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=3835)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:05 am (UTC)

The French do spoil things by muddying their cute shit with blood: L'étendard sanglant est levé.


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)

YOU LEFT BAKER HOME ALONE?!?!
ohhhh there's gonna be shit to pay.

HAH!

are you anal expulsive or retentive?

and have you heard the new Ms John Soda album?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)

I think I'm a retentive who aspires to be expulsive one day. Constipated, perhaps?


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tarandfeathrhim
tarandfeathrhim
Victor
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:31 am (UTC)

Oops. I think this means I'm anal retentive.


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lightfromlight
lightfromlight
Fuzzy Dunlop
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 05:42 am (UTC)

Spinster librarians?


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nato_dakke
nate
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)

I encountered my first book dealing with the myriad varieties of animal poop in Germany... " Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat". I'm overjoyed to see it appear in musical form here.


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enchochada
enchochada
Emma
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 08:30 am (UTC)

Ah! I was just about to mention The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of his Business, but it looks like you beat me to it!


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tassellrealm
tassellrealm
XWSF Tassell
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 08:34 am (UTC)

When I'm having a shit is the time when I'm most conscious that my body's just a machine, like a car or a tractor or a cafetiere.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 11:08 am (UTC)

I play video games on my phone. I realize this is probably counter to the lessons imparted above...


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girfan
girfan
GIRfan
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 09:05 am (UTC)

I have a copy of that book!
The last time I had to babysit, the children loved that book and made me read it 3 times.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
Everyone poops

Some artists do it from the mouth you know.


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nickink
nickink
Nick Ink
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)

A lot of the Korean books I've bought for my 3-year old daughter have pooing and peeing in them, complete with graphic illustrations. I hope that provides some kind of counterweight to the almost certainly screwed-up, hygiene-fixated, self-loathing I'm transmitting to her when loo-time rolls around.

Also, a very popular Korean TV animation character is called 'Poong Poongi' ('Fart Farty') and absolutely revels in the eponymous activity. My daughter has pictures of him, bent at the knee, arse angled in cheeky readiness, all over her bedroom walls.




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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)

Cult kids' show Ugo Ugo Luga (Toshio Iwai was involved, and I even appeared in one of their shows as "Sampler San") had a regular feature in which a friendly turd rose out of a toilet bowl to give the children weather advice: "Carry an umbrella today!"

There's also Kazumichi Fujiwara and his store in Kyoto dedicated to selling sound recordings of, amongst other things, "animal farts". The fact that it went out of business stinks.


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auto_nalle
auto_nalle
auto_nalle
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
An elephant makes a big poop.

"An elephant makes a big poop, a mouse makes a tiny poop. A one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop, and a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop. Only kidding!"

wow. gomi took the idea of these french authors a bit further.
http://www.alapage.com/-/Fiche/Livres/2020227436/?id=256021146141941&donnee_appel=REF00&sv=X_L


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auto_nalle
auto_nalle
auto_nalle
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 12:58 pm (UTC)

to it's obvious conclusion.


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charleshatcher
charleshatcher
charleshatcher
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)

The people I feel this effects most are the coprophiliacs. How are they going to get worked up by fæces if its taboo is dissipated?


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ex_ruhue
. . .
Thu, Apr. 27th, 2006 01:06 pm (UTC)

the kids' favorite part of our garden tours is when we get to the rabbits, chickens, and the worm bin. why? because we get to talk about poop! we use the rabbit and chicken poo to speed up the composting process. the worm poo is great fertilizer... they love to get to talk about it.

poo aversion is a natural way to avoid exposure to some bacteria... but somehow i have the feeling that talking about poo isn't a risk. of course, my grandma used act like we could get pregnant by talking to boys on the phone so maybe there's something i don't know about the power of words.


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