Michael S. Miller: “Pooped”
“I want to hold your hand” — The Beatles, 1964
“I want to f*ck you like an animal” — Nine Inch Nails, 1994
At the time, I discounted it as an old man’s sadness and bewilderment at being out of touch with the cultural zeitgeist. I respected him as a newspaper veteran and sharp, insightful journalist, but I viewed him through a faulty patina of superiority bred from youthful arrogance and a smug assurance that I would never find myself on the outside looking in at what was cool and hip.
He lamented how shocking it was to him that “suck” had entered mainstream conversation; it was no f-word, of course, but he never suspected it would become acceptable in polite society.
This was the early 1990s, and to me, “suck” was an innocuous word that applied to anything from the mildly inconvenient (“Out of french fries? That sucks.”) to the catastrophic (“Your dad has cancer? Dude, that sucks, I’m so sorry.”). The word had left its sexual connotation behind and could be employed (like its less colorful and less popular cousin, “blows,”) with a touch of naughty crudity but without risk of offense.
So I nodded sympathetically and smirked a bit inside, confident I would never look at what “the kids” were saying and feel so confounded and left behind.
But now … oh, shit.
I am, like my mentor 25 years ago, soured and disheartened by a trend I see everywhere and cannot reconcile with my generational sensibility: The poop emoji.
He (she?) is usually a happy lil’ poop, all wide cartoony eyes and a white smile, 4-5 coils deep in a perfect pyramid. It is most often a slightly nauseating shade of brown, but is also available in rainbow, pink, even “vanilla-scented sprinkles.” Like the best of emojis, there is no question what it is or what it is meant to convey.
A casual visit to just about any mall or generic store offers an endless array of anthropomorphic coiled brown poop products. There are 16 pages of poop products at Amazon.com. Pillows, socks, hats, pajamas, rubber duckies, coffee mugs, charm bracelets, ice cube trays, pinatas, slippers, cookie cutters, solar-powered dancing desk toys … hundreds of products. In the inevitable “Emoji Movie” heading to a theater near you, the poop emoji is reportedly being voiced by Patrick Stewart, who used to command “Number One” on “Star Trek” but is now headed to the final frontiers of “Number Two.”
Sexual references are open to a sliding scale of personal offense, with prudish at one end and libertine on the other. Even “f*ck” is so commonplace in music, movies, television and conversation that its shock value is faded dramatically; “dick” is no longer a taboo, and “pussy,” already diluted as a synonym for “sissy,” is now, thanks to current political events grabbing our attention, also mainstream.
But to my admittedly older sensibility, the emergence of poop as an acceptable American-as-apple-pie touchstone marks a new low in discourse and is emblematic of the continuing decline in civility.
Everybody poops, but what does it say about our culture and society when craps are splattered across toys and T-shirts like cuddly teddy bears? What is the attraction? It’s not subversive like “South Park’s” Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo or played for shock laughs like the transformation of the bully brother Chet played by Bill Paxton in “Weird Science.”
It’s packaged and presented as a friendly pile of … what, exactly? At the risk of standing on the precipice of “get offa my lawn,” I just don’t get it.
I can understand its use as an emoji (credited to former Google Japanese Product Manager Takeshi Kishimoto) used to express a base but common metaphor. It’s the leap to consumable that triggers irritation and dismay. I have witnessed (and participated in) the rapid collapse of civil language, as former obscenities burrow their way into the mainstream, leaving jagged holes of crudeness that can never be patched over. Perhaps what rankles me is the visual status the poop emoji has been granted and the collapse of decency it symbolizes.
Or, perhaps, the generational wheel of culture has finally left me behind, and this is just the first in the inevitable wave of touchstones I will not want to touch.
Either way, it’s shitty business.