Tuesday, April 29, 2014

UNICEF Takes On Public Defecation

National Geographic/ Randy Olson

The late George Carlin once pointed out that the word shit is almost always used in the figurative sense, you never hear anyone say "Look at the shit, Martha, little piles of it in the street". Evidently George never visited India.

But having a whiz on a trash can in an alley is a long way from crapping on Main Street.
A few days ago I came upon an odd news item. The United Nations is undertaking an awareness campaign regarding an issue of great public concern in some parts of the world. Not childhood hunger, not child abuse nor basic education. Nope: the issue is public defecation. I imagine that for most of us currently sitting before a computer screen or handheld device reading this, the notion of public defecation isn’t one that we encounter often, if ever. However in India about half the population does not use a toilet regularly. That’s not to say half the subcontinent suffers from chronic constipation, but that while dense traffic congestion may make getting from point A to point B almost impossible in most urban areas, Indian bowels seem to move when and where they want. And just to sharpen that image, bear in mind that half the population of India amounts to about 620 million part-time or full-time public bowel-movers.

For those of us in the West it is hard to get a grip on this phenomenon. I think most of us, yes you ladies too, can relate to the odd occasion when perhaps the line-up for the bathroom at the Frat House party is very long and having just finished off too much cheap beer urinating in an lane-way is a blessed relief. But having a whiz on a trash can in an alley is a long way from crapping on Main Street.

I certainly don't have a problem with the UN tackling this disgusting problem. Clearly the unhygienic nature of this activity poses all kinds of potential health hazards. I agree that the way to go about putting an end to this practice over time is through education, and in particular by explaining to children why they shouldn't do this. That is why the children’s aid branch of the UN, UNICEF, is heading up the program. The focal point of the campaign is a cartoon on YouTube that is aimed at youngsters. So far so good, right?

I don’t think even Disney could make a lump of dung charming.
I hate to be a party-pooper ... but my gripe is with the cartoon spokesperson, or spokes-turd, used to impart this important message: Mr. Poo. Yep, an animated pile of shit. Aside from the fact that this concept required zero creativity, I believe that by presenting a "cute" character to illustrate the issue detracts from its importance. I don’t think even Disney could make a lump of dung charming.

Given the youthful target audience I believe cartoons are a great medium, but perhaps Constable Crapper could lead the charge with help from his trusty informant Stan Stool-ie. Maybe Doctor Defecto and Nurse No could point out the dangers of public defection. By animating the actual problem in this way, it seems to me they have lost some of the gravity of things.

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