LET ONE R.I.P: FART JOKES ARE DEAD

Fart jokes are dead: meaning they’re have no function, only existing as memory of what was once funny. I will consider fart jokes in the context of Christmas Day, and I will consider Christmas Day as a microcosm of wider society.

Everyone’s sat at the makeshift christmas dinner table in anticipation of the forthcoming feast. Prosecco is gushing from bottle necks to thirsty necks. To help fulfil the christmas paraphernalia quota, the christmas cracker-pulling commences. I predictably win; trick is to hold a firm grip and let the opponent exert themselves with a pull. Out falls a chrome bottle opener, a green paper crown and the dreaded trivia/joke slip. The table takes it in turns to humour each other’s ‘Mince Spies’ and ‘Frostbite’* with what can’t be considered anymore than a pity groan and eye roll, ‘oh very good’. I clear my throat, it’s my turn to share my joke with the group. 

 

‘What did the maxi-pad say to the fart?’ 

 

I stop. I can feel the male bum cheeks in the room clench. 

 

‘You are the wind beneath my wings’

 

A succinct but genuine chuckle breaks out, which for a christmas cracker joke is essentially a standing ovation, roses flung on stage and an encore.

 

Not only was it a christmas cracker joke we’d never heard but it referenced the traditionally glossed-over menstruation and (female) flatulence in such a context that framed them as anything but the taboo they currently widely are. The christmas cracker joke’s veil of innocence hangs over, whilst the fart joke makes it directly relatable to men, women and dogs alike, leaving the ‘maxi-pad’ unoccupied to linger in peoples’ minds as a flag bearer for accepted conversation topics.

 

At that moment, the christmas cracker joke and the fart joke; up until now what I had considered to be usually two reliably ‘innocent’ art forms; crept into the realm of tendentiousness ‘In the one case the joke is an end in itself and serves no particular aim, in the other case it does serve an aim - it becomes tendentious’ [1]

 

I begin to daydream about the fart joke resurrection.

 

A resurrection to launch it’s career in serving aims other than the usual pity laughs.

 

A trojan horse fart joke perhaps?

 

Freud says ‘the best achievements in the way of jokes are used as an envelope for thoughts of greatest substance’ [2]. Because fart jokes in particular are so commonly shrugged off as being ‘a safe space, something that insulates laughter from the threats of politics, of irony, of any kind of meaning or implication.’ [3], they have the perfect opportunity to use that as a diversion tactic to at least get through ‘the gates’ of a cause/issue/institution- with an ulterior motive to hand.

 

The purpose of the joke is to cause amusement or laughter, so when it ceases to do that, there’s a vacant spot for a new purpose as appose to it being written off as completely useless. Katerina Kamprani’s ‘The Uncomfortable Watering Can’ no longer has the watering can’s function of merely pouring water but ‘to deconstruct the invisible design language of simple everyday objects and tweak their fundamental properties in order to surprise you and make you laugh. But also to help you appreciate the complexity and depth of interactions with the simplest of objects around us.’ [4].

 

I argue that the fart joke is the ‘simple everyday object’ of humour that can have it’s fundamental properties tweaked to challenge the recipient’s values, beliefs, attitudes, or behaviour’ reminiscent of the methods of Speculative Design. In Speculative Everything, Dunne and Raby speak of how ‘…it is becoming clear that the challenges we face today are unfixable and that the only way to overcome them is by changing our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour.’[5] and so as a part-way solution design could be used ‘as a means of speculating how things could be’.

 

What does it mean for an unfunny fart joke to be understood as speculative design and therefore the writer of said joke to be a speculative designer?

 

In Metahaven’s ‘Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?’, they discuss this idea on a broader scale. ‘We consider a designer here to be any formmaker, regardless of material; design is merely a few decisions on a form and it’s boundary- in jokes, this consists of what is said and importantly, what is not said.’ [6]

STINK BOMB

 

Perhaps if the fart joke at the christmas dinner was a stink bomb, the reception may not have been so rapturous. Everyone’s finding their seats at the table, I seize the chance, I plant the Stink Bomb amongst the gifts under the tree, activate it and flee to my seat at the table. My uncle erupts with a tumultuous gag. The foul smell disperses until it has overridden any remnants of the three mulled wine scented candles in the room, what a feat. Everyone but my dad files out holding their nose, he’s the martyr that goes to hunt for the source.

 

Not discriminatory, this virtually sentient practical ‘joke’ boasts the ability to completely puppeteer a room.

 

Here, we consider John Stuart Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism wherein no-one’s pleasure is greater than others and everybody counts as one, nobody as more. ‘I’, the culprit in this situation is aware of the definite discomfort that will ensue and yet continues at the acquisition of only their own pleasure and person gain.

 

Jim Tidwell from philosophy blog ‘Concept Crucible’ gives an excellent analogy.

 

Pranking isn’t wrong, but it can be problematic. It’s like back rubs. If a person asks for a back rub, it’s fine to give them one. If you have a history of trading back rubs, then sure. Back rubs require you to be considerate of another person’s time, space, and well-being. And most importantly of all, if a person does not want a back rub, keep your hands, no matter how deft or well-intentioned, the fuck off.’ [7].

 

The profound physical effect the ‘stink bomb’ has on those present accounts for why they’re so popular as prank videos, videos when it’s clear the recipients are not in the market for a backrub.

 

The audience behind the screens gets to experience the reactions of those present without any of the smelly negatives. For example, ‘CRAZY STINK BOMB PRANK!!! (IN WALMART)’ [8].’You shouldn’t be doing that’ one woman says to the culprits, and quite right too. NOTE: This video has since become ‘unavailable’ on Youtube.

 

The appropriateness of Mill’s theories does rest on the context of the target. Take ‘Package Thief vs. Glitter Bomb Trap’  [9] for example. 

Mark Rober created a ‘revenge bait package’ to take a stand against people stealing packages from his porch. When the culprit opens the package, a pound of glitter is expelled and they get five shots of fart spray. Here the thief is undoubtably in the wrong and is only experiencing the fart prank as a direct result of that in comparison to the Christmas stink bomb being entirely unprovoked as a lot of fart prank videos are.

 

Compare that to the use of ‘Skunk’ (a liquid stink bomb sprayed with tanker trunk cannons) by Israeli army on protesters in Palestinian village Bil’in [10]. This huge-scale fart joke is no longer a joke, but wherein does the boundary lie? The non-consensual tool is harmless to health and is ‘an attempt to minimise casualties’ [11] at the protests, so the means make attempts to justify the end. 

 

 

NAN FARTS

 

How would Nan farting fare as the christmas fart joke? The whole room is gradually slumping towards a unanimous lounge, collaging themselves onto the living room’s soft furnishings, with Nan claiming the arm chair throne. The cabbage-and-onion rich Christmas dinner has had time to digest to the point of inevitable flatulence. SQUARP, a royal fart is announced to the masses practically winding everybody with shock. The proceeding delay lulls us into a false sense of security then it hits, the kind of hot smell that burns your nose, so foul it almost seems not real. We begin to look at each others’ bulldog-like disgruntled faces and can’t help but laugh at the absurdity and drama of it all.

 

NOTE: I consider Nan farting to be a fart joke in the sense that it’s in the realm of farts and makes people laugh, albeit not by choice.

 

When it comes to farting, it’s common knowledge that the older generation get a free pass.

 

As a sweeping statement: their bodies flirt with incontinence, they’re repellant of self-conscious tendencies held by others, and they’ve got anecdotal dirt on the most of the family.

 

By them using their flatulence privilege and farting with no remorse, bringing humour into it, it lessens the stigma around doing so in public, consequently making it less embarrassing for the rest of us to simply let go.

 

This notion lends itself as an analogy to the advocacy for those with societal privileges to use them and speak out to help those without [12]. A particularly useful analogy because of how inclusive farts are, we fart when we’re born, when we’re dead and everywhere in between. The more people who feel connected, the more potential people there are to be informed of their privilege’s potential. Then by delivering that analogy in the form of a joke, people’s guards are let down, making them more susceptible to influence.

 

It’s particularly significant that the person in question is female.

 

She doesn't know it yet but ‘Nan’ redeeming her fart free-pass, she’s trump-by-trump helping to puncture the female flatulence and ‘ladylike’ discourse.

 

Step by step getting closer to stopping the circulation and eliminating the grossly patronising sayings, such as ‘Women don’t fart. They do however shoot tiny puffs of glitter, that sound like unicorn’s laughter and smell like rainbows’ or ‘I’m honestly convinced that some women don’t fart. They just store it up and it comes out as drama.’.

 

Contemplating the future of the fight for flatulence shame emancipation on a wider scale, I consider Andrew Howard’s comment on the division of ‘citizens’ bodies into separate marketing zones. ‘The desire to avoid giving off offensive odours is redefined as a positive, and normal, desire to achieve ‘personal hygiene,’ and is pictured as a continuous, and inevitable, struggle in which only the deliberately anti-social would refuse to participate.’ [13]

 

Perhaps the intensity of the stigma gets to the point of the marketisation of farts, where the anxieties around releasing a heinous poof causes the plummet of onions, cabbage and other smelly culprit sales. Perhaps the ‘pill that makes your flatulence smell of roses’ [14] becomes as mainstream as roll-on deodorant, the cause of embarrassment evaporates, leading to the collapse of the fart and it’s accompanying joke as we know it.

 

 

 

ACTION

 

Having acknowledged that fart jokes are in fact not dead, I propose it’s reputation resurrection in the form of the previously mentioned ‘trojan horse fart joke’, situated in the scenario of Christmas Day, more specifically Christmas Dinner. 

The narrative of taking the fart joke (a familiar object), subverting it, and reinserting into circulation draws on the likes of Meireles' ‘Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project’ [15] and the Suffragettes’ ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’ coin defacing [16] . Both examples successfully use material investments to intrude into people’s homes with their protest, as does the trojan horse.

 

My action will consist of a series of tendentious fart-related christmas cracker jokes in which the set-up subtly alludes to a taboo or perhaps problematic subject, only for the punchline to violate the anticipated silliness with cold hard reality.

 

Here, I look to the realm of Anti-Humour, ‘the practice of removing the expected punchline or joke from a familiar humorous situation and replacing it with something non-humorous and serious. The laugh is supposed to come from subverting the audience's expectations and making them uncomfortable; hence the name’ [17]. It’s the irony that’s of comedic value.

 

The christmas cracker joke and the fart joke already have such an established specific tone that the employment of anti-humour will guarantee an initial confusion. Naturally, that’s predominantly followed by will to understand, which manifests itself as contemplating the joke’s referenced issue.

 

I see these jokes as existing only amongst christmas cracker jokes of a conventional nature, a one trojan horse per christmas table policy. This will maximise the reinforcement of the ‘silly’ punchline expectation and consequently the discomposure when it’s far from what was predicted.

What do you call Mrs Clause’s fart?

 

Emitted wind from the anus.

Inspired by ‘Nan’, the issue at hand here is the mindset that female farts are at all anomalous. Upon hearing the set-up the recipient is led to believe that the punchline will reinforce the idea that the reverberations of a fart changes depends on who’s done it. In reality, a fart is a fart, and then punchline being the literal definition of a fart reflects that.

 

Why couldn't the snow angel fart?  

Because it’s 2030 and snow doesn’t exist anymore.

The issue here is climate change, more specifically global warming. The setup alludes to a possible christmas and fart combination pun. Instead, in an extremely simplified way, the punchline references a UN climate change report in which they warn we have until 2030 to prevent climate change disasters [18]. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a negative correlation between increased global warming and snow levels [19] but for the sake of succinct communication, I feel the punchline works for the sentiment of the world getting warmer and heat directly melting snow/ice. 

 

 

CONSEQUENCES

 

- I worry that the jokes translate as trivialising serious issues but sometimes thats necessary in order to make it more easily digestible. ‘When jokes are told about serious matters, we are not necessarily treating these matters as though they were not serious. We can laugh at the serious, and sometimes we do so precisely because we recognize it to be serious.’ [20]

- It’s possible that the conversations prompted by these jokes could cause excessive conflict within the group or that people will simply groan and partly shut off in the same way people groan when someone explicitly brings up Brexit or religion at a dinner party. I fear the ‘Oh here we go!’. 

+ To understand the joke you must first acknowledge the reality of the issue at hand. Because the joke may only be understood by some people, it allows those who are familiar with the issue to explain it to those who aren’t with the light-hearted facade that it’s so they too can find it funny, when really it’s much much more.

+ The difference between my action and both Meireles’ Coca-Cola bottles and the Suffragette’s coins is that my action cannot be physically removed from circulation by opposition. Once a joke is out, it’s out, almost impossible to trace it’s web of influence. It’s path of construction. ‘jokes, like laughs, are contagious, even if their intention is deadly serious’ [21]

+ ‘Responding to a sensical question with a meaningless answer is an effective tool to negate the politics of the frame in which the question was posed; and the politics has become so dispiriting and tiring that it inspired a dadaist troll mentality.’ I consider my jokes to responding to a meaningless question with a sensical question [22]

 

CONCLUSION 

The moral good of a fart joke comes from it’s function of serving others. The realisation of the fart joke’s power comes with a reluctance to publicise and convince others of it. It’s strength comes from the underestimation of it, it’s unsuspected, it’s ‘dead’.

FART COUNT: 47