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"Mature" modern society giggles when poop is mentioned

Whenever a story is really popular, it makes sense to look at what the human interest factor is. Chances are its practical importance is negligible, but something has fascinated the population.

In the case of Carnival Cruise Lines floating disaster off the coast of Mexico, the appeal was poop. We can't talk about feces except with clinical detachment, because we're supposed to be "mature" about it. However, human nature comes out when given a "safe" way to talk about the fascinating grossness of it all.

The headlines played it up. "Floating Petri dish," sewage streaming down the walls, passengers defecating in plastic bags, the stench inside so bad people camped out on deck, and so on. But really, everyone just wanted an excuse to gab about poop.

At some point during the ordeal urine and feces streamed in the halls and down walls after toilet facilities failed, soaking the mattress of a friend of his who was sleeping in a hallway, said Larry Poret.

Poret said toilets on the ship worked on and off, but were too inconsistent to trust.

He said waste tipped out of some commodes and sloshed across floors as the ship listed to the side.

"It runs down the walls from one floor to the next. It's running out of somebody's bathroom out into the hallway all the way across," he said.


During the tow back to the United States, "the vessel listed sharply several times, causing human waste to spill out of non-functioning toilets, flood across the Vessel's floors and halls, and drip down the Vessel's walls," it says.

"Plaintiff was forced to endure unbearable and horrendous odors on the filthy and disabled Vessel, and wade through human feces in order to reach food lines where the wait was counted in hours, only to receive rations of spoiled food. Plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating Petri dish, a floating hell."


The crew aboard Carnival Triumph didn't hesitate when a fire broke out and power was lost, an emergency that turned the cruise liner into a bobbing Porta-Potty.

Without functioning toilets, passengers were given red biohazard bags to use -- and it became the crew's duty to pick up the used ones.

Some passengers shared the bags; others lined baskets with them and turned them into makeshift outhouses.


The few non-western countries I've visited displayed a culture that is in complete opposition to anything crass or distasteful. Whereas in the west people look at you like a square for not laughing at poop jokes, the rest of the world (including the pre-modern west) look at you as a subhuman if you do.


It's been a while since a complete non-story got so much coverage, I suppose it was due. I wonder to what extent it was a popular story due simply, straightforwardly to the fact that the coverage was so abundant. After all it's a pretty simplistic story, a rather black-and-white statement of facts and interviews without any overarching moral dilemmas of significance, so the coverage must have been utterly repetitive and redundant. I hear some people said they were 'hooked' on the coverage, but what could account for this? If you see half an hour of coverage then you've seen it all, so why watch it again over and over? Perhaps people just like to see others suffer, and the relative harmlessness of the cruise ship passengers' ordeal means viewers don't have to feel too badly about watching it. Maybe deep down the average person feels utterly disgusted with everything--whether or not they consciously realize it--and externalizing the feeling as the Other's problem affords a twisted sense of catharsis.

I figured people were interested in this story because it's what happens when all commodified facilities suddenly are not available to humans anymore. This is just a micro version of what could happen to our entire civilization in the case of a large scale disaster or war.


But yeah, perhaps average Joe just likes to read about people who are literally forced to wallow in their own shit because it makes him feel better than others. Or worse: maybe it makes other people seem less superior? Either way this could happen to anyone who just happens to be unlucky. It's the way we act in such a situation that defines our true nature, not the fact that "shit happens" to everyone.

I instantly thought of "The Filth" by Grant Morrison.  One of the episodes revolves around a gigantic mega-cruise liner called the 'Libertania' which is basically a floating luxury city.  The Libertania descends into total revolt, chaos, and debauchery.  I'm always blown away when real life events are prefigured in fiction.