written AGES ago for something else but never publicly published-seems fitting for today.
For as long as man has roamed the earth, he has focused—nay, obsessed—over finding the ideal material with which to wipe his ass. I don’t begrudge him that desire—it is, after all, responsible for maintaining a certain level of healthfulness in the population. Keeping one’s ass clean—and ensuring clean hands after said cleansing—is an important and often unsung building block of human cultural advancement. As fundamental as toilet paper—and the biological function that drives us to its use—is, we are, at least in America, remarkably uptight about it.
Don’t think so? Pick the stall with no toilet paper next time you’re in a public restroom. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to talk yourself into asking the person at the next stall if they can spare a square—if, that is, you’re lucky enough to have someone in the stall next door.
Of course, the stuff in public restrooms is mediocre, really, uninspired and utilitarian tissue that gets the job done. That’s not what this post is about; I’m more interested in the stuff we bring into our homes, or, rather, the stories tissue companies tell us to sell us on their wipes.
My earliest toilet paper ad memories are of Mr. Whipple, a man with a mission: trying (and failing) to keep overly-invested toilet paper shoppers from crushing the wares.
Oh, Mr. Whipple. May you rest in
Mr. Whipple’s plea (”Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”) served to sell us on the notion that this toilet paper was so soft, grown men had to be employed to keep the public’s grubby mitts from ruining the object before they’d completed their purchases. But even Mr. Whipple, self-appointed champion of Charmin’s virtue, couldn’t keep his own hands from sampling the softness.
There there was the talking toilet paper roll, paper that sold itself to you with the promise that it was as soft as—and therefore soft enough for—your baby’s bare bottom.
Do they even make Border anymore? The ad has been pulled. 😦
So many toilet paper ads in my youth. I have hazy memories of them, commercials that touted a softness angels might weep to never know, sheets and sheets of candy floss paper children would use to pad their bottoms when learning to ride their bicycles. Then there was the quilting, a wonder of engineering that made perfectly puffed pockets to polish your pucker. At some point I stopped watching as much daytime television, a fact I directly attribute to my shock the first time I saw an ad featuring the Charmin Bears.
They were cute and all, but there was something off about the whole enterprise. Why do I care what a bear uses when it shits in the woods? Do bears have indoor plumbing? Are they often beset with that not-so-fresh feeling?
Why am I, a consumer, supposed to identify with a bear shitting in the woods, searching for the perfect toilet paper? It wasn’t until they ran the ad where Boo Boo is dancing about with shards of tissue stuck to his furry butt that I came to understand the sad, sad truth: in an ever-tightening toilet paper market, industry players feel compelled to be explicit about how well their products achieve their primary function, a function that we generally don’t want to discuss in “polite society.” Bears of the Yogi and BooBoo variety provide perfect stand-ins for actual people who actually, you know, poop, and who are, apparently, concerned about residual bits of toilet paper that might be sticking to their bottoms after they’ve wiped their asses.
I’ve never really lost any sleep over this particular issue, but the mere existence of this ad campaign (it’s been running for a couple of years, at least) suggests that the good people making Charmin think this is something enough of us are concerned about to use the bears as a marketing strategy. Humans can’t talk about it, but bears? Why not?
Then I saw this ad for Northern Ultra-Mega-Softer-than-the-Asses-of-Angels:
Real people getting real about the real deal with toilet paper, but they still can’t quite talk about it. At home we’re meant to fill in the gaps. Neither my husband nor I are quite sure what to make of it, but I remark that they might as well just have done with it and say “our toilet paper wipes all of the shit from your ass without getting any of it on your hands” because that’s basically the premise. I don’t see why we need to have the explicit conversation, but if we must, then let’s have it already. Why not set up Porta Potties in public spaces and have Pepsi-Challenge-esque tests?
I suppose, though, that wouldn’t be polite. Still, if you make your living selling shit wipes, then wouldn’t you want definitive proof that yours were the best wipes evah? As the good book tells us, Everybody Poops—and we want a nice soft tissue to wipe with when we’re done.