As a producer of fetish video, particularly fart porn, I’m often asked: What’s the appeal? Where do these body function fetishes, like fart fetish, sneeze fetish, burping, pissing and shitting come from?
There are specifics to each fetish, but the bottom line is the same: its a blatant display of behaviors we all do but keep private. And there’s something sexy about seeing women (or men) transgress these norms, lose physical control in “public,” and be, well, disgusting.
We can’t know whether these fetishes existed in different times and in different cultures, but its reasonable to theorize that they’re specific to Western culture. In a chapter on what makes Hustler magazine so popular, Laura Kipnis writes about disgust and the human body:
What we consider gross and disgusting is hardly some permanent facet of the human psyche: it’s historically specific and relatively recent. According to social historian Norbert Elias, disgust only fully emerges in the course of the sixteenth century rise of individualism, during which time we see the invention of the concept of privacy as well: our various requirements about closed (and locked) bathroom doors, our own plates to eat from, and delicacy around sexual and bodily matters are all aspects of this same process. Disgust is something precariously acquired in the course of the civilizing process (and a process that has to be recapitualized in the socialization of each individual modern child). During this social transformation, once communal activities – sleeping, sex, elimination, eating – becomes subject to new sets of rules of conduct and privatization. An increasingly heightened sense of disgust at the bodies and bodily functions of others emerged, and simultaneous with this process of privatization came a corresponding sense of shame about one’s own body and its functions. Certain once-common behaviors become socially frowned upon: spitting, scratching, farting, wiping your mouth on the tablecloth, or blowing your nose into your sleeve were replaced by increasingly detailed rules devoted to restraining the conduct of the body (and even how it might be spoken of) in public.
Historically speaking, manners have a complicated history as a mechanism of class distinction, that is, of separating the high from the low. Implements we now take for granted, like the fork and the handkerchief, were initially seen as upper-class affectations (you both blew your nose into and ate with your hands, and from communal dishes). Only gradually did they filter down through the social hierarchy…
As far more attention came to be paid to proprieties around elimination, to hygiene, to bodily odors, and to not offending others, thresholds of sensitivity and refinement in the individual psyche became correspondingly heightened. It wasn’t just behavior being reformed, it was the entire structure of the psyche, with the most shameful and prohibited behaviors and impulses (those around sex and elimination) propelled into the realm of the unconscious. The split, which Freud would later describe with the terms “ego” and “id,” is what would become the very substance of the modern individual. And the experience of disgust at what was once an ordinary part of daily life has become so completely part of our “nature” that defiance of bodily proprieties can result in actual physical revulsion. When we say of something disgusting “It made me sick,” this can be a physical fact, revealing just how deeply these codes have become embedded in who we are. And how threatening to our very beings transgressions of manners can be…
The power of grossness is very simply its opposition to high culture and official culture, which feels the continual need to protect itself against the debasements of the low (the lower classes, low culture, the lower body…)…
As Norbert Elias puts it, “People…seek to suppress in themselves every characteristic they feel to be animal.”
What’s so shocking about body function fetishes, like fart fetish, is that they’re appealing in part because of this sense of disgust. In a culture where bodily functions are kept private, farts become a hidden – often shameful – fantasy.
Shameless plug – a fantasy that can be fulfilled here and here.
Edited: March 13th, 2012