At some point in my life, I became completely unaware of pop culture. I’m not sure when this happened, exactly, although I have a sneaking suspicion that being an only child raised by a set of older (and unabashedly weird) parents contributed to it. When I was younger, some of this ignorance was an affectation. I was the “cool counter-culture kid”. I didn’t need to know about Paris Hilton or Shrek the Third. Now that I’m an adult, I still find it easier to just ignore 90% of social trends. I don’t think I’m a fundamentally better or worse person for my lack of engagement with pop culture; my priorities are just different.
On the rare occasion that I am made aware of a trend, I typically respond to it with the exact reaction you’d expect from an anthropologist who is likely on the autism spectrum: utter bafflement. In the case of the recent trend I’m going to discuss, this reaction has turned from bafflement to disgust and bewilderment over the course of the past several years. This trend is the emergence of poop-themed toys.
I have absolutely no idea where or when this popularization of poop toys happened, but I’m going to take a page from the Baby Boomer Handbook and blame technology. Specifically, I am referring to that obnoxious smiling poop emoji. According to an article from poopourri.com, the first poop emoji came onto the scene in 2010. At that point, it was a literal pile of feces, complete with buzzing flies. Poopurri.com assures me that, “Gmail held the strongest path of resistance against the emoji, stating that they felt people would be offended by the vulgarity of the emoji.” In response, the creators of the emoji changed it into the big-eyed character we all recognize today. They also tried to market it as, “a chocolate soft-serve swirl,” as though that was somehow less scatological.
Unfortunately for the human race, this wide eyed pile of dung wormed its way into popular culture where it has remained to this very day. Apparently, in 2010 we forgot what thousands of years of sanitation improvements had taught us — that poop is disgusting. Instead, the poop emoticon became a cute and irreverent marketing tool. Much to my horror, I have noticed that the prevalence and diversity of poop-themed toys and other merchandise is ever-increasing.
My first exposure to the David Lynchesque body horror that is an anthropomorphic pile of waste was in 2015 when I visited Six Flags. Up and down the midway, in place of prizes of gigantic teddy bears or vaguely racist bananas were plush poop emojis. Instead of being brown, some of these were ‘rainbow’ or ‘unicorn’ colored, which seems to me like it would indicate some sort of terrifying medical condition. But I digress. In the subsequent four years, there has been an explosion of the poop emoji’s popularity in merchandise. Now if you do a quick search on your favorite online retail site, you will find many, many different types of poop-themed products. These include:
- Poop-shaped stress balls Because what’s less stressful than the thought of squeezing a giant turd in your hands?
- Poop-themed bedding/sheet sets Back in my day, most kids thought shitting the bed was a bad thing, but I guess I’m just a cranky old lady of 29, so what do I know?
- Poop-themed candy, treats, and other food items I honestly don’t know where to start with this one, because I find the idea of coprophagia so singularly repulsive.
There are others, of course, but these are some of the most upsetting examples that I found. One especially horrifying doll that I saw recently is something called a Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn. I imagine that this line of dolls came about when someone on DeviantArt decided that he should go into toy making, because I’m not sure who else could have come up with the grossest, most disquieting toy line in history. For reference, these dolls are some sort of anthropomorphic unicorn babies with diapers, long flowing hair, and gigantic bedroom eyes. Thinking that I was perhaps some sort of sex pervert, I showed the images to several of my friends, including Amandoll, who agreed that they looked “oddly sexual.”
Despite being clearly designed by a very lonely furry with an adult baby and scat fetish (or what I refer to as ‘the dark triad’), these toys were advertised frequently on Cartoon Network as recently several months ago. I assume that their ad campaign is still in full-force because we live in the worst possible timeline. They were also featured on multiple lists of ‘toys of the year’ and ‘great Christmas gifts’, which is probably the best argument for atheism I’ve heard in years.
I admittedly did very little research about how these dolls work, because my doctor assures me that excessive abyss-staring is bad for my long-term mental health. However, I think they function like most toilet training dolls wherein you ‘feed’ the doll some sort of concoction and then the doll eliminates it in a plastic toilet. This, though, is where the similarities end. There have been dolls that urinate since at least the 1930s, and I assume toilet-training dolls are almost as old. But, most ‘traditional’ wetting dolls are meant to either
brainwash condition little girls into being housewives and mothers, or to teach kids about toilet training.
While I am entirely unsure of the purpose of the Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn (other than to share the designer’s weird sexual fantasies with the world), I’m fairly certain they’re not an attempt to teach kids about using the toilet. I say this because, after you feed the doll its ‘food’, it is somehow transformed into a glittery slime concoction in the doll’s innards. The anthropomorphic unicorn doll then poops out the slime into a little plastic toilet. And then, my dear little turnips, the child scoops the slime-poop out of the toilet and presumably plays with it.
Now, admittedly, I likely have coprophobia, because the thought of having to directly handle human feces sends me into a cold panic. But, even if I weren’t thoroughly repulsed by all things scatological, I would still think this is a bad idea. While the Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn is clearly marketed towards children who have been toilet-trained for several years, I just don’t think it’s a prudent idea for us as a society to encourage children (of any age) to play with feces.
I’m assuming that the average 7-year old has enough intellectual wherewithal to know that real poop isn’t a toy, (although that might be giving the average 7-year old too much credit), but is the same true for a younger child? Let’s consider a younger sibling of this 7-year old. They’re probably going through the process of toilet-training, or have recently gone through the process. Children, especially very young ones, don’t have a tremendous grasp on reality. I am also given to understand that they often imitate their older siblings. This leads me to believe that it is a very short step from “my older sibling is picking their toy’s poop out of the toilet and playing with it” to “I should do the same thing with my own excrement”. Perhaps I am mistaken in this assumption, but I have heard multiple stories about kids playing with their own feces. As someone who is viscerally repulsed by such tales, it is my firm opinion that we should do everything possible to discourage such behavior.
Like toilet-training dolls, gross children’s toys have been around for quite a while. When I was a kid, the hilarious gross-out toy of the 90s was Gooey Louie, a game where you picked long strings of snot out of a plastic man’s nose until his brain popped out of its skull (truly 90s surrealism at its finest). However, I distinctly remember my mother coming into the room where I was watching TV, seeing that Gooey Louie was being advertised, and then loudly telling me, “That is disgusting and I am not buying that for you. Ever.” Despite being a contrarian from a young age, I never developed an intense desire to own, or even play with, Gooey Louie. This is because, even at eight years old, I could recognize that my mother was right. It was disgusting.
Now, imagine if you will, a child of today. They probably have a name like Wyntyr or Bryxleigh. And the creators of Gooey Louie have decided to make an edgier, updated version of their iconic game for today’s youth. Only instead of Gooey Louie, they call it something like Poopy Petey. The object of the game is to pull turds out of a plastic cartoon man’s butt until his brain pops out, or he farts, or his intestines fall out, or something. If that game doesn’t exist, I’m claiming Intellectual Property rights here and now (copyright me 2019), because I want to ensure that my horrifying brain-child is never actually produced for the mass market.
Perhaps you think I am overreacting and such a toy is far too gross to see the light of day. A few years ago, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with you. But now that Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorns and their ilk have invaded the shelves of every toy department in America, I would argue that even the most basic rules of etiquette don’t hold as much clout as they used to.
A Plea to Parents
One of the main reasons that I am not especially eager to procreate is that I have no desire to spend several years of my life cleaning up another human’s poop or talking to them about it, which seems to be one of the few conversation topics that the average 3-year old has any interest in. But that’s one of the reasons why we shouldn’t encourage them! The average 3-year old has no knowledge of the world around them. They are sticky little chaos gremlins who have to be told not to play in traffic. This is not an indictment of 3-year olds, but rather an argument that we should not let them determine trends. The same is true of most other children, Young Earth creationists, and anyone else whose frontal lobe is not fully developed.
Although I do not spend much time around children, my understanding is that they are not typically independently wealthy. As such, the ones ultimately purchasing these poop-themed toys are adults. Here is perhaps the only instance where Nancy Regan has ever given good advice. Parents, I implore you, if your child wants you to buy them something poop-themed, “Just say no!”
Childhood is a beautiful thing, but that doesn’t mean that you need to encourage your kid to have a puerile sense of humor for any longer than necessary. Humans are gross. This is an indisputable fact of life. On any given day, our flesh sacks let out a disturbing number of unpleasant sounds and smells. As the popular children’s book tells us, Everybody Poops. This is, of course, true. However, I would argue that everyone also dies at some point, but we generally don’t go around reminding children of their eventual mortality. We as a society outgrew that in the Victorian era. So why, then, do we feel the need to encourage children’s obsession with feces?
There are also so many health and safety reasons why people shouldn’t handle excrement any more than absolutely necessary. I don’t care if that feces is glittery, or rainbowy, or whatever. Unless the toy comes with a child-sized hazmat suit and a toy bucket of bleach, it’s teaching bad sanitation habits. If a child doesn’t instinctively know, for whatever reason, that you shouldn’t handle poop, that is something they should be taught immediately.
There are already enough unfortunate places in the world that have inadequate access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities (thanks colonialism!). We don’t need another cholera outbreak in the United States because some parent couldn’t say no to their child’s burgeoning coprophilia. Back in my day, we were ashamed of our bodily functions! And, in the case of excrement, I would argue that a healthy level of shame is actually okay.