Give a Shit
Here’s what happened to convince us Pork and Beans is rhetorical. Technically, there's no jumpin' Jack Flash, but we think Mick Jagger would agree that it’s “A gas, gas, gas.”
The night before Mrs. Stimson’s fifth/sixth grade combo—as Mrs. Stimson later came to find out—a student ate two cans of Pork and Beans. The following day was a noisy, humorous, and pretty flatulent one as the student became an infamous part of Sand Lake Elementary School folklore. Through his deviant behavior regarding public decorum, this orator became a legend. He felt no shame releasing the pressure he’d created, to use his alternative non-verbal and non-discursive “voice.” He used this “voice” to emphasize when his hand was raised and to punctuate answers he’d give. He gas, gas, gassed the class, class, class.
The story (a legend Paul remembers from his elementary school days) illustrates a rhetorical maneuver that is easy to overlook when considering rhetorical situations and rhetorical possibilities. A rhetor giving a speech, for instance, has a toolkit of moves at her/his disposal for affecting an audience: analogies, chiasmuses, metonyms, symploce, enargia, catechresis, and tautologia. But a rhetor using Pork and Beans to “voice” or a gas-preventing product like Beano to quell a “voice” isn’t often considered to be selecting from a rhetorical toolkit. She/he’s doing something, but it’s difficult to describe what it is.
Though it isn't commonly associated with rhetoric like words and pictures, food and digestive technologies (i.e. Beano and Pork and Beans) can be interpreted as material rhetorical moves like words and pictures. Material rhetoric is “a mode of interpretation that takes as its object of study the significations of material things and corporeal entities—objects that signify not through language but through their spatial organization, mobility, mass, utility, orality and tactility” (Dickson 297). Material rhetoric, furthermore, “as a mode of interpretation, reads for the ways persons inscribe on [and, our addition: “in”] their corporeal bodies the culture that produces them and that they mutually produce” (Dickson 298).
Just as words and pictures are signifying technologies that produce effects (e.g. feelings and actions) on an audience through their “ingestion” or “intake” (i.e. through ears and eyes), “material things” and “corporeal entities” like food, digestive technologies, and human digestion do so as well. And just as rhetors studying how words and pictures often communicate or signify, material rhetoricians examine the—sometimes unexpected—ways “in which physical reality itself is treated as rhetorical and communicative” (Packer and Croft Wiley 111).
The Pork and Beans story also illustrates another important issue connected to material rhetoric: gender inequal material practices. We find telling that a boy decided to eat Pork and Beans the night before class with the intent to have his "voice" heard. It is telling because it alludes to how gender continues to plays an important role in American gustatory practices.
Though certainly contexts are important in analyzing rhetorical situations, it’s difficult to imagine our example of folklore as being as “funny” or as acceptable if the rhetorical performance were conducted by a girl or woman.
In fact, in his study of "fartlore" or the communication practices (e.g. narrative, speech, and proverbs) on the meaning of flatulence in childhood and adolesence, Trevor J. Blank comments that "fartlore is mostly performed by males because it helps to reinforce social and cultural expectations of 'manly behavior.' Conversely, the expectations of females are elevated and hyper-sexualized, which discourages deviance from behaviors that would indicate otherwise." (71).
Though she doesn't examine "fartlore" or flatulence, material rhetorical theorist and feminist scholar Sharon Crowley describes the impact of social and cultural expectations on women:
Women’s worth has been [and continues to be] measured through and by their bodies: Are these virginal or not? Impregnable or not? ‘Attractive’ or not? Negatively charged cultural constructions of women’s bodies as both dangerous and fragile have forced women to become highly conscious of their bodies—the space they occupy in a room, on the street, in a crowd. As objects of the male gaze, women know what it means to occupy the position of the ‘other,’ even if they do not read the philosophical texts in which they are imagined as such. (358)
Monitoring flatulence or being "highly conscious" of what bodies produce in "appropriate" spaces and at "appropriate" times is another way women become the other and objects of the male gaze.
We believe understanding how food and/or digestive technologies inscribe gender and work to communicate are necessary additions to the rhetor’s and feminist’s toolkit. We aim to imitate Bordo in her feminist work on bodies and “highlight a discourse that is gradually changing our conception and experience of our bodies, a discourse that encourages us to ‘imagine the possibilities’ and close our eyes to limits and consequences” (23). To put it another way, we feel similarly to how Blank views the importance of understanding "fartlore":
Nevertheless, the impact impressed upon pre-adults carries into the consciousness of their adult selves, which serves to cyclically reinforce expectations of bodily control in future generations, and continues to control the existing definitions of behavioral ideals and social constructions of maturity. (72)
By examining Beano, its material rhetoric, and the discourse that surrounds it (i.e. its advertising or "fartloric" strategies") The Daily Gas adds to our understandings of the ways bodies’ incremental and excremental proclivities are rhetorical and gendered.
Our latinzing, ethos-building, and scholarly name for our material rhetorical work is digestia. Our hope is that this concept and conceptual lens builds creatively on the work of material rhetoricians and opens rhetoric up further beyond a focus on symbols—words, pictures, and sounds—and external events or objects and into an analysis of how material signs (e.g. Beano, Gas-X, Pork and Beans) connect to gender and bodies in important rhetorical ways.
We invite you to take the plunge and unroll our issue of The Daily Gas—a sort of breaking-wind newspaper, if you will. We report on the vapor trail left by that legendary rhetorical trendsetter from Sand Lake Elementary School. We make a case for digestia and explore how men and women are instructed to use food rhetorically—to use digestia to regulate and control their bodies’ offensive outputs through the choices they make in products promoting digestive health and bodily control.
In “Lifting the Lid,” you’ll find our theoretical background and a description of terms and concepts for looking at bodies and food through a digestia lens. In “Shit,” we examine the rhetorical stratification of gender in Beano's website and analyze a series of commercials Beano ran promoting their products.
We show how Beano instructs users to imagine and control their bodies. “Flush” flushes out our main points and calls for more studies from a digestia perspective.
Finally, don't feel guilty where you take this to peruse. It really is bathroom reading.
Lifting the Lid
Each issue in this section "lifts the lid" or reveals and explains the important terms and theoretical lenses we are using in our analysis. Click on an issue to read it. Below are definitions of the main concepts we discuss in this section.
- Digestia - a term for describing how ingestion and digestion of food and food technologies are communicative acts.
- Consubstantiation - the ways in which “Things or people, different in other ways, may have one common factor in which they are consubstantial or substantially the same” (Fogarty 74).
- Substantiation - the physical changes in bodies that occur as a result of ingestion and digestion.
- Transubstantiation - the relationship between signs and symbols where symbols (i.e. words, visual images, sounds, etc.) have bodily, physical effects (substance) and cause signs and vice versa.
- Invented Kairos - a term for a rhetor creating "propitious" or "right" time and "right" space
- Situated Kairos - a term for pre-existing times and spaces for "right" or "propitious" communication.
The issues in this section use Beano commercials and infomercials to illustrate digestia and concepts described in "Lifting the Lid." Each issue examines Beano's rhetorical/digestia moves (i.e. how Beano uses consubstantiation and substantiation). We chose not discuss transubstantiation because of its implicit connection to the other terms. At the end of each issue, we have brief lessons about what was learned from the commercials presented.
To create our dataset, we searched video databases for Beano commercials (i.e. Vimeo, YouTube, and Adland and Beano's official website). We avoided parodies and DIY Beano commercials though these were often very well done and difficult to distinguish from "real" Beano commercials. Our collection reflects the commercials most likely created by Beano. The last issue (Issue #9: Beano Dataset) contains all the Beano commercials and infomercials we collected and drew on for our discussion. Have a gas watching them!
We hope our tour through digestia, Beano’s commercials, and the kairotic dimensions of flatuential rhetoric illustrates another way in which patriarchy manifests itself in the control of women’s bodies. Additionally, we hope The Daily Gas contributes to discussions of rhetoric beyond visual and verbal text—beyond a focus on words and pictures. Digestia is a material rhetorical lens useful for exploring rhetorical ingestions and digestions of food and food technologies. In more of our symbols, digestia shows more clearly the confusion, connection, and interconnection between bodies, symbols, and signs than many definitions or understandings of rhetoric allow for.
Digestia, however, isn’t the only way that bodies are being controlled, consubstantiated, substantiated, and transubstantiated excrementally. There are other ways flatulence and excrement are under rhetorical control.
External technologies like Shreddies' fart filtering underwear and TweetPee are new technologies for managing bodies. Shreddies' fart filtering underwear plays with "fartlore" and is advertised in a highly sexualized manner designed to help men and women avoid the shame of the smell of flatulence. TweetPee, a mobile app that allows those caring for infants to be updated via a text when a diaper needs changing, allows caretakers to worry themselves about waste only when it is unavoidable.
We call on fellow cultural critics and rhetors to keep making discussions about material rhetorics unavoidable. We encourage scholars to continue analyzing how bodies are language and are punctuated, syntaxed, grammared, and are consubstantiated, transubstantiated, and substantiated by ingestive, digestive, mobile, and wearable communicative technologies like Beano, TweetPee, and Shreddies – rhetorics we often do not pay attention to. By paying attention to the ways rhetoric functions beyond visual and verbal text, we hope to highlight the inequities of excremental kairos and excremental discourse—where the onus of propitious bodily behavior is gender inequal and is involved in a “discourse that encourages us to ‘imagine the possibilities’ and close our eyes to limits and consequences” (Bordo 23).