Date:19 August 2013
I can’t believe I’m actually writing about farts. As any of my friends or relatives will testify, I have long regarded the habit as vulgar, unnecessary and self-indulgent, and I’m mildly embarrassed when the subject comes up in conversation (you’d be surprised how often this happens, even in polite company). As for blaming the family dog, let’s just say that these animals owe us big time: if we hadn’t domesticated the wolf many thousands of years ago, they’d still be hunting down their own Dogmor pellets, so accepting the blame for a minor expression of human frailty is little enough to ask.
However, one thing generally leads to another, and in this case, a perfectly innocent conversation about the online merchandising of underwear segued to a slightly disturbing revelation about vending machines in Japan, to an apparently genuine question about the potential lethality of dog farts, and finally, to a line of flatulence-filtering underwear called Shreddies. (Available for men and women, these amazing undergarments feature an activated carbon back panel that absorbs and neutralises all flatulence odours. The cloth is “reactivated” by washing the garment.)
My descent into this murky world began with a short story I picked up on Pulse, an excellent news-aggregating app – available for iOS and Android – that I consult every morning and evening to see what I’ve missed in the world of sci-tech (as a rule, quite a lot). It seems a company called MeUndies wants to build the online undies store of the future by raising money through a crowd-funding site called Crowdtilt, a sort of poor man’s Kickstarter.
As one of my friends asked, why would anyone want to buy underwear from an online store? Were some people too embarrassed to buy this stuff over the counter? Sequin-encrusted thongs they could understand, but ordinary boxers? Naturally, this led to a conversation about the behavioural idiosyncrasies of humans in small and large groups, little-known facts about flatulence, and the arcane yet strangely intriguing science of farts. Example: a multinational group of researchers found that the average person breaks wind 10 times a day. This includes airline pilots, who are apparently advised to let rip whenever they like (apparently without offending other members of the cabin crew) because postponing the inevitable could cause stress – and that’s the last thing you need at 10 000 metres.
Weird as it sounds, many talented people around the world have devoted weeks and even months to deconstructing the fart in its myriad forms and attempting to answer such awesomely relevant questions as “Can farts kill?”, “Can you die if you hold in a fart?” and “Can you capture a fart in a jar and use it later?”. If Nature has its way and you find yourself on the cusp of a social faux paux of horrific proportions, could sensible underwear be a solution? More poignantly, is it bad to blame the family dog? If you’re a serial farter, would it make sense to invest in a small dog and carry it everywhere you go?
If you find this kind of stuff interesting (and of course you do), I suggest you visit Brenna Lorenz’s “Facts on Farts” page and read up everything you need to know. That done, make your way to the Royal Fartorium for authentic sounds, then wrap up your research odyssey by sharing that classic baked beans scene from the Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles, courtesy of YouTube. Disclaimer: If you play this video in the office, PM will not be held responsible for the consequences.