Surfing the Spectacle

Art and the Toilet


An immensely talented friend of SurfingtheSpectacle went over to the dark side last year to work for a New York advertising agency. Her skills at hawking false dreams and empty commodities are equaled only by her insistence that the medium is no more or less honest than anything else.

She recently sent us a dispatch with an improbable tale of ethics on Madison Avenue. I submit the fantastic report here:

Because you love appropriation and hate advertising, I thought I’d write down the reaction of a Professional Advertising Man to a concept that involved using classic works of art to sell underwear. (Really, it was so bad.)

He said, “From an ethics point of view, it’s not right to do that to great art. You can’t take a Picasso and put George Steinbrenner’s face on it. You can’t fuck with Rembrandt. You. Just. Can’t. Do. This. I’m sorry, but this is just wrong.”

Naturally, this episode never occurred. An advertising man evoking ethics? The very idea of it shocks the imagination. Why not a moose flying a rocket ship to the planet Kloziak?!! Yes, our friend is in a profound state of denial.


But the fantasy does evoke a certain toilet advertisement we once saw. And that, in turn, reminds us of a commercial for toilet paper that we once envisioned:

Camera dollies through rooms of elegant household. Various artifacts of wealth. Butler passes thru frame. The music of Verdi plays. We hear the deep, refined, almost hushed voice of the narrator.

NARRATOR (V.O.) When you live in a civilized world, why then, you want civilized things. You deserve it. The best wines. The best furnishings. And yes, even the best of bathroom tissue.

Camera now goes through bathroom door to reveal well–dressed GENTLEMAN, pants down, on the toilet admiring a few sheets of toilet paper he has torn.

NARRATOR (V.O.) That’s why we make Soft and Superior.

DISSOLVE TO: Close up on the toilet paper images held in hand by Gentleman.

NARRATOR (V.O.) With a reproduction of a Classic Art Masterpiece…

DISSOLVE TO: Pan of close-up tissue images (a Rubens, a Renoir, etc.).

NARRATOR (V.O.) (continues) …on each and every sheet. Quality you can see……

DISSOLVE TO: Medium shot waist up on Gentleman admiring the sheet he has torn. He looks at camera and speaks.

GENTLEMAN That enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa – what secrets does it hold?

NARRATOR (V.O.) …Quality you can feel.

As the GENTLEMAN’S hand holding the paper reaches behind, the camera discreetly pans over to a roll of the toilet paper sitting atop a stylish pearl table near a vase of long-stemmed roses. Camera gently moves in on the roll until its product name – Soft And Superior – can easily be read.

NARRATOR (V.O.) Soft and Superior – Bathroom Tissue for the Civilized Ass.


[Photomontage by Kat Padua. Michelangelo toilet image from actual Kohler ad published in upscale magazines in the late 1990’s.]

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