Fart Proudly In Philadelphia?

In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote a satirical letter, purporting to be a proposal for a subject for European scientists to study. Franklin, an amateur scientist himself, was making a snide point about what he considered to be rather frivolous research by the Europeans. The equivalent today would be those American politicians who routinely point out some of the more far-fetched research the federal government now funds. This tongue-in-cheek document is now known by the title "Fart Proudly," although Franklin didn't actually use that phrase in his satirical essay.

Franklin lays out his case that holding your farts in is actually dangerous to your health, so science should come up with a way to alleviate the odiferous problem so that everyone could, for lack of a better term, fart proudly:

It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so retain'd contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.

My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix'd with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

In case you missed the fact that he was kidding, in his final paragraph Franklin ponders how pleasing it would be if everyone's farts smelled wonderful, which would thus give everyone the "Liberty of Expressing one's Scent-iments." His final word on the subject of what the Europeans were currently studying was that they were "scarcely worth a FART-HING." Franklin wasn't above tossing puns around with abandon (another vice normally frowned upon in polite company), and one can only imagine that if he were alive today he would be amused to hear the news that some Democrats -- in the town Franklin once called home -- will be organizing a "fart-in" at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

Yes, you read that right. A fart-in. Beans are already arriving by the caseload from all points of the compass, in support of the protest. One organizer stated: "The fart-in is to raise attention about things that really stink in our society," and another explained:

[Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton] do not represent the American people. It's like they're reality-show characters, two villains who can't be trusted. It shows the level of absolute disgust that we're at -- we think we're going to remember 2016 as the year we begin to bury the two corporate political parties. It's really a shame -- this whole thing does stink. Democrats and Republicans are like Pepsi and Coke. They listen to corporations and they don't listen to anti-poverty activists.

The plan, according to the news article, is to: "feed beans to Democratic National Convention delegates for Bernie Sanders, and send them into the Philadelphia convention hall to show what they think of the former secretary of state." Beans will be provided in two "feeding locations" to entice delegates attending the convention with a number of varieties of beans to sample. The article also gives proper credit for the idea, noting: "Inspiration for the protest comes from Saul Alinsky, the community organizing theorist, who decades ago proposed a fart-in protest in Rochester, New York." See, just like the Republicans have always claimed, everything does reach back to the nefarious Saul Alinsky!

While one does sincerely hope that the ventilation system in Philly will be up to the task, you have to at least give the protesters points for creativity. Political protest and political theater always struggle to get noticed by the media, which has led to tactics designed to provide them with the click-bait "hook" the media so desperately craves. The Yippies refined this concept back in the 1960s (such as when they nominated a pig for president outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention), but the real expert at it in today's media environment is none other than Donald Trump, who routinely plays the media like a fiddle.

All kidding aside, however, this could be a year where the media is forced to pay more attention to what happens outside the conventions than the scripted campaign extravaganzas going on inside. Which could get interesting, to say the least.

Protesters have always shown up to political conventions -- at least going back to the fracas in Chicago in '68. Most of the time, their voices never get heard beyond those in earshot of the protest itself. At best, they might rate four or five seconds of video footage with a tossaway line about "and some protesters marched outside," without any coverage of the protest's message itself. The police and the conventions (and, shamefully, the courts) have conspired to further marginalize such protests, creating "free speech zones" where protests may officially happen -- usually miles away from where any delegate could possibly hear them. This legal pendulum is slowly swinging back to where it should be, I should add, since the Constitution actually designates the whole country as a "free speech zone" -- especially with regards to political speech.

This year, however, has seen wide divides in both political parties. There are a large number of people seriously dissatisfied with the way the primaries worked out. Add to this the usual partisan protests (Republicans protesting the Democratic convention, and vice versa), and the fact that the media is actually already primed to exploit the "serious divisions remain" storyline, and we might actually see some protests on television this time around.

The Republican National Convention is first on the calendar, and what everyone is wondering is whether the pro-Trump protesters and the anti-Trump protesters will clash in the streets of Cleveland. The New Black Panther Party ominously has called for protesters to (legally) carry firearms, "for protection" from the pro-Trump protesters. We've already seen several street battles between anti-Trump protesters and the police, anti-Trump protesters and pro-Trump crowds, as well as pro-Trump protesters reacting violently to anti-Trump protesters inside Trump rallies. The possibility for violence in Cleveland is very real, in other words. The media may be forced to cover protests just on the off chance that violence does erupt, to put this another way. If all goes well in Cleveland, though, less attention will be paid to any protests in Philadelphia, since few really now expect the progressive or liberal protests to end in such chaos.

Violence should never be the "media hook" for any organized protest, it almost goes without saying. Getting coverage in this way always backfires, as most Americans recoil in disgust when seeing streetfighting -- even when it comes from people they would otherwise agree with. Humor has always been a better tactic, because by making the story outlandish and hilarious, protesters can gain coverage that they otherwise wouldn't get -- and be able to actually make their serious point (after the initial laughs die down) to a much wider audience than they'd normally reach (which usually consists solely of those walking by on the sidewalk, at the time).

I am a member of the media myself, much as that occasionally embarrasses me. As such, I will not be taking place in protests in Philadelphia but rather attempting to cover them as news. So I will not be partaking of the free beans, but I might just talk to a few people who are. Whether a real stink is raised in the convention hall or whether the air conditioning prevents it, I have to say that the organizers of the "fart-in" have certainly gotten my attention. In the spirit of Saul Alinsky, in the spirit of 1968 Yippie nominee "Pigasus," and in the spirit of Philadelphia's most famous Founding Father, I believe that people deserve to know whether this year's Democratic conventioneers will be farting proudly or not.

 

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