Monday, November 17, 2008

It's a Sad Day When a Fart's Not Funny Any More

Recently, I was flying home on a two-hour American Airlines flight. A middle-aged woman dressed professionally in a gray pinstriped pants suit sat in the window seat to my left. We made the usual small talk about how tired we are of flying and how shitty American Airlines has become. Then, as the flight was preparing to leave, we did the Blackberry ritual of checking our emails and then prepared for the flight. After the plane had reached a comfortable cruising altitude, I heard a strange noise that seemingly came from the business woman. I thought to myself, “That was a fart.” I know a fart when I hear it for I have been on both the donor and recipient end of the fart spectrum. Unsure whether it was really a fart or some weird noise coming from the aging MD-80, I sniffed like a puppy looking for a dog treat. It was a fart for sure. I am not sure what this woman ate, but something crawled up inside of her and died. But, then I started to smile. The smile turned to a laugh and the laugh almost became uncontrollable. I looked at the woman who was sleeping soundly and she let another one rip. I was trying to cover my mouth to keep people from seeing me laugh and my nose to keep from smelling the weapons-grade gas this attractive woman was eliminating. With the second fart the old woman across the aisle scowled at me. I thought she was giving me the “what are you doing in first class with jeans and a t-shirt look.” Suddenly, I understood that she thought I farted (I know men enjoy and good fart here and there) so I quickly pointed at the sleeping woman and laughed. The old woman gave me an indignant look and went back to reading her Deepak Chopra book. I continued to laugh.

I am a physician. I understand the pathophysiology of flatulence. But, a fart is still a funny thing. Have we come to the point in society where a fart is not funny anymore? In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (written in the fourteenth century) he details the story of a miller trying to trick another man by farting on his face. In high school, we used to have farting contests. In medical school I farted just as four of us were getting out of the car at a restaurant. When we returned later, the fart was still in the car and we had to open the windows and doors for 5 minutes before we got in (the fart later became one of the great legends of our medical school class). Everybody farts. Farts are funny (especially in a bath tub).

But, have we come to a point in our politically correct society where we can’t laugh at a fart? Will the PC police ban “whoopee cushions.” Farting can be an art form. I used to work with a friend who could fart the first 8-10 bars of the southern hymn “Dixie”. Racist, probably not as my friend was black. I am not sure I want to live in a country where a fart is no longer considered funny. How about you?

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