Friday, February 28, 2014

Poonami: Disaster as entertainment

Fascinating to follow the events of yesterday evening:

A sewage leak in South London has sparked waves of interest, largely due to the nature of the coverage. On twitter two hashtags are trending: #Londonpoo and #poonami. Those not directly involved are having a ball making puns about the "shitty situation" and "mind the crap" announcements on the underground.

Now Hear This (a London news entertainment and culture blog for Time Out) has just picked it up. And this is what interests me the most. It has become entertainment. London's most exciting event of yesterday. And this is what interests me most.

Why do we have so much fun with this? The chance to make a big deal out of a "crappy disaster" is irrationally pleasing (I admit even to me.)

And, maybe more telling, why this case in particular?

The answer I think is partly that we don't perceive it as a disaster... which at the moment it isn't. The sentiment seems to be that it is a bit of flooding that may ruin a few carpets, but no homes will be destroyed, and the people there are affluent enough to deal with it ("aren't there a few politicians living near there? How fitting!") Okay, and maybe pose a few health risks. It is, after all, raw sewage.

Water main bursts in Kennington ©GeneralBoles

Somehow it gets more attention than the world-wide state of sanitation, where some people are living in a constant state of poo-nami. Children who walk through diseased open-defication grounds, tracking particles of fecal matter into the house, getting it on their hands, which in turn touches the food that goes into their mouths.

For those who haven't already seen it, Rose George's TedTalk 'Let's Talk Crap. Seriously.' sums up very neatly the short leap from a joke to a serious life threatening state of affairs.

What interests me is not getting rid of the joke. Keep it!!! It is not only part of how people deal with a challenge, but has got the event far wider coverage than a serious news story could ever do!

The million dollar question is can the humour and irreverence be leveraged to create genuine awareness and get people working on an issue. Or is is inherently dismissive? It's almost the sort of thing that the World Toilet Organization and Toilet Hackers work with. It would be interesting to see one of them adopt the phrase and see how far they could run with it!

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