chapter  15
23 Pages

The Strange Case of the Farting Professor: Humor and the Deconstruction of Destructive Communication


A few years ago when I was a faculty member at Purdue University, I attended a public lecture given by a renowned sociologist. I do not recall a whole lot about the substance of the lecture (I vaguely recall it being about Hegel, Marx, and Weber-who else?), but what I do vividly remember is that at regular intervals during the course of his lecture, this famous sociologist would let rip with some very loud, very sonorous farts. On each occasion he blithely lectured on, making no reference-apologetic or otherwise-to his “nonverbal asides” and, in eloquent validation of Goffman’s (1959) thesis that an audience will work hard to protect the self an individual presents (in this case learned and revered scholar), the assembled faculty members and graduate students did not bat an eyelid either, pretending that nothing unusual was happening. Now, as a Brit raised on the subtleties and nuances(!) of toilet humor, I could barely contain myself. This was great, pungent (sorry) stuff! So, when, during the discussion period after the lecture, I asked a question about the juxtaposition of farting and sociological theory, I was sorely disappointed not to get any uptake, either from the famous sociologist or from my assembled colleagues.