|By A.D. Freudenheim||
25 December 2001
Recently, I was in the bathroom at a movie theater here in New York, making good use of a urinal. At some point during this process, I looked down and noticed something strange on the rubber drain cover which held the urinal "mint" in place: written around the edge, it had the brand name of the company that made it (Swisher International), and it said "SAY NO TO DRUGS."
In fact, this is nothing new; drain covers like these have been boasting such slogans for years, but it struck me this time around as a particularly ironic statement about our support for the message itself. Advertising in bathrooms - on walls or through postcards - has been very much in fashion for the last few years, at least in major American and European cities. Putting a slogan on a urinal mint seems an altogether different kind of approach.
The positioning reminded me of the uproar a number of years ago about artist Andres Serrano's work "Piss Christ" - a bottle of urine that contained a crucifix; for all sorts of (probably obvious) reasons, Serrano's sculpture offended a broad range of people, both within and outside the art world. What would have happened if Serrano had taken one of the official "Just Say No to Drugs" stickers, so popular in the era of the Reagan and Bush Sr. presidencies, and submersed them in urine? Or if he had taken a copy of the American flag instead? Certainly the latter action would have caused an uproar nearly equal to the one that came with Serrano's use of a crucifix - and certainly if it was done in this day and age.
In our increasingly jingoistic times, with American flags de rigueur for cars and taxis, buses and subways, and at the door to almost every building or dwelling how does the "say no to drugs" sentiment fit in? Perhaps it had been on the wane as an important American maxim, but in mid-December President Bush raised the ante, suggesting that using illegal drugs is un-American because it aids terrorists. Speaking to a conference of "community activists," Mr. Bush said, "It's so important for Americans to know that the traffic in drugs finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder. If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America." Quite simply, said Mr. Bush, "Drug use threatens everything, everything that is best about our country."
Probably, the good folks at Swisher International do not know about Andres Serrano and his urine-focused artwork, nor do I know if Serrano knows about Swisher. Probably, no one has ever suggested to Swisher International that there might be something un-American in taking such a red-blooded sentiment as the one against drug use, and placing it at the bottom of a porcelain waste receptacle. Perhaps it would be only a minor outrage if they were to create drain covers with pro-American statements like "America is Number One" (the allusion to urine a strongly-intended pun) or "Proud to Be an American."
Or maybe having this statement printed on drain covers is deliberate on Swisher's part, the same way that Serrano's artwork was deliberate. Regardless of Swisher's intentions, I think it's a terrific idea. After all - it got my attention, didn't it?
For anyone who has not had the pleasure of encountering
such a thing for themselves, a urinal "mint" is a block of toilet
cleaning solution, typically round or pink, with a strong
 "Bush to Americans: Quit Drugs, Join War Effort,"
by Patrica Wilson, Reuters News Wire, 14 December 2001.
Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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