A Freudian look at latrines

By Rosanne Lin, Shanghai Star. 2002-06-13

Shanghai's toilets and toilet-related activities see a great deal of play on these pages. Lately, this has left me wondering - why? Are the residents of the city suffering from a collective Freudian personality disorder? With the mental health of the city at issue, I realized further research was an urgent task.

Entering the keyword "toilet" into the popular Google search engine, my computer was inundated with an endless list of toilet-related websites.

To my bewilderment, I discovered toilet museums around the world and throughout cyberspace - there is the Toilet Museum in South Korea, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi, India, and countless virtual museums, including the Toilet Seat Museum, Toilet Paper Museum, and Toilet Museum Online. I was even surprised to learn about a subject called toiletology - the history of flush toilets.

And this fascination with toilets is not without financial reward. The Gladstone Pottery museum in Stoke-on-Trent received a hefty grant from some misguided European Union council for their display, simply called "a celebration of the toilet". While a Hong Kong jeweler, who built two solid gold toilets in a bathroom gilded with 24-carat gold and encrusted with precious gems, charges those wanting to sit on his golden throne $200 per flush - and some local residents think the one yuan fee for use of Shanghai's public facilities expensive.

Obviously the fascination with toileting activities is universal, not the exclusive realm of Shanghai's English newspaper readers.

Looking for answers to this phenomenon, I turned to Freud. Although, most prominent psychologists have debunked the Austrian scientist, he is still, to the best of my knowledge, the most prolific toilet writer - well except for a girl named Betty-Sue in Oklahoma who apparently loves Chuck, but then she actually wrote while having toilet experiences in truck-stops across the state, not about the toilet experience itself.

Freud claims that going to the toilet is a completely sensuous experience, where we gain relief as a sensory reward from ourselves. Hence the term, relieving oneself.

According to Freud, a child's toilet training is critical to personality development. If the process occurs too early or too late, if it is too strict or too libidinous, dire consequences will result. A flawed toilet experience at such a tender age may lead to psychological disorders ranging from avarice, rage, homosexuality, paranoia, to chronic constipation and aggressive tendencies in the metro - especially apparent at People's Square station. The toilet experience is just that powerful.

This insight lead to Freud's theories on the anal retentive type - someone who is so controlling they just don't want to let go, literally and figuratively.

Perhaps those who bemoan the toilets of Shanghai, or people's public release, fall into the latter Freudian category.

Witnessing others easily letting go can be nothing but a frustration for these types. Never mind, the long periods of time they would have to remain in a public bathroom, which is also at the disposal of another 16 million people. One can only extend heartfelt sympathy to those suffering such experiences.

One website, offering toilet personality tests, may have the solution. If you find yourself engaging in behaviours such as, collecting the little postcards in magazines - for recycling; putting every e-mail reply that you send through a grammar checker, while correcting the original message; taking notes during a session with your analyst; or counting the calories in the McDonald's ketchup packages - see a doctor.


Copyright by Shanghai Star.