Friday, October 5, 2007

Communism and Proctor & Gamble:

How Toilet Paper Led to An Awakening

by Little Baby Ginn

A terrific piece by Croatian writer, Slavenka Drakulic, on the feeling of finally belonging to Europe by way of the products of Capitalism: Proctor & Gamble, Lancome, Estee Lauder, and Givenche. In their homes and bathrooms, but also the challenge of replacing the old collective “we” with the individuality of “I.”

From Eurozine: Slavenka Drakulic "Bathroom tales: How we mistook normality for paradise".
The dearth of toilet paper may not have been the sole reason for the collapse of communism, but it's an apt metaphor for a regime unable to fulfill its subjects' basic needs. Although Slavenka Drakulic's bathroom is better stocked these days, she's still prone to doubt: was the normality she and her fellow eastern Europeans longed for just another false paradise?
Trading in communism for stacks of everyday items Americans take for granted--like toilet paper--wasn't hard.
Actually, I enjoy the look of my bathroom today because I'm old enough to remember the bathroom of my parent's apartment in the early fifties, when Plavi radion washing powder was the only one that existed. Or an even earlier bathroom with no washing powder whatsoever, just a bar of Jelen soap.
When you complain about walking with a limp, remember the man with no legs.
Nowadays, what I'm especially glad to have – and Stasiuk doesn't mention this product at all – is my stack of fine toilet paper. Rolls and rolls of it, I still hamster them as if they are going to disappear from the supermarket shelf at any moment, as they use to do.

The role of toilet paper in the downfall of communism is quite a particular one. I don't mean the fine toilet paper like the one I now have in my bathroom, what I mean is any toilet paper, any at all. For me, the lack of this product became a symbol of the changes that our communist society had gone through during the last two decades – a clear indication that communism, as a political and economic system, did not function. A system that could not recognize and provide for the basic needs of people, ranging from toilet paper all the way to human rights, was bound to collapse.

The Communist bloc was not as solid as it pretended to be. Thanks to glimpses of life on the other side, thanks to – often smuggled – films, magazines, and TV advertising, as well as small things such as fine chocolate and perfumes, underwear, cosmetics, toys and music – and a soft and fluffy toilet paper that I myself used to bring to a friend in Warsaw – our belief in a consumer's paradise easily replaced the official communist faith.
A piece well worth reading. A piece well worth another link.


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