June 30, 2008, - 4:52 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Even though mine is a cable-free household, when I see it I like the History Channel a lot. I love history and I (usually) like the way it’s presented on the network. But there are times–excuse me for this sexist comment–when I understand why it’s a channel targeted to and watched mostly by men (in terms of advertisers).
One of those times is tonight, when, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the cable channel premieres “All About Dung,” a two-hour “exhaustive” (I’d call it “excretive”) look at the history and social, political, and economic realities of excrement. I guess they couldn’t call it, “I don’t give a [W]hit.”
Perhaps this is a clever way to get young boys–who might not watch the History channel, but like “gross-out” stuff–to become interested in history. It does sound interesting. But, seriously, is there such a dearth of real, exciting history that they need this two hour, um, crappy show about bowel movements (and related topics, like the dung beetle)?:
Clearly, there are enough references to this bodily excretion to make preteen boys double over with laughter, including repeated references to poop, feces and more – not to mention toilets being blown up, dung beetles, a fecal-matter spitting game popular in South Africa, and several partakings of food and drink laced with the unusual spice of human and animal waste.
Still, this exhaustive but entertaining two-hour look at the social, political and economic realities of dung probably will sniff out a broader audience with information and anecdotes that many viewers may find, as the Simpsons would say, “craptastic.”
“Of course, you blush and you think this is a schoolboy joke, but dung has such a rich history, and there’s a lot of information and a lot of ‘did you knows?’ here,” says Dung producer and History Channel programming executive Susan Werbe.
Tasked with the odorific assignment of hosting All About Dung is Monty Halls, narrator of several British documentaries and adventure shows who handled his Dung duty with alternate senses of wonderment, disgust and gusto.
Halls visits eastern Oregon’s Paisley Caves, where DNA from fossilized human excrement uncovered by University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins eventually pushed estimates of humans’ presence in North American back to 14,300 years, 12 centuries earlier than previously thought.
Halls and his production crew spent 34 days tracking down dung stories and anecdotes elsewhere in the USA and as far as Borneo, London and India.
In Arizona, Halls sips a brew unlikely to appear on Starbucks’ menu anytime soon. It’s Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee at about $575 a pound, largely because its beans are harvested from forest floors, processed after passing through the digestive tracts of wild civet cats for a purportedly unique “flavor.”
A visit to Borneo showcases the massive source of bat guano that provided the nitrates for early gunpowder and fertilizers – enriching those able to exploit the harvest.
Dung also focuses on efforts to install low-cost flush toilets in India as part of the Liberation of Scavengers Movement, which has hastened an end to the country’s caste system while improving the lives of “untouchables” who have cleaned pit latrines by hand for centuries.
Sensitive to potential fallout, History Channel programming chief David McKillop says several titles were considered before settling on All About Dung.
“It’s fun and a bit of a taboo subject. But we didn’t want to treat this as a joke. This is a fascinating story. Truly, the wow factor is across the board.”
Too bad they skipped the three biggest sources of dung: The State Department, Congress, and the U.N. (Wait, make that four–the Obama campaign, too.)