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Volume II, Issue I - April 2011

If lameness is the Horse Latitudes of pop culture, then photocopying your butt is adrift in that windless place between being cleverly immature and not being stupid enough. It’s just not enough of either anymore. The act has lost the relevance it once had and is now stuck in the dead waters of pop culture history.

In the 1990’s there was a series of inane yet wonderfully funny Saturday Night Live sketches where Rob Schneider played Richard, the Makin’ Copies guy. The office copy machine was near Richard’s desk. The sketch consisted of him saying “makin’ copies” and riffing on the person’s name. When Sting was in the sketch it went something like this:

Sting. Der Stinglehoffer. Makin’ copies. The McStingster. Stingatola. Sting. Sting-a-ling-a-ding-dong.

What Schneider never did – the same Rob Schneider who not only starred in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo but who also has been hit in the crotch more than any actor in the history of cinema – was have someone sit on the copy machine. If he had gone this route, it no doubt would have been Chris Farley who sat. And he would have crushed the machine, the table, the whatever. End of joke.

In 1987, when I was a sophomore at Kent State, I had an idea for a book. Inspiration struck after two of my friends returned from the library each with a photocopy of his bare butt. I loved that they had done this. It was delightful, immature, and risky. Immediately, I wanted to compile a collection of all my friends’ rears, made at the cost of potential embarrassment in a momentarily vacant corner of the library.

It was a good art-project idea, that book. I would have used staples for the binding, and there would have been exactly one—no copies. Each page would have been an artifact of the experience. To have made copies would have put too much distance from the act.

I never made the book, partly because I couldn’t convince other friends to take the risk. Immature acts of this kind often require spontaneity. It may even be essential. Asking someone to do it for an art project sort of took the fun out of it, I suppose.

Acts of harmless immaturity were/are inevitable for most of us. It’s part of growing up and also part of not wanting to grow up. As freshman Walter Gibson (played by John Cusack in the 1985 film The Sure Thing) said:

What the hell’s wrong with being stupid once in a while? Does everything you do always have to be sensible? Haven’t you ever thrown water balloons off a roof? When you were a little kid didn’t you ever sprinkle Ivory flakes on the living room floor because you wanted to make it snow in July? Didn’t you ever get really shitfaced and maybe make a complete fool of yourself and still have an excellent time?


There was once a time when a photocopier might have played a role in such an experience. But not any more. Not for kids, anyway. Technology has rendered it arcane. After trolling through even the tamer parts of the Web’s seedy side, you might conclude that, for those of a youthful nature, one of the most difficult things to do is abstain from exposing yourself for documentation.

Perhaps our most recent bellwether – though he lives only in reruns now – is Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, that innovator of immaturity, inappropriateness, and the poster boy for that’s-what-she-said humor. Would he find the act lame? Yep. The only character on The Office who would take a seat on the Xerox is Kevin, which he did in Season 2, episode 10 (the Christmas party). And no one wants to be that guy. See, there was a time when Michael Scott would have found it funny. Technology, however, forced him to leave the act behind. (Behind!)

I don’t mean to dismiss the Kevins of the world and what they personally find funny. What I want to point to is that only Kevins find photocopying your butt funny now. Only lame-O’s are amused by what is lame because they don’t realize it’s lame. Michael Scott, though he remains an immature boy-man, is more in tune with the tide of culture and what impressively stupid things you can do with your iPhone.

What characterizes this dichotomy is that even though photocopying your butt still exists—is still an act people engage in—it is now only relevant when it is captured by security cameras and uploaded to YouTube. Now, rather than the act being something silly you try to get away with, it only resonates when it is captured for all to see. If Michael were to find surreptitiously gathered footage posted to YouTube of Kevin photocopying his rear, then—and only then—would it be funny to him.

To explore what this shift means let’s compare it to the hit-in-the-nuts gag—an act on par immaturity-wise with photocopying your butt. The nuts gag has survived. Like me, you probably don’t find the hit-in-the-nuts gag funny at all. It’s so tired. Whenever I see it in a movie preview, I know the caliber of the movie that I’m never going to see. See, it seems lame, but culturally it’s alive and well. Have you ever seen America’s Funniest Videos? Nut shots are rampant. They’re genuine, and America loves it. In movies, however, the ones aimed at the adolescent male demographic, it’s a gag, and the gag is almost required. That’s why it seems lame. You can imagine a producer saying, “The script is great. It just needs a nut shot.”

With apologies to Pink Floyd, here is my pop-culture Technology Prism diagram.

Technology Prism diagram

Our voyeuristic society loves watching an embarrassing act. Because of this, the trends of technology have worked with the nut shot—inadvertently or not—but against the integrity of photocopying your butt. (Yes, I just used the word integrity.) Being hit in the balls is not desirable; the nut shot has no volunteers. It always was—and still is—about observation. And this, my friends, is why the act of photocopying your butt is no longer relevant. The power of its immaturity—the expression of that power—has been usurped, so that now the simple act of photocopying your butt no longer contains the authentic risk of embarrassment. Without this authenticity, the act itself becomes the embarrassment, and thus is only culturally valid and resonant when broadcast.

In the end, though, there is good news. All of us Kevins need some good news. Some acts still stand on their own. You can still wear a lampshade, for example. This act endures. Also, you can still streak. But always wear shoes. It’s the shoes that are funny. Can grandpas across the world still ask you to pull their fingers? Absolutely. And you can still trick someone into saying underwear. We’ll always have that one.

In 2009 the England-based Japanese artist/designer Tomomi Sayuda created the iBum. The iBum is a white leather lounge chair—modern, sparse, boxy—fitted with a glass seat. Under the glass seat is housed, of course, the technology to take and print a full-color, high-quality picture of your hindquarters. The print comes out the side of the chair and lands on the floor.

In 2010 the iBum was on display at Tent London. Hundreds of people, fully clothed, sat in the chair to log their five seconds of faceless fame. Sayuda selected her favorites and made a book of 100 London bums, jeans and floral skirts being the most common fashion choice. Sayuda calls it a book of “bum fashion.” You can purchase it for $39.50, if you’re interested, which you’re probably not. Why would you be?

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