[Note: the following essay is satire. Let me repeat that loudly: this article is not real. This is not a real newspaper story. Got that? Good. These days, it seems we need to draw these distinctions clearly. I don’t usually indulge in satire — as my readers will know—not really my thing — but I’ve been running into bits of internet flotsam that make me facepalm, and finally one of them pushed me over the edge into the Rant Zone. These pearl-inducing irritants are listed as end notes, to explain how I came to write something so… goofy...]
Vocal minority of Americans now skeptical of benefits of bathing, brushing teeth, using toilet paper
API — Tampa, Florida — sometime in 2027
Last Tuesday afternoon, downtown Tampa was the venue for the first major rally of a new internet-based political/social movement. About 200 “Dirtifarians” showed up to protest against the “tyranny” of personal hygiene; the event featured literature tables and merchandise, as well as guest speakers on an outdoor stage.
“We Will Not be Slaves of Big Soap!” read one sign. Another proclaimed “No Cell Phone, no Tooth Decay!” while a third admonished participants to “Keep Your Shit Together.” One large shirtless man displayed a whole-back tattoo featuring an American flag and the legend: “UN[brain]WASHED AND FREE!”; nearby, a booth sold flags featuring a rainbow-coloured bar of soap and the legend “Bathing Is Gay.” A popular tee shirt design, worn by several attendees, featured on the front a mediaeval woodcut of Adam and Eve with the black-letter slogan “There Was No Toilet Paper in the Garden,” and on the back, “God Gave Us Hands.”
Bumper stickers and tee shirts were on sale, some featuring the same slogans we had already seen. There was also literature: we were handed a professional-looking pamphlet which advised us that our gut biome is “scientifically proven to be beneficial,” and thus, feces make an excellent individually tailored skin cream. “Acne, eczema, skin cancer — all spring from deficiencies of Beneficial Bacteria naturally present in your own body!” claimed the pamphlet; its text was professionally typeset between colour graphics of eagles, US flags, and crossed AR-15s. The front cover proclaimed, “You are Your Own Pharmacy — Declare Your Independence Day from Big Pharma!”
We obtained a program and found that the guest speakers were fairly well-known “alt right” and “alt health” influencers from Youtube, TikTok, and InfoWars. When we arrived, “men’s wellness counselor” Willy Johnson was speaking. “Cutting your hair undermines your masculinity,” he proclaimed. “Your hair should be left in its natural paleo state; the ancients have always known that this is where your body generates testosterone!” This drew a cheer from the mostly male crowd. Mr Johnson continued, “It’s in the Bible, folks, it’s in God’s Holy Book: Samson and Delilah! For the highest possible sperm count, don’t ever wash or brush your hair either. Leave it as God intended. Allowing small creatures to nest in it will bring you good karma and good health.”
Several mass-produced signs proclaimed “Our Bodies, Our Choice: Resist the Hygiene Fascists!” and “Freedom of Speech Means Freedom to Smell.” One man sat at a table collecting donations towards his court costs; he is suing his employer for wrongful dismissal from his job as salesman in a local shoe store. The banner taped to his table read “My Rights Violated! Fired for Exercising My God-Given Freedom Not To Bathe!”
Popular influencer Mary Mallon took the stage next, promoting her new best-selling self-help book, Ditch the Clippers and Live Longer. Her speech offered a different reason for avoiding the hairdresser: nails and hair should never be trimmed, she warned, because the discarded pieces are used by witches to cast curses and inflict illness. “Every disease prevalent today or historically is due to this single cause, and could so easily be avoided! Complete health is guaranteed,” said Ms Mallon, “if nails and hair are allowed to grow uncut.” The banner above her book-signing table admonished attendees: “All Disease Comes from Witchcraft! Don’t Give Them Ammunition!”
Washing clothes or bedding, other protesters claimed, is an unnecessary practise promoted by Big Detergent and Big Washing Machine. “Where in the Bible does it ever say that Jesus washed his robe?” asked one tall, slender older man wearing filthy rags. “Science has proved that skin bacteria are our friends, so the more of them we collect in our clothes and bedding the healthier we will be.” Soap, he said, is a scam foisted on the public by marketers who pay kickbacks to doctors and politicians.
A small group of counterprotesters gathered upwind of the main rally; a few waved obviously home-made and sarcastic or provocative signs such as “TAKE A BATH” and “DIRTIFARIANS STINK” — others begged the rally crowd to “Think of Your Children” or chided them that “It’s Not All About You: Public Health Matters!”
One handmade sign read “We’re So Tired of Your Lice.” The woman carrying it, Ms Donna Welmeaning, was quite forthright in her opinion of the rally crowd. “It’s actually becoming dangerous to send our kids to public school,” she said angrily. “This is the fifth or sixth time this year that I’ve had to treat my son for head lice, and my daughter needed a tetanus shot after a playground fight she had with one of these people’s filthy children. They act like they are the only people on the planet and no one else is impacted by their ‘freedom,’ but we are. I’ve had enough of this.”
Her husband, standing nearby, added that he feared the Dirtifarian movement might be “yet another attack on the whole institution of public education: people are certainly getting worried about sending their kids to school with these people’s kids, and maybe that’s the whole point?” Ms Welmeaning laughed it off: “Joe, you’re paranoid,” she said. “You’re as bad as they are! But it’s true we can’t get the school administration to do anything about it,” she added. “They told me they can’t afford to take on any more lawsuits for violating someone’s rights...”
In general, the counterprotest message was that the individual choice to “rebel” against basic hygiene affects others and therefore is not a purely a matter of personal rights. “They’re a lot of selfish wankers,” said Harry Champeau, a recent retiree. “I came to Florida to relax and sit in the sun, have a beer at the beach kind of thing. Half the time I have to get up and move because someone next to me on the beach has rubbed shit in their hair, pyew! This is not what I came here for. And taking the bus? Fuhgeddaboudit!”
“Throwing Away Your Blessings,” was the legend on a sign held by an elderly Asian woman who declined to be identified. “I am quite angry with these people,” she told us. “I have lived when I was young in places where there was no clean water, no running water, and people were very poor, and it was very hard to stay clean and avoid diseases. And we only dreamed of having running water, and baths and showers like on American TV. To be clean and comfortable and no bugs. And these people have all of this, all of this, and…” she waved her hands, apparently unable to find words for her feelings. “They so ungrateful,” she finally said, decisively. “So, so, so ungrateful.”
To find out from a more objective source whether the new anti-hygiene movement was in fact having any noticeable impact on public health, we visited the local hospital and interviewed some of the staff.
“Any impact? I’m at my wits’ end,” said long-time local doctor I. Semmelweiss. “This started out barely two years ago — maybe a bit less? — as some stupid Tik-Toxic stunt thing, someone bragging about how many days they could go without a shower — but then it got escalated, and then picked up by the ‘Freedom Convoy’ types; and now it’s metastasised into something that really frightens me, as a doctor. The firehose of disinformation out there is just unbelievable — and it has consequences.
“We are starting to see people coming in to Emergency, unwashed for weeks, maybe months, with infected sores in their anal and perineal region, fungus infections in skin folds, boils, crusted with their own feces, bitten by lice and bedbugs, and with the worst breath I’ve ever smelled. When we point out that their discomfort is due to their own neglect of basic hygiene, they get very angry — tell us we are lying, we are agents of Deep Soap, and so on; but still they demand treatment for their sores and illness. When we offer to help clean them up, or we have to wash someone’s arm before giving them an antibiotic jab, they accuse us of trying to kill them — and some have become quite violent.
“I know these people are being bamboozled by charlatans online, and some of them are not the sharpest pencils, you know, but still… it ratchets up our case load and we’re understaffed already… and it’s kind of maddening as a doctor, to be spending your time struggling with these self-inflicted injuries and absolute denialism, these people who are basically in a self-harm cult, when there are other patients who also need treatment who actually just got sick through no fault of their own…
“The time we spend with them sometimes feels so wasted, too. We’ve been asked repeatedly by these ‘Dirtifarian’ patients to do something… about the ‘5G towers’ and ‘chemtrails’ that they believe are causing all their symptoms! and no matter how often we explain that simple soap and water will fix most of their complaints, we’re not making any headway. And when we do manage to patch them up, give them antibiotics, prevent the worst consequences, it’s not like it’s much appreciated. Just yesterday the front window of our clinic was spray painted with graffiti accusing us of being ‘in cahoots with the globalist Jewish toothpaste lobby’ and calling us ‘Fake Docters Selling Soap Bubbles.’” She shook her head in bewilderment, pulled out her cell phone, and showed us photos of the graffiti — some traces of which could still be seen around the edges of the picture window near Reception.
While Dr Semmelweiss conferred with an intern who approached her with a question about dosages, Nurse Annika Bayotik confirmed Dr Semmelweiss’s remarks about difficult Dirtifarian patients. “Call me Anni,” she says, “everyone does. But Dr Semmelweiss is really not making this stuff up, I’ve seen it too.
“They get so angry with us when we try to tell them that they’re actually harming themselves with this weird internet fad stuff. They start yelling at us, that we’re ‘soaple’ or we’re brainwashed, or agents of the Ancient Order of Washbasins, or the Bathschilds. We had such a tragic case in here just a couple of weeks ago, an elderly gentleman who got a fairly minor cut from a tin can at home, but due to his Dirtifarian practises it infected badly; and he and his wife were terrified of ‘mainstream medical care’ so they left it until he was very near death. A neighbour found out and called for an ambulance.
“But by the time he came in, he was so toxaemic and so frail there was nothing we could do. We tried, but we lost him. His daughter and her husband had converted him to this Dirtifarianism thing, and I thought maybe they would feel some remorse, but no, they right away accused the hospital of killing him.” She pauses for a moment, apparently struggling with tears — whether of anger or grief we can’t tell. “We had to wash him, see, to get him prepped for ICU, and they accused us of murdering him by killing his “good bacteria”. I really remember that one, because I think it was probably the husband who jumped me in the parking lot late that night — I wasn’t hurt much, it wasn’t a murderous attack — but my attacker absolutely stank, and he rubbed toothpaste in my hair and sprayed my face with dish soap, called me a murderer. I was blinded by the soap, so I couldn’t identify him, but I’d bet it was the old man’s son in law.”
Having told her story, Nurse Bayotik returned to her rounds. Dr Semmelweiss concluded her advice to the intern and returned to us, smoothing back her rumpled hair. “It does get dramatic at times,” she said. “I just had quite a tussle myself this morning with a woman whose toddler was not only filthy but crawling with lice. She brought the child in because he was vomiting — which was not surprising given that she had been feeding him his own feces for over a week… because she believed one of these online influencers who… oh, don’t get me started.
“But the state the child was in, we simply couldn’t let it go on. We had to call CPS on that one, because she would absolutely not let us give the child a bath; she claimed bathing was a ‘Jewish conspiracy to kill Christians’ and that it ‘washed off the beneficial bacteria that keep us alive.’ That same story we keep hearing from these people, “the beneficial bacteria”. Like, they glommed on to one sentence, one phrase even, out of some valid research, out of context, and now they’ve built a whole cult around it…
“It took three of us to restrain her while CPS removed the child to a temporary foster home with an outdoor shower; these particular foster parents have sort of specialised in taking in Dirtifarian kids, they have a kind of decon setup in their back yard. When the mother left, she was calling us kidnappers, promising to get a lawyer and sue us over her Parental Rights. Look, I have to get back to work, but in answer to your question, Yes, my God yes, this is having an effect on public health, how could it not?”
Before continuing her busy day, however, Dr Semmelweiss paused a moment, then added on a lower note, “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to tell the truth I really am worried about this. There’s the potential for a serious outbreak of communicable disease here. So far we’ve been spared, but if this movement gets any more popular, all bets are off.” She braced her hands on her hips for a moment and looked off into the middle distance. “I sure wish I could have just fifteen minutes alone in a room with one or two of these influencers,” she said. “I’d influence them some! They’ve got blood on their hands, those people... but no, I’m a doctor, I can’t think like that…” and with that surprising coda, she was gone.
After our side trip to the hospital, we returned to find the rally starting to wind down. In one-on-one conversations with the rally participants we were offered several more objections to basic hygiene. We were told by two earnest protestors that commercial toothpaste contains “nanoparticles” which enter the bloodstream through the gums and lie dormant until activated by 5G signals, after which the infected person is tracked 24x7 by government surveillance. “I only brush my teeth with my own carefully aged urine,” agreed a third woman, who seemed otherwise fairly conventional in appearance “You can’t be too careful.” The two anti-toothpaste activists looked at her with suspicion; as she walked away one of them said to the other, “Another Soapie — probably a plant.” Apparently, appearing too clean can prevent full acceptance by other members of the movement.
A newly arrived attraction at the end of the day was a large black SUV adorned with giant sandwich boards. Among some meticulously hand-painted commentary about space lasers, liberal blood drinkers, and sexual intentions towards high public officials, it featured in large red vinyl transfer lettering the ominous prophecy: “Everyone Showering and Bathing Today Will Be Dead Within Two Years!”
We intended to ask the driver about the tens of millions of people who have showered and bathed during the last couple of centuries of running water in first-world societies, without any record of a mass die-off. But as we approached the truck and saw the two assault rifles casually displayed on the dashboard, we changed our plan and called it a day.
Video segment at 9pm this evening, with footage from the rally.
Next week our team will continue this feature story, in an interview with Republican Governor Rhonda Santikreist. We’ll be asking her about the state’s response to increasingly frequent attempts by the Dirtifarians to overturn long-standing public health bylaws and job requirements. The activists claim that requiring basic hygiene in the workplace is unConstitutional; we’ll be interviewing some members of the Federalist Society who have supported this contention on “originalist” grounds.
As we reported last week, “moderate” Federalist Tommy Madison Jefferson has gone on record as believing the Dirtifarian movement may be going “too far”; he says he will propose a compromise solution by drafting personal hygiene standards that meet “an appropriate, 18th century Constitutional level.” Some of his colleagues, however, propose to ban the manufacture of shampoo, soap, and toothpaste altogether in the US. We’ll be interviewing them next week as the controversy continues.
The inspiration for this rather heavy-handed venture into satire was five unrelated (yet related!) bits of internet ephemera from the last few years.
https://globalnews.ca/news/7467283/coronavirus-denier-deaths-nurse-hoax … US nurse reports patients dying of Covid deny disease exists, express anger at hospital
https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/critical-thinking-pseudoscience/droning-preacher-mitochondrial-ecstasy … popular “alt health” guru denies germ theory of disease entirely
https://www.theguardian.com/news/shortcuts/2019/jan/14/drinking-your-own-urine-theres-a-facebook-group-for-that-two-even … new “wellness” fad: drinking your own (sometimes aged) urine
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/25/magazine/anti-vaccine-movement.html … internet-driven resurgence of anti-vaccination paranoia among parents of young children
https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/4177294-majority-of-us-dog-owners-now-skeptical-of-vaccines-including-for-rabies-study/ … increasing numbers of US dog owners fear rabies vaccine will give their dog autism, refuse to give their pet the shot
Of course, this list of links to contemporary “artificial stupidity” could go on for tens or even hundreds of pages. Other news stories from the last 3 years have been folded into my satire — such as the nurse assaulted in a parking lot by an angry Covid-denialist — but these 5 will, I trust, explain my sudden need to shout at some clouds.
And by the way, if you wonder where all this online disinformation is coming from and why the hell…?
The YouTubers who blew the whistle on an anti-vax plot
A mysterious marketing agency secretly offered to pay social media stars to spread disinformation about Covid-19…
… at least some of it is orchestrated and paid for. It’s not just homegrown crazy, it’s factory crazy.
https://www.npr.org/2021/05/13/996570855/disinformation-dozen-test-facebooks-twitters-ability-to-curb-vaccine-hoaxes … most of the vaccine disinformation online is coming from just 12 people.