ShitBegone: An Interview With Jed Ela

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PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooperb 9000+ pointsc 8000+ pointsd 7000+ pointse 6000+ pointsf 5000+ pointsg 4000+ pointsh 3000+ pointsi 2000+ pointsj 1000+ pointsk 500+ pointsl 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb
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Editor's Note: As most of you surely know,
ShitBegone Brand Toilet Paper is creating a
huge buzz in two normally disparate worlds: art and PoopReporting. ShitBegone is art
masquarading as commerce, and is succeeding in both worlds. (Check out our review of ShitBegone in PoopReport's Survey of Toilet Paper Brands.)

I'm very pleased that Jed Ela, creator of ShitBegone, took some time to answer our questions about his success, his product's appeal, the future of toilet paper branding, and the meaning of art.


1) How did ShitBegone come about?

A friend of mine came up with the name in college -- actually, I think
maybe his brother came up with it -- how funny it would be, if there was a
brand of toilet paper called ShitBegone.








Jed Ela, founder of ShitBegone.





I made the first roll a couple years later. I had been thinking about
readymades and commodity-art.
The first readymades were shocking, but now
a century later readymades are just another style. It's a normal way to
make art -- to point at something or make a reference -- you can paint it
or take a photo of it, but you can also just bring it into the gallery
and call it art. That transformation is now a routine part of the
economy, another way of creating value.

I was thinking that the opposite hadn't happened much: the readymade
flowing back out of the gallery, retaking its place as an ordinary thing.
The readymade is about isolating the commodity, freezing it in time. I
didn't want that. I wanted a normal, everyday flow -- what logistics
calls the "commodity stream."

In 1999 I did some work called "unfinished business" where I would buy
things at the store, show them as art, and then go back to the store and
just put them back on the shelf. The object was not for sale while in my
posession, and I didn't sign it or do anything to it. Just put it back,
"catch and release."

Around that time I made the first few rolls of ShitBegone -- I remembered
the joke and made a few rolls as a gift for my friend. It didn't take
long to realize this was much more than a joke -- it was a product that
people would buy, and if it was cheap and plentiful, they would use it
too. So I decided to run with it, show a whole truckload and see what
would happen.


2) Where do you have it made? Are there many resources for
producing "microbrew" toilet paper, so to speak?

I got it from a converting plant in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Actually, it was
extremely difficult to find somebody to do it -- there are basically no
resources at all for "microbrew" toilet paper. Until you understand the
technology and the industry a little bit, you don't even know who to
call -- this is an industry with very large players who mostly know each
other and deal with each other, and don't have any infrastructure for
dealing with new customers in a non-traditional way. In the world of
toilet paper, one truckload is not a lot. I actually figured out the
other day that if I sell one truckload of TP a year then my U.S. market
share is about .0002% -- two ten-thousandths of one percent.


3) Functionally, is ShitBegone any different than any other toilet paper?

In the past I've claimed various features as superior, the way other
brands do -- but I found with a name like ShitBegone I can't do that
without coming off as kind of hokey, kind of overly ironic. The point
isn't to make fun of everyone else, it's just to sell something that is
what it is. The paper is soft, it's pretty strong, it's lightly embossed
(what many companies call "quilted", which is a silly word). There are a
lot of different kinds of TP and SBG is pretty good stuff, within that
range. But it's not like it has magic properties. It's a piece of tissue
that you clean yourself off with.


4) How would you describe the response to ShitBegone?

It's been very good -- people love the idea, and they love to tell their
friends about it. The trick is getting people over their initial
disbelief and their assumption of scarcity. People see a product that's
fun and refreshing and different and they assume, first, it just can't be
real; and if it is, then it must be collectible, it's rare, it's art,
etc. Which is fine but in the end it's just toilet paper, you can always
use it and buy another roll -- I consider this a 20-year project at
least, so the brand is not going anywhere and the price is not so
different from any other T.P.


5) Compare ShitBegone to "White Cloud," "Angel Soft" and
"Charmin." The latter three disguise their true nature in brand images of
clouds and cotton balls and teddy bears, whereas ShitBegone is quite upfront about
its purpose. Why do you think people respond to such a straight-talking brand?








Enough ShitBegone to last a year.. or two months, if you eat at Taco Bell a lot.





I think Americans in general have a very deep respect for the "no bull"
attitude. That's how we market our trucks and our cigarettes and it works
great for those products. But when it comes to body-related things, that
attitude comes up against some very deep, old taboos. ShitBegone takes
the "no bull" attitude and the body taboos and makes them face off, and
what you get is cognitive dissonance -- which according to my freshman
psych text is the first ingredient of humor.

6) Do you think your success will start a trend in "honest"
branding, in which the marketer sells the product based on its function, and not a contrived image?

I think it already has. Kimberly-Clark, one of the largest TP makers, has
a new Web site in which every page features a different picture of
somebody's butt. They have section titles like "Potty Fun" and "The
Washroom Post." The whole thing is pretty lame really, but it shows how
much the general attitude is starting to change. I think in 20 years,
you'll see 90% of TP being sold under names that are closer to
"ShitBegone" than "Angel Soft."


7) ShitBegone is art. You conceived it as an art
installation in 1999, and the act of selling it is a kind of performance. Yet,
your intentions aside, you are making and selling a product. You market
something that appeals to a niche. To me, that sounds like capitalism. If
you consider ShitBegone art, how do you differentiate it from what Proctor and Gamble does?

Art is a category within capitalism, and like any large category its
borders are fuzzy. Look at any well-known artist today (or ever) and you
will see a company, an economy of suppliers, assistants, dealers,
lawyers, accountants, and customers. Historically the "art" economy has
been about marketing expensive craft objects to wealthy collectors, and
it still is mostly about that. But conceptually at least, that
categorization has been under assault for a century by the avant-gardes--
which have been pretty unified in seeing that definition of art as
anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic.

One result is that now we have another, parallel way of categorizing
art -- not by what it is, but by what it does. Now art is not (just) a
craft; now it's anything that makes us think, that moves society and
advances culture. I just read an article that called art "one of several
systems for the production of knowledge," which sums it up pretty well.

Now I'm not denying that Proctor and Gamble also produces knowledge --
through advertising, through industrial white papers, company memos, etc.
-- but that is not the purpose of what they do, it's just a by-product.
They aren't efficient at producing knowledge, they're efficient at
producing toilet paper. Me, I'm the other way around; I sell one
truckload of paper, and I've probably got half the press their company
has for a hundred thousand trucks. Of course, I want to be them -- I'd
rather it was the other way around, their company is what I want
ShitBegone to be. At least, part of me wants that, and so somewhat
arbitrarily, I've made it the premise of the ShitBegone project. And you
can say what you want about that, I really don't know the answer.

It's a peculiar thing, it's very ambitious, but it's also the most
mundane aspiration in the world -- who doesn't want to have a giant,
successful company and sell oodles of stuff and make money at it? But in
the end I think it still comes down to the knowledge thing -- even if I do
get there, I will have produced this interview on the way. For that
matter, I'll have produced it even if ShitBegone flops. Which is good,
because in the end it's been a lot more interesting to write this than it
would be to work at P&G!

Editor's Note: You can order ShitBegone for yourself at their website.

21 Comments on "ShitBegone: An Interview With Jed Ela"

Che's picture

amen, brother! art...capitalism. capitalartism? whatever the word, it will always have a place on the shelf of those novelty stores in the mall where cheap jewelry and dirty fridge magnets are sold. Spencer Gifts comes to mind.

but i have a larger vision: i look forward to the day i see ShitBegone on the shelf of my local grocer, right next to BloodBegone tampons and StinkBegone deodorant.

Che

Jed Ela's picture

Hello Che, thanks for taking the time to respond, I just want to emphasize that I share your vision of ShitBegone on every shelf. That's why I started doing this. Which is why I don't sell it in single rolls or little gifty-packs that would end up wildly overpriced. I want people to use the stuff and, without grocery distribution, the best way I can think of is to make them buy a lot at once. Plus, that way you really aren't spending more than you would at the store for your regular lame-ass brand.

Anyway if you *really* want to see it on that store shelf, then there are 2 things you can do: 1) buy some now by mail (you understand capitalism, so I won't bother to explain why that helps-- you'll just have to trust me that we have the same goal, and that I will put every bit of extra scale and efficiency into expanding the brand, not lining my pocket in the short-term). And 2) Who is your local grocer? Are they locally owned or part of a big chain? We don't have much chance with the chains yet, on "profanity" and also just on price... but if it's a smaller operation, find out who the buyer is and let them know about ShitBegone, they just might carry it.

Anyway thanks again for reading the interview, glad you like it and I hope you will take the extra step to support something you like by wiping your ass with it!

Jed

THE DAMNJAP's picture

i do agree with the freedom fighter che.

i'm an advertising consultant whose market value is with people who don't have a problem with emotive phrases or words. my own site, damnjap.com is pretty much the antithesis of the BBDO's, JWT's, and whatever letter acronym of advertising agency pride.

whenever i see the opportunity, i pitch a little loaf for jed. and maybe when i get enough time (like now to post to a poopreport website) i will graciously work intensely in providing help to vault ShitBeGone to a worthy level.

i figure enough talented people in different places who buy ShitBeGone can contribute something in appreciation.

thank you again, jed.

Melly's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

Why don't they make toilet paper for different types of shit..you know, a more absorbent kind for the runs or beer poops, and a plainer lighter kind for solid normal poos that aren't so demanding...hmmm, now that I think about it I doubt anyone is that concerned to be willing to have several different "grades" of poo paper taking up space in thier bathroom.Plus you have to be able to flush the stuff....okay never mind.

Bill Willis's picture

Next on the list... "I can't believe it's not ass medication" organic hemmorhoid cream :o)

nichole's picture

the name is awful i you should change it

Nichole Sucks's picture

Change the name? Did you not get the point of the entire article? Are you daft?

Anyway, along the lines of BloodBegone for tampons, would a douche product be called CuntBeclean?

Latex's picture

dude give me @shitbegone.com email addy, please! :)

poopshipdestroyer, a.k.a. M. Cortez's picture

I don't know why I didn't read this article earlier.

Damn, where do I start? It's almost too much.

The most fascinating thing to me about this interview is the extent to which it demonstrates what a profoundly economic concept shit is--not to mention art, by contrast. Shit and art: the two are opposing categories in an economy of value, where art names the realm of value unto pricelessness, that material which supposedly exists outside or above market circulation. Shit, on the other hand, is the conceptual category we assign to material excluded from economic exchange because of its valuelessness or worthlessness. Rodolphe al-Khoury refers to shit as "aberrant surplus", and this is exactly what it is: that which not only exceeds economic production, but which also threatens economic production, and hence which must be expelled. Shit is not only useless; it is also dangerous and must be gotten rid or, or at least made invisible and unsmellable.

Enter the TP industry, whose business it is to abet this making-invisible on two levels. The first level, of course, is the ass-wiping level. This would be the material, utilitarian function of TP: TP gets rid of shit. In removing shit from our asses, TP thereby allows us to remove shit from sight and mind (down the drain!). But TP also makes shit invisible on a second, ideological level. This would be where what Dave has called "the advertising of disavowal" comes in: fluffy clouds, teddy bears, etc. TP is thus not merely a material product for the removal of bodily excess; it is also an ideological product that enables not simply the removal of shit, but the *denial* of shit, the attribution of negative value to bodily excess via euphemism and metaphor.

So what's interesting about ShitBeGone is that does not attempt to mystify its utility: it is a product for wiping asses, for getting rid of shit. But in demystifying its utility, it also--as art, no less, as rarified or transcendent value--unveils the logic of value production itself, the logic of disavowal, cultural imperatives that mandate the removal of shit from public view, the mystification of the reality of bodily functioning.

What I want to know is: what does it mean that the name for mystification is *bullshit*?

(Dave, I apologize if I mis-paraphrased your concept.)

OK...babbling. I'm gonna go buy some ShitBeGone now.

The Shit Volcano's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points

I get tired of the "fluffy" toilet paper commercials. I don't know which I hate worse: the bears pooping by the tree or the sewing circle girls.

I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

Russell's picture

Thought you guys might be interested in my blog (www.mobhappy.com) that says:

Boing Boing reports what I thought might have been an April Fool at first, but apparently not.

ShitBeGone is a loo roll brand:

"Welcome to the ShitBegone family. ShitBegone toilet paper is a quality product that exemplifies your attitude and approach to life.

ShitBegone is intended for your daily use. With ShitBegone's low prices and convenient online ordering, it's easy to make ShitBegone your brand."

*Hope you're not reading this at mealtimes* warning!

This actually follows a proud history of graphic loo paper stunts. I remember talking to one of the sales people who first sold soft loo rolls into the UK in the sixties (fifties?). By the way, will someone stop me if I start sounding like Alistair Cooke?

Anyway, way back then, loo rolls were sold in old fashioned chemists (apparently) - not grocers (this was pre-supermarket days). And all the counters in them days were marble. When they started to show their wares to the various chemists, there was a high degree of scepticism that the stuff would err...make the Shit Be Gone, as hitherto, they'd used the hard stuff.

So what they did was walk into the chemist and squirt a tube of Coleman's mustard onto the counter. Then they'd give the chemist a roll of Bronco (or the hard stuff) and invite him to clear it up. Of course, all it did (sorry about this) was smear it all over the place. They could then hand over the new, soft stuff to do the business and of course, we've never looked back.

PooBeeDooBeeDoooo's picture

First, I must congratulate Jed on not only a fine concept, but a very thought provoking interview.

Beyond the blurry line between art and full-scale crapitalism and the way the mainstream TP industry has consistently used denial of the true function of their product as a format for their advertising, we have the one solid, practical or functional concept which they have chosen to acknowledge. That is the idea of softness or smoothness.

Of the major brands that do extensive consumer advertising, all make use of imagery or outright claims of softness. Yet when I

Jeremy Harris's picture

Is your company still in business?

Anonymous Coward's picture

hmmmmmm... interestingly enough, this article has made me need to go poo. but now i don't want to use corporate toilet paper.

dammit.

Frigidaire Parts's picture

Anyway, not matter what, your site is the best. It is original, unique, it was the first to come out in this 'field' and it has a lot of viewers, subscribers and so on. Keep up he good work!

toilet paper's picture

To bad he has closed his site down now. I guess he gave up on the tp business. Shit be gone is gone now.

Adolf Shitler's picture

What a great product. Would like to see that in all the stores.

assturd's picture

i think that shitbegone is the best and k mart still sells it so its not out yet

The Pooping Dog's picture

I think I need to market my own brand of TP. The Pooping Dog's Hygeine Tissue

portable toilet guy's picture

@Nichole Sucks "would a douche product be called CuntBeclean"? - Wouldn't sell; it sounds too much like couldn't be clean (and no one likes a smelly minge)

Anonymous's picture

I would have called it butt-wipe, just kidding. But this one cracked me up laughing at that time. Shit begone got my girlfriend laughing, and my friends, by showing them the picture.

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