James Dougherty, who married Marilyn Monroe when he was twenty-one and she was sixteen, tells a story of how young Marilyn (then called Norma Jean) unleashed a stinker while they were in a movie theater. He said it was the foulest smelling fart he had ever smelled and that it filled several rows of the theater and just sat there for ten minutes like a ominous cloud. Marilyn, who was not yet the famous star known for her sexual roles, was laughing hysterically, according to Dougherty, long after the stench had cleared.
People fart for different reasons, just as they urinate or defecate for different reasons. It is well known, for example, that sometimes people urinate or defecate out of fear. People who are executed on death row often soil their pants. People who are mugged at gun point sometimes wet their pants.
Sometimes people, especially teenagers or certain colorful types, fart when they are clowning around. I used to have an uncle who would do that, especially when he was drunk. He would fart and say, Paint that one pink! In the incident described above, Marilyn Monroe may have farted to clown around or to express rebellion. Her husband at the time said she couldnt stop giggling. It may be that she took pleasure in fouling the air and in upsetting people.
Not every emission of intestinal gas has a psychological meaning. Sometimes it has to do with what we have eaten or drunk. Sometimes it has to do with a medical condition like gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome. Sometimes its just a matter of getting older and losing control of our sphincter muscles. Sometimes a fart is just a fart.
On other occasions a fart can represent an expression of a feeling. It could be anger (expressed as exhibitionistic defiance as in Marilyns case), neediness (as when a person farts in order to draw attention) or fear (expressed in situations of danger). Indeed, the psychology of farting could be a lengthy scientific study. Some people choose to pass gas in public and some choose to hold it or run to a restroom. What causes this difference? Is it linked to personality type? Also, historically people dont want to admit it when they fart, which brought forth sayings like, He who smelled it, dealt it!
Another aspect of the subject is why farting is almost never spoken or written about. This involves a different aspect of psychology. Anything to do with urination, defecation, farting, or sexthat is, anything to do with the bathroom or bedroomhas historically been kept from public view or public discourse. Why is it that we humans want to hide (suppress) this aspect of normal behavior?
Indeed, why do we cover our bodies, particularly our sexual and bathroom anatomy? I believe it part of human narcissism. We want think of ourselves as higher animals, distinct from lower animals who engage in animalistic behavior. We are different than dogs or cows or horses or elephants, who shamelessly take dumps and relieve themselves in public. The more civilized humans have become, the more they have had this need to hide the more animalistic aspects of themselves.
The Bible and the Koran tells the story of Adam and Eve and how Eve and Adam were exhorted to eat a forbidden apple which would give them knowledge of good and evil; and afterwards Eve and Adam were made to feel ashamed and were given clothes to wear to cover their shame. This story, which some regard as the truth and some regard as mythological, may indeed represent a turning point that every child goes through when he discovers that his parents do not want him to be naked, go to the bathroom, masturbate, belch or fart in public.
It is human narcissism that also causes us to avoid certain other subjects, such as death, particularly our own death. We all live life as if it will go on forever, seldom giving a thought to death, unless we are morbid. Narcissism also causes us to not want to admit our own faults, to not want to admit when we are wrong, and to deny our bad habits, such as if we are alcoholics.
Indeed, use of the word fart is discouraged, viewed as crude and unmannerly. We are supposed to say that we passed gas. This is somehow seen as more civilized. However, Freud and others have questioned whether civilization has been good for humans. In his book, Civilization and Its Discontents, he hypothesized that our repression of our humanness was the cause of increased neurosis.
I think we need to own our animalistic nature, not suppress it and be false selves. Being false leads to all kinds of mental and physical disorders. It is when we are true to ourselves and embrace all of ourselves, even our farts, that we become fully human. Maybe in that respect Marilyn Monroes embracing of her movie theater fart was her way of embracing her humanity.