You’ve probably seen this commercial: One guy gets promoted and his friend gets satellite television. As they sort out who got the better deal, their ongoing discussion continues over a urinal.
Personally, I’ve never had a promotion — or a satellite dish — affect me so strongly that I felt compelled to express myself in this way.
But this has become a fashionable television technique: Shooting the backs of men at urinals, as they chat and feign relieving themselves. It’s supposed to add a level of realism, I guess. (“Honey! They’re urinating . . . now I understand!”) I’ve seen both candidates relieve themselves on “The West Wing” and watched male characters use the restroom on every onehour network drama where beverages are available. (Except perhaps “24,” where Jack Bauer has saved the world from nuclear holocaust, nerve gas and killer viruses, yet has not successfully gone to the bathroom since 2001.)
I would be outraged by this, but we live in times with so many good reasons for outrage. And this is just people watching other people pretend to urinate. It is irritating, though — and not because I’m a prude about bodily functions, or because I miss the good old days (when they showed you a pair of feet under a toilet stall and left something to the imagination!). It’s irritating because it’s not realistic. Any upright hominid with a Y chromosome and a taste for coffee will tell you that nothing dramatic or profound happens in a men’s room.
Maybe great drama is fostered over in the ladies room. I don’t know. Women tend to go there in pairs, sequester themselves a long time (I’ve seen popes elected faster) and return laughing maniacally about a topic they won’t discuss.
(On a double date, this means one man has been “voted off the island.”) For guys, the restroom is more like puberty or community college: We just want to get in and out quickly without embarrassing ourselves.
That’s why we stick to shortanswer questions: “Good game, eh?” “Think it’ll rain?” A man will never say, “Roger made a profound point at the urinal today,” and the reasons are partly biological: Profundity can’t be attained in the time it takes a beverage to leave you, and when you’re manning a urinal, you fear any conversation that might inspire a gesture.
My advice to Hollywood? Let realism stop at the men’s room door. NBC shot some marvelous aerial footage of the Alps during the last Winter Olympics — cut to that when television characters have to relieve themselves. It’s a lot more inspiring than the rolling porcelain foothills we see when we give at the office. And no television character grows richer and fuller by letting us watch him urinate.
Except on “24.” Jack Bauer’s been hopping around since season three. And when he says he’s “running out of time,” he no longer means the terrorists. Fox, have you no decency? Let the poor man “go.”