Public Urinators Get Cold Shower in Epic Prank, But There's Nothing Funny About the State Of Public Restrooms


At first glance (or even after several glances) the video below appears riotous, and the producer an entirely sympathetic character. People have made a habit of defecating or urinating in the alleyway of his building, and so he fights back with a hidden showerhead directed at the doers. Laughter ensues.

But let's look at this piece of limited-time video pop culture from the unpopular and perhaps unsympathetic perspective of the individual without another place to "do business."

Beware. If you found this video stitch-inducing, this article will likely ruin your buzz; you’ve been given fair warning.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all of these passersby are without another option; I've witnessed plenty of drunken idiots (usually men, but occasionally women) urinate alongside buildings when another option, though available, wasn't as easily presented. However, there is certainly some percentage of these "doers" who are perhaps without access to facilities, and given that there are women who have taken advantage of the alleyway to urinate and change clothing in the videos, I am assuming that for the time being they did not have another choice.

This is a regular occurrence for the unhoused, or for those whose work is outside the formal economy, perhaps taking them to areas where restrooms are not available to them. It is also possible that the "available" restrooms are either within established businesses requiring them to pay for food or drink in order to avail themselves of the toilet, or public restrooms that are so heinous, the alley actually presents a more desirable alternative.

This is actually not an entirely uncommon phenomenon. As pointed out in the quintessential participant observation study Sidewalk done by Mitchell Duneier in New York City between 1990 and 1999, there exists a substantial population in urban areas, who (usually homeless/sheltered) when public restrooms are actually defiled such that they are beyond use, and restaurant or shop owners require payment, must use a public place. For some of the subjects within Dunier's study, the use of public spaces outdoors is a sign of respect for the patrons of the very restaurants that often shun them; the subjects (or "doers") respect the clean space and do not want to walk into a business establishment while unkempt in order to use the facilities.

In cities like New York, we become used to the homeless population — on the sidewalk, subway, in Grand Central or Penn Station — they are treated very often, I imagine as either invisible or dehumanized.

But they are human, and just as homelessness is a systemic problem — a symptom of the system of social institutions that are broken and leaving many behind — so is the fodder for this man's video. It is highly likely that the social context of the neighborhood or city has created a situation where there is not another feasible choice for these "doers." So if this is the case, where should they go? And despite whatever kick he and his viewers get out of their retaliation, is this guy doing the right thing?

The interesting thing about this video is that it exists as an example of the self-regulation of society when an individual performs some sort of deviant behavior such as public urination. Almost no thought is given to the circumstances of the individuals performing the act, but the shower-head is installed to carry out the videographer's vendetta, as though their urination is a sign of personal disrespect. Really, it is a result of the constraints placed on these individuals in accessing an alternative.

The questions that this video begs for me are:

1. Where is this located?

2. What is the frequency with which these videos are made and posted?

3. Why is this happening with the regularity enough that it can be filmed and posted on at least a monthly basis? Is this representative of the frequency or is this just the tip of the proverbial iceberg?

Finally, now that this display has hit the interwebs, where is the solution? Is this a need to be assessed locally? Shouldn't there be some sort of decent alternative to being sprayed in the face with what amounts to a garden hose, while trying to urinate, the whole thing caught on film and posted online?