Magazine | May 14, 2012, Issue


You’re forgiven if you don’t want to hear anything about the Titanic for another century, but heed this: The death of the great ship is intimately connected to the matter of the giant incontinent French toddler robot.

Oh, what isn’t, these days? you ask. Well. The robot — an immense cable-steered puppet, operated by a French company that specializes in such things — was part of the Liverpool Titanic commemoration. It symbolized a girl who’d written a letter to her father. He drowned, thanks to some kinetic iceberg activity. As the enormous robot was dragged around town during festivities, it paused and squatted, and a great gout fountained from its haunches. As a Liverpool newspaper put it: “Many people were really surprised when the Little Girl Giant urinated but a lot of them were delighted and they shouted as if it was a Beatles show.”

Which Beatles tune? “Love, Love Me Loo”? That one about a particularly hued submarine?

One of the robot operators told “It’s what little girls do — even giant little girls — and all of the giants have many other surprises in store for the people of Liverpool.” Uh-huh. A Nightsoil to Remember, that’s next for Titanic celebrations, perhaps.

Internet commenters loved it, banging out unpunctuated outrage about . . . other people’s outrage. A selection, from a puppet defender: “Brilliant and entertaining for all age groups what makes me mad is the people that moan about a simple act of urinating. Get a life.”

It makes her mad. Get a life if you think an advanced civilization with deep-rooted standards of decorum doesn’t need a blundering puppet dumping its bladder on a public street.

Auto-befouling is hardly unusual, according to another: “After all, it’s only what drunks do, and we don’t complain about them.”

There’s your problem right there, innit? You don’t complain about them. It’s part of the rich, tangy, fascinating fabric of urban life: some passed-out harridan with a bloom in her britches because she’s too hammered from Ladies’ Lager Liter Nite to grope her way to the powder room.

From another comment, a slap at people who complain about silly things like “money” when there’s fun to be had: “Why are there so many sad, miserable negative, whining penny pinching people out there! Best thing that’s happened in liverpool for years.”

Really, it only cost a hundred thousand pounds, and England is just flush with cash.

Okay, perhaps not the best choice of words. Some historical context: “Amazing. Little girls would have ‘peed’ where they stood 1 hundred years ago. Loved every bit of the show.”

#page#Really? Really? Careful parents who wanted to instill manners and propriety would have just let little Beryl let loose where she stood? In the shop? In church? In the school? The Queen Mum as a little girl was noted for exercising regal prerogative whenever she wished, and everyone cooed at the precious sight of glinting royal tinkle? Really?

Of course, there was a snoot who don’t understand wot the people enjoy, and she had to get all, like, knicker-twisted: “Disgusting waste of money when we have libraries closing and other cuts by the council.”

Libraries! A right larf, that; ever try to get a lottery ticket at a library?

Over at HuffPo, a guy who calls himself “proud godless commie” echoed the sentiments of the cultured Continentals: “Royal Deluxe has been exhibiting their giant puppets all over the world for many years, and the young girl has been peeing in the street since the second year she was created. I would have expected this reaction from us puritanical Americans, but I thought the English were more civilized.”

The inversion is complete: It is a mark of civilization to applaud an ambulatory automaton programmed to void its bladder on the public streets. Civilization, as we define it today, isn’t just the absence of restraint, but martial opposition to the idea of restraint, or even the suggestion that restraint has its virtues. The only virtue is to deny virtue exists, apparently.

This is why it’s very, very important to reelect Barack Obama. Put a Mormon in the White House and you can expect travel visas to be denied to peregrinating robots with lax bladders. Put conservatives in charge of anything and the first thing they do is look through the arts grants, their long blue noses sniffing for anything honest and real. On one end of the spectrum, civilization; on the other, Puritanism. We’re clear?

No? Big robots of Priapus stomping around town, poking out windows and knocking over streetlights, that’d be cool? Of course: It offends the people who need offending, because they’re offended by the wrong things. If the robot had relieved herself on a Bible, even better. On a Koran? Hate speech. On a newspaper that printed the offensive Mohammed cartoons? Brilliant, as long as everyone understood the cartoons weren’t actually present at the time.

From a distance, across the pond, it seems as if there are two Britains — a small quiet slice that tends the old virtues behind locked doors, collecting stamps from the days of empire and buffing a bust of Churchill, and a variegated army yowling beyond the hedgerows: loud rude dole-suckled slags and yobs, bloodless academics and Eurocrats bent on extirpating national pride in the name of Western shame, sharia enthusiasts, and a blithe entitled troupe of Pippa-ninny royals.

Ah, what do I know. It was never jolly-good-tally-ho from crown to heel, but you can’t help but think of Captain Smith’s instruction to the crew of the Titanic: Be British. Needed no explanation. Stiffen your spine. Not loosen your zipper.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

James Lileks — James Lileks writes the Athwart column for National Review magazine and is a frequent contributor to the National Review website. He is a prominent voice on Ricochet podcasts.

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