The Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 1973

Empty toilet paper rolls - CC0 Public Domain

Panic buying toilet paper isn’t anything new, as this story from Japan in 1973 demonstrates:

Extract from Jayson Makoto Chun book - A Nation of a Hundred Million Idiots - A Social History of Japanese Televsion

This quote is taken from Jayson Makoto Chun’s social history of Japanese television. As he goes on to point out, this was a case where television did not simply report on reality but in doing so created a new reality. Helmar Krupp in his book on energy politics, it is worth noting, has a slightly different explanation of the start of the crisis: in this case, a price-cutting sale of toilet paper produced a surge in buying, toilet paper selling out and resulting media reports of big purchases and empty shelves.

Whatever the origin, it’s a case of reporting on reality then changing reality. Reporting on toilet-related activity altered toilet-related activity.

A journalist equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat. Schrodinger’s Litter Tray, perhaps.


3 responses to “The Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 1973”

  1. There was a total absence of loo rolls in London, I vaguely recall it was linked to a stoppage at the ports. In Chelsea there was a lorry, maybe more than one, that was selling loo rolls but you had to buy a box about the size of a builders’ bag. I nabbed one and very quickly became very popular as I was giving them away to friends. There were regular shortages of other things too prior to the Common Market developing into a single market.

    • You’re right! I remember it too as I was living in London in Autumn 73. I mentioned it to my partner a couple of weeks ago when the current loo roll shortage started and he didn’t remember it all. Probably because he didn’t live in London.

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