Sylvester Stallone’s 1993 dystopian sci-fi actioner Demolition Man is one of my all time favorite movies. No joke, in grad school I wrote a lengthy paper about it. (And it predicted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political career. Sure, he didn’t become president, but governor of California is nothing to sneeze at.) It’s simultaneously futuristic, but also a definite artifact of the 1990s. One of the pieces of the film that most people seem to cling to involves the futuristic method of going to the bathroom. Instead of using squares of toilet paper to clean yourself up, like we do now, there are three seashells. How that works remains a mystery, but now we know how this peculiar piece of science fiction came to be.
As a quick refresher, Demolition Man follows the exploits of John Spartan (Stallone), a cop who, framed for murder by his nemesis, super criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes in awesome stripped spandex pants), is frozen cryogenically as punishment. When Phoenix escapes into a peaceful future ill equipped to cope with his particularly vicious brand of crime—no one swears, fights, swears, fucks, or, again, uses toilet paper—Sandra Bullock thaws Spartan and all hell breaks loose.
When Spartan needs to use the can for the first time he’s shocked and appalled to find the aforementioned trio of seashells in place of the expected toilet paper, which Rob Schneider thinks in hilarious. Watch the scene below:
Sometimes in science fiction, such inventions have a reason or a backstory, like the writer envisions a future where this could really happen. There are all kinds of theories about the seashells, most of which are too gross to get into in polite company (I do feel like making a joke about all restaurants being Taco Bell), but that’s not the case here, there’s no origin in any sort of reality. Screenwriter Daniel Waters recently appeared at an anniversary screening of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (which is apparently a thing that happens), this question came up, and Reddit user uncleluke2 says this was the response:
I won’t tell you the actual secret, but I’ll tell you where it came from. There’s a scene where Stallone has to use a restroom. I’m trying to come up with futuristic things you’d find in there. I was having trouble, so I called my buddy, another screenwriter across town, asked him if he had any ideas. Ironically enough that guy was taking a dump when he answered the phone, looked around his bathroom and said ‘I have a bag of seashells on my toilet as a decoration?’ I said ‘Ok, I’ll make something out of that.’
So there you have it, one of Waters’ buddies was dropping a deuce and answered the phone, and his bathroom decorations found their way into a major motion picture. It’s silly and random and just the kind of inside joke and funny little aside writers love to throw into their work. You knew there was a story behind this unusual bit of sci-fi lore, and now you know what it is. Are you satisfied or did you hope there was more?