Fart lighting is the practice of igniting the gases produced by human flatulence, often producing a flame of a blue hue, hence the act being known colloquially as a "blue angel", "blue dart", or in Australia, a "blue flame". The fact that flatus is flammable, and the actual combustion of it through this practice, gives rise to much humorous derivation. Other colors of flame such as orange and yellow are possible with the color dependent on the mixture of gases formed in the colon.
In 1999 author Jim Dawson argued that fart lighting has been a novelty practice primarily among young men or college students for decades, but is discouraged for its potential for causing injury. Such experiments typically occur on camping trips and in single-sex group residences, such as tree-houses, dormitories, or fraternity houses. With the advent of video sharing features online, hundreds of self-produced videos, both documentary as well as spoof, have been posted to sites such as YouTube. The people appearing in the videos are predominantly young males. In his book The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life author Mark Richard Leary explains how a great deal of unhappiness is due to people's inability to exert control over their thoughts and behavior and that "stupid stunts", including lighting flatulence, were a way to make an impression and be included in group bonding or hazing.
Although there is little scientific discourse on the combustive properties of flatus, there are many anecdotal accounts of flatus ignition and the activity has increasingly found its way into popular culture with references in comic routines, movies, and television; including cartoons. In Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa author Neil Slaven quotes Frank Zappa, "The manly art of fart-burning. compression, ignition, combustion and exhaust."
4(g) + 2O
2(g) → CO
2(g) + 2H
2S(g) + 3O
2(g) → 2SO
2(g) + 2H
The odor associated with flatus is due to hydrogen sulfide, skatole, indole, volatile amines and short-chain fatty acids. These substances are detectable by olfactory neurons in concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion, hydrogen sulfide being the most detectable.
Some of the gases are produced by bacteria which live in symbiosis within the large intestines of humans and other mammals. The gases are created as a by-product of the bacteria's digestion of food into relatively simpler substances. The oxygen and nitrogen component of flatus can be accounted for by aerophagy, while the CO2 component results from the reaction of stomach acids (HCl) with pancreatic bile (NaHCO3).
Because the methane, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen present are flammable, igniting the resulting gases can result in burns or explosions as well as the desired flame. Clothing, hair, or skin may catch fire and skin tissue can be damaged.
In popular culture
Many find a comedic value in fart lighting and the activity is increasingly represented in pop culture possibly because "for adults, the allure of the vulgar is regressionary and often secretly pleasurable." Fart lighting has been a novelty practice primarily among males or college students for decades.
- In the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd (Jim Carrey) successfully lights a fart as part of a grandiose daydream/fantasy sequence.
- Radio personality Howard Stern cites a fart-lighting scene for losing his popular show's first NBC affiliate when WVIT in Hartford canceled the show.
- In the 1999 episode "Spontaneous Combustion" of South Park, spontaneous human combustion is attributed to people's flatulence acting as the ignition. Shortly after the characters are introduced, one character, Kenny McCormick dies after attempting to light one of his own farts on a dare. (His deaths from odd causes are a running gag in the series). The children make this dare in response to seeing Terrance and Phillip light each other's flatulence in the movie-within-the-movie, Asses of Fire. The entire town is admonished to not to hold in their flatulence even in social situations where the practice could be inappropriate. Also, in the very first episode of South Park - "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" - Cartman shoots fire out of his sphincter by virtue of an alien satellite dish inserted in his rectum.
- A Bud Light 2004 Super Bowl commercial featured a horse-drawn carriage in which a couple is building romance and the man hands a woman a lit candle. While he leans down to retrieve the Bud Light; the horse farts and the gases, ignited by the candle flame, cause an explosion and we see the results of the woman's "blown out" hair and soot-covered face. At the end of the commercial, a passer-by refers to it as a "Rocket Sleigh".
- In the 1996 film Jack, the title character who is portrayed by Robin Williams, and his friends from school ignite farts in a tree house.
- In the film Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996) the pair encounter their fathers in the desert. Over the encounter, the elder man resembling Butt-head offers to show something really cool, then farts into the campfire with atomic results.
- In Family Guy Viewer mail #1, Chris Griffin received the powers of pyrokinesis and lit his Dad's fart creating a flame several feet long. In the May 2006 Untitled Griffin Family History's episode, the history of the universe starts with God lighting his own fart resulting in the Big bang with the objects of the Milky Way solar system apparently God's effluence.
- The opening theme song to The Man Show (1994-2001) includes the line "Quit your job and light a fart" and made numerous references to the practice of fart lighting throughout the show's run.
- In an episode of the satire puppet show Spitting Image (1984-1996), Rupert Murdoch uses lighted farts to make toast.
- In the April 2007 episode "Aunt Myra Doesn't Pee a Lot" of the sitcom Two and a Half Men, Jake's dad Alan asks how did Jake get candle wax on his pants, Jake confirms is was due to his lighting farts.
On 2 May 2000, a U.S. patent was issued for a "Toy gas fired missile and launcher assembly", a product that would allow one's "colonic gases" to be stored for later ignition to "fire the missile into space."
- Dawson, Jim (1999). Who Cut the Cheese?: A Cultural History of the Fart. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 9781580080118. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- U. of California Press Web site Retrieved October 6, 2007
- Barnes, Steve (2007). "On YouTube, you too can be a star". Santa Cruz Live. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- "Search Results for “fart lighting”". YouTube. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- Leary, Mark Richard (2004). The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195172423. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- Slaven, Neil (2003). Electric Don Quixote: The Definitive Story of Frank Zappa. Omnibus Press. p. 100. ISBN 0711994366. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- Zappa, Frank; Occhiogrosso, Peter (1999). The Real Frank Zappa Book. Simon and Schuster. p. 85. ISBN 9780671705725. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Van Ness, M. M. and Cattau, E. L. (1985) Am. Fam. Practioner, 31;198-208.
- Hydrogen sulfide
- Levitt, M. D. and Bond, J. H. (1978) in Intestinal Gas and Gastrointestinal Disease
- BBC - h2g2 - Farts and Flatulence
- Twitchell., J. (1992). Carnival Culture – The Trashing of Taste in America. Columbia University Press, New York. p. 52.
- Mercer, Bobby (2009-04-18). How Do You Light a Fart?: And 150 Other Essential Things Every Guy Should Know about Science. Adams Media. p. 71. ISBN 9781440519871. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Fart Scenes in Movies
- Stern, Howard (1993). Private Parts. Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-88016-0. ISBN 978-0-671-88016-3. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (2008). Taking South Park Seriously. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-7914-7566-2.
- Thompson, Paul (1999-11-06). Waikato Times (Hamilton, New Zealand). p. 14.
- Bud Light Sleigh Ride » The Inspiration Room Daily
- Francis Ford Coppola (director & producer), James DeMonaco (writer) (1996-08-09). Jack (Motion picture). Walt Disney Studios (Burbank), California, USA: Hollywood Pictures, American Zoetrope. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Mike Judge (writer), Joe Stillman (writer) (1996-12-20). Beavis and Butt-head Do America (Motion picture). Hollywood, California: Paramount Pictures, MTV Films. Retrieved 2008-09-12.
- Callaghan, S. (2005). Family Guy: The Official Episode Guide Seasons 1–3. HarperCollins, New York. p. 152–155.
- "Spitting Image: The Complete Series 1". Network DVD. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
- "Spitting Image plans TV comeback", The Guardian, Monday May 17, 2004
- Episode 92 ("Aunt Myra Doesn't Pee a Lot") Episode 20 of Season 4 Two and a Half Men, written by Jerry Zaks, Lee Aronsohn, Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky and Jim Patterson. Aired April 16, 2007.
- Zanakis, Michael F.; Philip A. Femano (2 May 2000). "Toy Gas Fired Missile and Launcher Assembly". U.S. Patent Office, Patent number: 6055910; Filing date: Jun 1, 1998; International Classification - F42B 406. Retrieved 2008-01-10.