Graffiti, illicit text often written in a public space, has been around since antiquity. Yet there is a certain idiosyncrasy in the writings of public bathrooms. Although “public,” a bathroom stall is, by nature of western custom, private. I posit that this privacy encourages the textual contribution of bathroom users, allowing them to share their most intimate and vulgar thoughts as they engage in one of man’s most vulnerable activities: defecation.
Most of the artifacts I have collected are located around the Florida State University. I believe the academic setting has an effect on the nature of the texts. For some, the bathroom stall substrate serves as a public journal – a space to dump their academic stresses as to incite a smelly catharsis. Writers anonymously cry out their existential pain to their peers, or they attempt to brighten the reader’s day with a light joke. Perhaps, they attempt to occupy the space as a toxic bathroom troll, spewing hate-speech and lies to trigger the negative emotions of others. Whatever the purpose of the writer, the anonymity of the bathroom setting allows the writer to produce content that is all their own. This gallery showcases the variety of writings that the men’s bathroom stall encourages:
“WELCOME TO THE POST-APOCOLYPSE”
Located in the third floor of Strozier Library at FSU, one can find this text written on one of the bathroom stalls. In all capital letters, a mysterious person writes: “WELCOME TO THE POST-APOCOLYPSE.” The anonymity of this text gives it a haunting undertone. For all the reader knows, the writer could be an omniscient being who is informing the world at large that the technological collapse of society is nigh, or well past us.
“Harambe = Jesus”
This text likely has two authors. A strange sticker depicts the folded hands of a human in prayer. Beneath the photo, someone writes: “JESUS CAME TO SAVE THAT WHAT IS LOST.” A religious day-brightener for some. For others, the sticker is the perfect opportunity to claim that Jesus is actually Harambe, a gorilla who was executed in the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe gained popularity on the internet on 2016, when many thought that his killing was wrongful and he deserved to be immortalized as a meme.
In this text, someone decides to write lyrics from the late English singer-songwriter, Nick Drake. Perhaps the author believes that their love of Nick Drake would spread onto others, or at the very least, brighten up their worldview.
“Pissing & thinking how Fucked I am for this exam”
Perhaps the quintessential example of public bathroom graffiti as a public journal for college students. The author decides to write about one of the most common college woes: not feeling prepared for an exam. This one has a cathartic release for not only the writer, but many of its readers who have also been in his shoes.
Another example of how a university bathroom may encourage a certain type of text. That is, one that requires higher-level understanding of academia. I had to search 3,3-dimethylpentane to confirm that the author did not draw a swastika, but the chemical structure of a certain compound. However, the joke is two-fold as, in a way, they still got away with drawing a swastika and labeled it “NoT HaTe!!”
“Does life imitate art, or does Art imitate life?”
Again, it is likely that this textual conversation would only be found in a university setting. Life imitating art, or anti-mimesis, was one of the main subjects of Oscar Wilde who once wrote in an essay, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life.” Recognizing this, a second author tells the first author to consult Oscar Wilde. A third author trolls with an unrelated joke about Guardians of the Galaxy.
“Does life imitate art, or does Art imitate life?” Version 2
I returned to the site of this artifact a couple months later, only to discover that it had changed. More texts were added, and someone wrote their graffiti tag and drew a picture of a UFO. Illegible scribbles also found their way onto the bathroom stall. One author snobbishly writes “obvi” next to “Ask Oscar Wilde…” while another person claims that art and life are “1 in the same.”
“FUCK MY RIPE ASSHOLE DEEP”
It wouldn’t be public bathroom without some vulgarity. Text like this, probably etched on with keys, is ubiquitous in bathrooms across the globe. For no real reason, people like to write about vulgar sexual content whenever they can. The university is no exception.
“Public Bathroom Prayer”
Located in Sweet Shop across the street from FSU is a public bathroom prayer. The prayer asks its deity that the public bathroom be stocked with supplies. Oh, the horror that many have faced from a public bathroom without toilet paper.