Don’t discuss politics in polite company (go to the bathroom)

I was tipped off to a men’s bathroom in Harper– a building with a number of classrooms, the adviser offices, and an all-night study space– that was covered in graffiti, and with the help of some male door-guards (my awesome coworkers Ifeanyi Okonma and Avi Schwab), I was able to hit up all the men’s and women’s bathrooms in the building.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really a fan of bathroom graffiti. I usually find it rather dull and predictable, it’s something of a cliche, and I prefer graffiti written where everyone can see it. That said, as this project has expanded from the graffiti in the Regenstein Library stacks to graffiti on university campuses more broadly, I can’t afford to ignore what’s going on in the bathrooms. (Note: all links and images are clickable to see a bigger version of the graffiti, and will open overlaid over the page to not disrupt reading.)

The amount of graffiti in the Harper bathrooms alone was overwhelming, and it’s going to take a number of blog posts to get into everything that’s going on there. But I’d like to start with a follow-up to an earlier blog post on politics. As noted previously, there isn’t much political graffiti around, other than a burst of activity in the run-up to the 2008 election. One of the exceptions noted was some anti-UN commentary in the B-level men’s room (in a stall best known for its philosopher-name wordplay.) At the time, I dismissed it as someone’s pet peeve, but after checking out some other bathrooms, it does look to me that the anti-UN graffiti is part of a larger trend of men discussing politics through graffiti in the bathroom– at least, to a greater extent than they discuss it through graffiti elsewhere.

Politics isn’t the only thing discussed to a greater extent in the bathrooms than elsewhere: antisemitism and racism are better represented in the bathrooms, there’s plenty of drawings of vaginas– whereas there are none in public places, there’s penis drawings galore, and there’s sex solicitations. At least in the Harper graffiti collection, homophobia was about par for the course compared to the non-bathroom graffiti. But all of these are the subject of their own discussions at a later date.

Election graffiti

These bathrooms clearly haven’t been painted over in a long while, and some of the graffiti looks like it dates back to the election. In addition to the “Vote Obama” sign (right), we have a potential write-in candidate asking you to vote for him, despite showing some disturbing ignorance of who the main candidates are: Fuck Obama-n-Bush, u Should Vote For ME.

Local politics

The “FUCK EL GOBIERNO” next to “Vote Obama” doesn’t name names, but Rod Blagojevich seems like a perfectly plausible target.

9/11

Seeing these pieces of graffiti surprised me, but it’s hard to know what to make of it without knowing when it was written. It’s from the bathroom on the mezzanine, which I hear they recently reopened to accommodate bathroom breaks from the new all-night study space in Harper. It’s entirely possible, as far as I know, that some or all of it could date from 2001.

Layered around a comment about the criminality of writing on the wall and a badly-written Om (ॐ) are the remarks DON’T BELIEVE THE 9/11 LEGEND!, BBC: 1 of 19 “hijackers” <–(stolen/fake IDs) still alive!. Mostly erased and mostly illegible is some comment about Cheney and 9/11 war games.

Democrats vs. Republicans

First, someone suggested that the Young Republicans be drafted. Then, someone changed it to Democrats. And then some name-calling broke out. “Dummycrats” was crossed out and replaced with “RetardedAsscrats”– which I have to assume is one Republican escalating another’s insult.

Rabble-rousing

There’s a long thread that begins with the prompt “Revolt Against the Modern World Someone has helpfully contextualized it by adding (i.e. capitalism, e.g.) The reply: “Have fun with that, dumbass. Why not “revolt against gravity” from the top of the Sears Tower while you’re at it?” The response to that is a shit-joke, but the following response is the much-modified MODERNITY IS REVOLTageING.

Someone also wrote: “The people will rise or continue to lead Their shitty lives” (and someone more cynical has helpfully offered “but” as an alternative to “or” in this sentence.)

Economics

Near the political name-calling, someone’s written “Commies: so annoying“, to which someone added “and right”.

One writer griped that “Only little people pay taxes”– before someone else helpfully added in a “the”, I’m sure to clear up any possible misunderstandings about taxes on dwarfism.

And then there’s the long thread on capitalism:
Capitalism creates scarcity
CAPITALISM INTEFERS <– [heart]
with Values, Passions, And Humanity
PASSIONS INTERFERE WITH REALITY
Passion IS Reality
HUMANITY INTERFERES WITH PASSIONS
Shit interferes with passion

Law and the State

Finally, written in sharpie on one of the stall doors, you can find “Do what thou Wilt shall be the Whole of the Law”, a quote from English occultist Aleister Crowley’s “Liber AL vel Legis” (The Book of the Law). It gets a nod of approval, “True that”, but also gets co-opted into political commentary: “in the horrible, doomed anarchist state subject to inane, overenthusiastic Enlightenment nonsense”.

What’s here, what’s missing

In the men’s bathrooms, you can find the sorts of political expressions you might expect from the 18-22 crowd: things about uprisings, communism, capitalism interfering with “Values, Passions and Humanity”. But, other than the 9/11 graffiti (which I do suspect was written shortly thereafter), and possibly “Fuck El Gobierno” (depending on when it was written) it’s all generalities. Graffiti written in direct response to current political events, like my baby-boomer coworker was inquiring after, is still nowhere to be found.

Furthermore, the apparent relegation of even these general political discussions to the bathroom perhaps suggests that politics– like expressions of negative feelings about Jews or African-Americans– is best brought up in private, rather than in the “polite company” of library bookstacks, whiteboards, or study carrels.

It’s worth noting that all of this graffiti was from the men’s bathrooms. While I checked in the corresponding women’s bathrooms, there was only graffiti in one of them, primarily consisting of a discussion about whether a robotic arm is desirable, and some references to Lord of the Rings. Where do young women write about politics? Do young women even write graffiti about politics?

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