Bathroom Wall Graffiti, dislocated // David LeGault
I've been thinking a lot about Latrinalia, the study of graffiti etched onto bathroom walls. The term was coined in 1966 by folklorist Allen Dundes because he felt the term shithouse poetry didn't encompass the content that isn't in verse or poetic form.
There's a long-standing history in Latrinalia, obscene amounts of graffiti scribbled across the ancient city of Pompeii.
It's true that there isn't often much to the content of Latrinalia, but the ideas behind it are incredibly fascinating. A study of restrooms at an unnamed West Coast university showed that the main themes are sex, relationships, and drugs. It's usually anonymous and more often than not comes across as angry, confrontational.
There's a lot to be taken away from Latrinalia. Primarily, we know that there are thousands of people out there who are so desperate to let out some kind of thought that they have to scrawl it on the side of a bathroom stall. I see it as a form of self-publication: possibly the only outlet for an otherwise silent voice.
The bathroom wall can also serve as a type of confessional, a place where a person can admit to some kind of guilt or fear with impunity. Sometimes these exclamations are impulsive, which can be seen in the hastily penned "Me too" comments, or the crossing out and revision of a previous statement. In many ways, this type of response has found a new home on Internet message boards, though I'm more interested in the tangible form of the bathroom wall. However, I'm more interested in the conscious, pre-meditated Latrinalia, the stall occupant who has the foresight to bring a Sharpie and take the time to compose.
I find myself wanting to call the random phone numbers, to talk to these people, to see what they mean by "a good time." I always wonder if I should scribble my own name across the wall, to see if anyone else takes these words seriously.
This is the voice I long for in the books I read, the voice of someone with no other outlet for thoughtless aggression.
Comment on this column at Tumblr.
Photo courtesy of Winterwoo/Wikipedia