Enigmatic Memes: Bathroom Grafitti I Have Known

Bathroom wall graffiti gives a glimpse of the way people think: it is drect, anonymous and comes with little sense of responsibility, similar to how most people’s backyards tell us how the homeowner truly lives.

Bathroom wall scribbles hardly qualify as art or creative writing, but I can think of some that is more creative than others.

Back in 1985, when I was a first-year student at the Emily Carr College of Art, the men’s room in the Foundation Department had some enigmatic and interesting graffiti. Above one of the urinals, written in tiny letters in the grout between the tiles, were three words, a little zen riddle which puzzled me in the back of my mind. Weeks later, for some reason I can’t recall, me and a few classmates were standing in the hallway at lunch hour, discussing bathroom grafitti. Shaun Hayes-Holgate only had to say the words “Toast or Pockets?” and we all knew what he meant, and exactly where we all, er, stood.

Gossip also went ’round about a long exchange between a student and one of our instructors, which apparently became fairly heated, to the point of using very blunt expletives. The instructor in question was known for writing copious notes on sheets of paper on his classroom walls using a brush pen, which gave his writing a distinctive calligraphic style. Apparently, the instructor’s brush pen was equally effective on drywall and may have given him away. So much for an author’s anonymity.

By comparison, I found the bathroom grafitti at UBC rather disappointing. In the men’s room in the Student Union Building at Western Canada’s largest, most prestigious University, I half expected some sort of first-year philosophy course scrawled across the tiles. Instead, it was the same sort of racist, homophobic ranting and cartoon genitalia that you’d find on the walls of any high school. So much for higher education. (My wife, defending her Alma Mater, declared that these were just first-year students.)

Today, 25 years later, Emily Carr seems to have kept some of its off-beat, enigmatic flavour, but overall, I find that my old school seems so much more mainstreamed and packaged than it was back in my day. Certainly, the quality of bathroom discourse seems to have degraded. Maybe students and teachers have their meaningful exchanges in Twitter and Facebook nowadays. All I know is that today, over the toilet in the Emily Carr Foundation men’s room was scribbled “Kelsey Grammar, bitches!” to which someone had replied “Hell yeah!”

Perhaps devolution is real, or perhaps I expect too much from post-secondary education.

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