Saturday, September 6, 2014

Washroom Graffiti: A Bellwether.

As long as we've been humans, we've been putting stuff on available walls. Source.


This will be a comparatively small post, but it's back-to-school season and I've been thinking about this particular phenomenon a lot.  Naturally, I'd love some [G+] feedback below because I am genuinely curious to hear your thoughts, but I assume the comments section will be a barren wasteland as per usual.

When I attended the University of Ottawa, for better or worse, I did not spend a tonne of time in Morriset Library.  However, when I had those marathon study sessions with my friends, or when I spent many consecutive days in there to study or work on a project, washroom visits became a necessity.  I would also like to pause here and congratulate my alma mater on keeping a proper coffee shop (i.e. Second Cup) in its main library.  While visiting these stalls, as with many stalls, one would find graffiti.  I'd say that I never gave it much thought, but frankly, the Morriset washroom graffiti was legitimately thought provoking.  Catalogued within those stalls were actual philosophical or moral debates, rebuttals below the original post and often in a different colour.   Sometimes they would be motivational slogans.  Often, because it was and is a bilingual institution, the commentary was in both English and French.  And once in the washrooms in the Marion basement men's room, there was a zig-zag line which was subsequently decorated with functional groups and ultimately the IUPAC name of the molecule which this drawing had become.

This picture is now everywhere on the internet, so I can't be sure of the original source.  But still, hilarious.

As with most interesting phenomena I come across, I discussed this with my friends.  That was the time at which I realised that this was not par for the course.  Having now attended Western University, I have also discovered that the overwhelming majority of graffiti at other institutions is not necessarily of the same calibre and is mostly homophobic slurs paired, ironically, with oftentimes vast and elaborate depictions of the male genitalia.  That said, it has been reported that there can be [extremely] encouraging messages left in the washrooms of Carleton (pictured below).  This raises several questions.  I wonder how much of Carleton's graffiti is more up-beat and how much is philosophical, as it seems to be a happy place, albeit an intellectual black hole as far as the anecdotes are concerned.  As I write that last statement, I can already hear the heated retort that "... well at least I don't speak French!"

Seen at Carleton by Rebecca Hay, artist and founder of the Just One Thing mental health initiative.

Digressions aside, this raises further questions for me.  Ottawa, Carleton, Wilfred Laurier, and Western are known by outsiders as: snooty and miserable; happy and a cognitive wasteland; happy party school; happy party school.  Their graffiti is thought provoking, motivational, homophobic slurs, and homophobic slurs respectively.  But what is the story elsewhere?  I highly encourage you to leave a comment below (so that all may peruse), with the perception of your school and the predominant graffiti you encounter.  Finally, should you find yourself looking at an institution at which to study, go to the washroom and enter a stall.  It could tell you a lot about the place.


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