Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Writing on the Wall

I was recently reminded of a strange cultural phenomenon of North American men (and perhaps women but I hardly think it is equivalent), the bathroom wall. I went to a warehouse for a pick up and had to use their bathroom. Sometimes I try to anticipate how bad these bathrooms would be. But it had been awhile since I last encountered a bathroom with such an elaborate fresco. The usual suspects were there. Scattered were various phone numbers offering various services. There were several crudely drawn images of naked women with a bear minimum anatomical representation. Then there were the penises (peni?). They were disembodied, pointed straight up and given faces and a turban (with a stereo-typical “East Indian” look). The caption beside one read, "A new Canadian."
Now were does one start in commenting on a bathroom wall? What struck me in this instance was just what men must think about their penises (I'm entering this on my Pocket PC and for efficiency it automatically suggests words I have used before and so now whenever I start with the letters "pe" it suggests “penises”)? I always got the impression that we were rather fond of that particular body part, but the way it was employed here or in derogatory language it appears that we actually think very little of it.
Perhaps the question can be answered by turning the perspective around. What do men think about immigrants?
Immigrants often look and act differently than we are accustomed to. They may not deal with situations as we think they should. This difference, viewed as a foreign or uninvited presence, can easily be treated with fear or mistrust as we cannot predict or control all the actions of these people. This uninvited guest poses no immediate threat but can affect various aspects of our life. From here it is often a short step to outright hostility fuelled by the belief that we are protecting what is good and right in the face what seeks to destroy. The immigrant, perhaps like the penis, can often be treated like the enemy within.
As the bathroom wall demonstrates sexuality is intensely objectified in our culture detached from holistic world-view. I do not believe that men have integrated their sexuality and so, being foreign to them, it often becomes the plane of violence.
Sexuality is so close to holiness, something so intimate but so foreign, so powerful, and so beyond control.


johnny m said...

while it's not uncommon for me to analyze even that which doesn't lend itself to such scrutiny, dare i suggest you're overthinking this?

perhaps the vulgarities are there because of what happens in a bathroom, and that such activity lends itself to thinking in vulgarities...

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is being over-analyzed. I think there are many 'cases' where an individual demeans or tries to de-value a part of him or herself that they are ashamed of on some level or cannot comes to terms with. Think of all the instances of addictions of various types, of people self-medicating in order to cover up some kind of internal pain. Everyone does this to a certain degree. Both you and I. It's not that outrageous a concept, perhaps only when things become uncontrollable. Maybe johnny m has some trouble relating to this personally? The fact that this occurs in a bathroom is irrelavent. The fact that this is a place of anonymity is the qualifier - people can truely express their thoughts without their socially acceptable self being exposed.

By the way, I have been in women's bathrooms which are equally, if not more, vulgar than the one discribed here.

Unknown said...

i think it is a good point about the bathroom being a "public" yet anonymous space. The dialogue that goes on there may make it one of the first pre-internet blogs!!

And as for the context of the bathroom leading to certain 'vulgar' thoughts, it has been argued that Martin Luther's inspiration may have come from extended time on the can.