January 29, 2007

Press butt and release

I’m cross-posting this entry from my own blog, because I thought it might generate some interesting feedback.

I have a genuine anthropological interest–much to my own surprise, in fact–in graffiti. Certainly, anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) have been producing graphic art for millennia; the prehistoric cave paintings of France and Spain are, perhaps, the best-known (though we are still unsure as to its true nature). In historic times, graffiti has been found on walls and structures from ancient Greece and Rome, and can tell us much about the culture and mindset of ordinary people in far more illuminating ways than, say, a shard of pottery or broken statue. Politics, amourous declarations, personal insults, magical incantations, and even jokes can be found in ancient graffiti. City dwellers in our modern era are all too familiar with graffiti, as well. Indeed, many of the same themes that decorated the walls of the Roman Empire persist in modern graffiti.

The kind of graffiti that I, personally, find the most intriguing are written messages, rather than the sometimes-huge illustrations that adorn urban spaces. I don’t know how it is in women’s restrooms, but the men’s room is often a hotbed of graffiti. These two photos were taken in two separate men’s room on the UIC campus. In the first, someone has written “Gay boyz club house <—,” presumably to accompany the offers of blowjobs written at eye-level by the urinals (“SUCK,” “bj stalls —>,” etc.) with an arrow pointing around the corner to the stalls.

The second shows how a hand drier has been altered to produce a humorous (?) message. This was obviously not something that one could have made in a few seconds, as it was created by scratching a message into the surface using a sharp object, while obliterating parts of the instructions that were printed by the manufacturer. Other letters and symbols have been etched in as well.

My question is why? If someone is reading this who has created graffiti in this manner (or a “friend” of yours), I’d be genuinely interested in hearing from you. Or from anyone, really, about their thoughts on graffiti. Please comment below.

Gay Boyz Club House

(I recommend viewing a larger size.)

Press butt and release

There is a fantastic desk that was located on the third floor of the UIC library that must have been there for years, and is literally covered in graffiti. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to find it and take a picture of it. I hope it hasn’t been discarded (or anyone is stitting there).


  1. Deron Bauman on January 29th, 2007 at 8:27 am

    I am reminded of our shared affection for Rome (the tv show) and its use of graffiti as both a backdrop for the titles and a way of taking the pulse of the people toward the ruling classes.

  2. Cindy Scroggins on January 29th, 2007 at 9:56 am

    The Life of Brian — Centurian points out Brian’s improper use of Latin in his graffiti:

    Centurion: Conjugate the verb “to go”.
    Brian: Ire; eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt!
    Centurion: So eunt is…?
    Brian: Third person plural, present indicative. “They go!”
    Centurion: But “Romans, go home” is an order, so you must use the…?
    Brian: The… imperative!
    Centurion: Which is…?
    Brian: I!
    Centurion: [twisting Brian’s ear] How many Romans?
    Brian: [yelling] I.. Plural, plural! Ite, ite!
    Centurion: [writing] Ite. Domus? Nominative? But “go home”, it is motion towards, isn’t it, boy?
    Brian: Dative, sir!
    [The centurion promptly draws his swords and presses it against Brian’s throat. Brian yells:]
    No, not dative! Not the dative, sir! No! The… accusative, accusative! Domum, sir, ad domum!
    Centurion: Except that domus takes the…?
    Brian: The locative, sir!
    Centurion: Which is?
    Brian: Domum!
    Centurion: [writing] Domum… -um [sheathing his sword] Understand?
    [Brian nods eagerly]
    Now, write it out a hundred times!
    Brian: Yes, sir, thank you, sir! Hail Caesar!
    Centurion: Hail Caesar. If it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your balls off!
    Brian: Oh, thank you, sir. Thank you, sir. Hail Caesar and everything, sir!

  3. Cooper on January 29th, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Will your being an anthropologist gain you entrance into the cave at Lascaux?

  4. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    An amusing adjunct to the claim that early instances of graffiti (in Ephesus) advertised the services of prostitutes: In Madison, Wisconsin, massage parlors featuring ‘extras’ once graced various streets radiating from the central square on which stood the State Capitol. In the late 1970s, in solidarity with their oppressed sisters, a sub-set of Madison feminists took to spray-painting the legend “FOR PIMPS” on dumpsters in the neighborhood.

  5. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Will your being an anthropologist gain you entrance into the cave at Lascaux?

    Only if he can demonstrate the ability to hold his breath for more than three minutes.

  6. Dean Hendrix on January 29th, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    1. Push Button

    2. Wipe Hands Gently Under Warm

    3. Stops Automatically

    4. Wipe hands on pants.

  7. Dean Hendrix on January 29th, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    1. Push Butt

    2. Wipe Hands Gently Under arm

    4. Wipe hands on pants.

  8. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Push Butt and Ease . . . ? . . . ?

  9. Deron Bauman on January 29th, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Sheila, whatever it takes.

  10. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    I’m just looking forward to a photo of the fabulous desk in the UIC library.

  11. Daniel Lestarjette on January 29th, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Sheila, are you thinking of Cosquer, the now-underwater cave in southern France?

    Re: the desk. I believe I found it (maybe), but I did not take a picture of it, because there were too many people around. At any rate, I was a bit disappointed, because the graffiti mostly consisted of “Johnny ♥ Sally.” I recall another desk with messages to the effect of “Fuck Bush!” and other political rhetoric.

    However, I cannot let you down, Sheila, and I will return in the morning to obtain a picture of it.

    Cindy, do you know I’ve never seen Life of Brian? I believe a trip down to Blockbuster is in order.

    BTW, scratching out the “ON” in BUTTON so that the instructions read “Push Butt” is, apparently, very funny indeed. I realized this today, because I saw this in at least four separate bathrooms on the hand dryers. Which is not to say that I’ve been scouting out the men’s rooms on campus like a weirdo. I just have to pee a lot.

  12. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    What was in my mind, I believe, with respect to holding one’s breath at the Lascaux site was some impression I’d gotten that it was off limits to run-of-the-mill visitors and that one of the reasons had to do with the effects of the exhalation of thousands of breaths on the paintings. That notion could very well be something that I dreamed.

  13. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Okay, Daniel, I’m definitely going to start taking my camera with me into women’s rest rooms. Some of the stalls do feature graffiti, and in the interest of science, you should have access to it!

    (An aside: I’ve been in lots — okay, not lots, let’s say some — some men’s rooms, which I always entered with a male escort, never fearing any dire consequence. But if I were a guy, I’m not sure that I would feel so free to waltz into a women’s rest room without fear of repercussions involving phone calls to security guards or cops, even if I were accompanied by a woman. So: allow me to tread where you dare not and photograph that which you dare not record!)

  14. Daniel Lestarjette on January 29th, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Oh yes, you’re right, Sheila. I forgot about that. I wonder if archaeologists who visit the cave use some kind of respirator so as not to damage the paintings?

  15. Daniel Lestarjette on January 29th, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Before I came to UIC, I spent a few semesters at a community college, and on at least two occasions, I walked into the women’s restroom by accident. I did wonder, on one such occasion, why there were only stalls and no urinals, but I had to pee, so who cares? Then some girls came in and I was all like, “Oh shit, this is the girl’s bathroom!” which they thought was hilarious.

  16. Sheila Ryan on January 29th, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Well, you know, in the face of incongruity that threatens neither life nor limb, I say hilarity is always a superior response to calling the cops. Glad the community college girls shared my view.

  17. Daniel Lestarjette on February 5th, 2007 at 10:27 am

    I’m sitting in the library at school at this very moment, at a great desk with some interesting graffiti. I’ve taken pictures, but I don’t have the cable with me to upload the pictures to Flickr. I’ll try to get them online this afternoon; otherwise, it’ll be later on tonight when I get home from work.

    By way of a preview, my favorite message so far: GAY IS GOOD. 😉