What drives one to leave their mark on public property? What inner forces are so strong that a person cannot help but express them for all to see? Well, according to a scientific study of bathroom wall graffiti undertaken by GUM, the driving force is usually thoughts of sex. Who knew.
Anyone who has ventured into the gents toilet on the ground floor of the Glasgow Uni library has no doubt noticed the stupefying amount of graffiti scrawled over every vertical surface. But this is no ordinary tagging of public walls. This is a veritable symposium on every subject from socialism to terrorism to the state of a person’s bowel movements to the relative merits of pornography versus actual sex.
Intrigued by the possibility of finding enlightenment within the unfiltered thoughts of Glasgow’s best and brightest, GUM decided to embark on a study of toilet graffiti on every floor of the GU Library. In this way, it was hoped that, for example, the theology level would be full of deep philosophical debates, the fine arts level would be covered in cutting-edge modern artwork, and the natural sciences level would be a repository for dorky chemistry-themed humour. In search of the famous Glasgow Banter, we began transcribing the walls.
First, a word on methodology. The walls of every toilet, including stall dividers, doors, and toilet roll dispensers, were scrutinized for the presence of written and drawn graffiti. These were categorized under broad labels as described below. The results were tallied by library level and correlated to the appropriate academic subject areas. One aim of this study was to see if bathroom graffiti was affected or driven in any way by intellectual motives. The results are limited by many factors, not least the recent renovation of many of the bathrooms on all floors except three, eight and nine. The study was also limited to the gents toilets for reasons of discretion; future areas of research include the ladies toilets, desks and the more private study cubicles. Level two was left out, since it had simply too much graffiti to transcribe; the results of level three are likewise compromised by the fact that it is high-traffic and used by students of all subjects.
A further word on the subjects covered. Under Sex and Sexual Preference fell all comments regarding intercourse, genitalia, or intimate desires (“Fat Birds!!” – level eight), including adverts for gay sex and all the responses these provoked. The category of Sport was narrowed down to Football since discussion of any other sports was so minimal as to be statistically insignificant. Under Scatological fall all comments concerning the expulsion of bodily waste, and fecal matter in general, even those that might be considered sexual in nature (such as the “Cleveland Steamer”).
The category of Politics includes all references to social and governmental policies, even those not inherently political in nature (“I hate student socialists”: level two), as well as the subcategory of student politics involving issues on student unions and elections. Issues of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism form their own category, as comments on these are generally more derogatory than political. Into the Graffiti category fall any comments dealing with the act or art of graffiti, including self-referential grafitti (“save the trees—write on the walls!” level two). The categories of Music, Religion, Jokes, Name and Shame, and Art/tags/other are self-explanatory.
The results were edifying in an unexpected way. The only level whose subject areas truly affected the tone of the graffiti was level ten, the theology and philosophy floor. There, the tags were strikingly subject-specific, if coloured by other motives: in one case a religious comment involving the word Testament was added onto to form the word testacle (sic), with the final tag resembling a Christian cross.
Otherwise, the motive of choice was most often sexual with 18% of the total tags, followed in order by politics (16%), football (14%), art/other (12%) and poo (10%). The only level with significant amounts of graffiti where sex was not the majority was level six (economics, social sciences and Soviet studies), where football was the number one topic (38%), with politics a surprising distant third (16%).
Breaking the sex category into subcategories, the result is that adverts for gay sex, often followed by a person’s mobile number, and the comments these attracted, was the single greatest motive (29%), followed closely by sex jokes (27%). Besides the high-traffic level three, the level with the most sex graffiti was by far level nine, English and modern languages. It is arguable whether this indicates that English majors are sex-obsessed, or just sex-starved. One may also lament the decline of “yer maw” jokes, coming in at only 10% of the total, with not a single iteration of the classic “yer maw’s got baws.”
Perhaps most disturbing is the amount of anti-gay and homophobic graffiti, usually triggered by the presence of gay sex adverts. The only level where a gay sex advert did not trigger any negative response was level four, the science and maths floor. In fact, many of the gay sex adverts on level three were referring to gay sex meeting places on level four. Unfortunately, graffiti regarding masturbation was relatively uniform across every floor, leaving the question of “which department has the most wankers” unanswered.
In conclusion, it seems that even while ostensibly studying and furthering their knowledge, what really drives students to write is sex and sport. Perhaps the university should take note and offer more subjects along these lines. But one result of this study shows that a love of bathroom graffiti, especially on the form of the debates which take place on level two, permeates most floors. Indeed, on the newly-renovated level five, with only very few tags, one blank stall was dominated by the cry, “Where’s the banter!?”, followed by the lonely reply of “cock.”