Written on the Latrine Walls

| 4/24/2008 6:03:15 PM

U.S. bathroom graffiti.Messages conveyed through bathroom graffiti exist in a world of their own, somewhere between the bounds of taste and repugnance, lacking the privacy of a diary but too ephemeral and obscure to truly be part of the public domain. They are personal statements momentarily pushed into view, yet destined for erasure. In part, this transience is what makes Steve Featherstone’s visual essay in the Walrus about graffiti in the latrines of U.S. soldiers serving in Kuwait and Afghanistan such an appealing project. His pictures capture something that those of us living stateside could never otherwise have seen. The scrawlings are both foreign and familiar: macho anger, smack-talk between soldiers and, above all, homesickness. The messages don’t come together to form some cohesive, revelatory narrative, as much as we might wish them to. 

Featherstone doesn’t read too much into what’s written on the privy walls. As a whole, the messages serve as a window into one of the world’s shitholes, not a codex for understanding conflict in the Middle East or the meaning of warfare. They are what they are, “fleeting moment[s] in a six year-old war—nothing more. The words on these walls are snatches of an overheard and ongoing conversation that changes by the day, soldier’s talking to other soldiers at a time when soldiers are being asked to give more than they have been giving, which is already too much.”

Morgan Winters

Image by Russell Bernice, licensed under Creative Commons

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter

click me