Overwriting hate has been known since ancient times when the original cave drawings of some people were obscured by new paintings. Smith provides a range of examples in order to present his argument and support it with evidence. In particular, it is discussed that in an attempt to protect their rights, the Indian tribes obscured “United States Property” inscription on the territory of Alcatraz, changing it to “United Indian Property”1. Another example is related to the textual sabotage as it were in the case of Ray Gun magazine and its separation efforts.
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There is a specific explanation of the so-called sensitive words that cause immediate impulse in the reader, making him or her cry, yield and so on. In fact, these words are just a set of symbols and not their form, yet the meaning affects and insults people. Thus, beginning the topic from relevant examples, the author moves to the core topic of the investigation – bathroom graffiti. The core argument of the suggested reading can be identified as follows: even though hate writing in bathrooms causes negative effects on the viewers, it is possible to change the situation positively by using overwriting. Focusing on typology, Smith reveals the power of psychology and creates the dialogue between a sender and a recipient of the message.
The author creates clear nodes and links between the parts of the chapter so that the text flows well. In order to introduce the topic, he begins with the cave drawings that were pinpointed above and then identified his own experience by noticing the corresponding voices. Primarily focusing on anti-gay hate speech in men’s bathroom, Smith claims that this place is characterised by sexual acknowledgement of homosexual and heterosexual users.
Graffiti is considered there as “a form of propaganda and emotional expression” and presents plenty of aspects of hate speech2. For example, racial bigotry and homophobia are at the top of the themes that may be encountered in public bathrooms. At the same time, it is noted that men’s bathrooms are more vernacular rather than those of women as the former are more aggressive, sexually explicit, and articulate. Interestingly, according to the data cited by the author, 86 per cent of men’s bathrooms comprise erotic material3.
Smith explains this by connecting the mentioned tendency to childhood and excretion, referring to the so-called anal stage of childhood, as noted by Sigmund Freud, in which male children feel satisfaction during anus stimulation and defecation. Thus, male public bathrooms cause this childhood “smearing impulse” and make men enter the discourse of private and public as well as those of childhood and present4.
Furthermore, the author reflects on his intentions regarding the investigation of this topic and states that the interest to interpretation and understanding motivated him to use graffiti letterforms to create a queer language with the aim of answering to the existing writings. 32 letters were generated with the adherence to the proper semiotic analysis of every letter. It is emphasised that language itself consists of letters, yet there are specific signals that identify the nature of the impulse revealed by a certain text. Smith considers three types of signals that were developed by Crawford Dunn, including alpha signal, para signal, and info signal.
The above signals serve as visualisation tools, acting as drivers of one’s perception of the message. In particular, alpha signal refers to hard data that a spectator detects first, para signal presents unmistakable characteristics, among which there can be colour, size, etc., and info signal means underlying information. When “fagget fucker” was changed by the utilisation of the redesigned typography, it turned out to be that there is some disidentification between a sender’s mind and body as the infrasignal showed.
In order to make the process of investigation more clear, the author pinpoints that he remained anonymous and abstained from communication with bathrooms’ users. Smith also fairly notes that it is impossible to eradicate written hatred even though people tend to be more tolerant of queer communities. In this regard, it is of great importance to transform negative attitudes into positive ones and make the language more impenetrable to others. Since labelling implies the expression of the preconceived notions, it may be referred to as a social term in the given context of truck bathrooms that remain a sexual space with hatred towards gays. However, bathrooms with homophobia-related graffiti are likely to become places for gay culture learning, thus promoting increased awareness and attitude transformation.
The investigation provided by Smith seems to be relevant and reliable in terms of the nowadays intolerant environment. The results of the analysed study, as well as its course, may be visualised with the help of the presentation that will enlighten drawings, new typography alphabet with both uppercases and lowercases, and also some examples from truck bathroom hate writing. This presentation should be accompanied by oral comments and appropriate attention to the details. The core implication of this study is to foster public awareness and make the issue of overwriting hate more clear for students. Ultimately, the suggested resolution of the issue can be discussed after sharing with the class.
Smith, Mark Addison. “Overwriting Hate: The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall.” In Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, edited by Beth Tauke, Korydon Smith, and Charles Davis, 153-169: New York, Routledge, 2016.
- Smith, Mark Addison, “Overwriting Hate: The Queer Writing on the Bathroom Wall,” in Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences, ed. by Beth Tauke, Korydon Smith, and Charles Davis (New York: Routledge, 2016), 153.
- Ibid., 155.
- Ibid., 156.
- Ibid., 156.