Bloggers in the Bog (Toronto Journal)

by kiminogomi

Inscription on the door of the ladies' bog, University of Toronto

Sadly, these toilets cannot transport you to the Ministry of Magic. However, if you are looking for the Chamber of Secrets, you’ve come to the right place.

The inscription above appears on a stall door in a ladies’ room at the University of Toronto, where multiple writers are carrying on, or have carried on, a spirited debate regarding the relative merits of characters from Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series.

When print texts permeate “reality” to this extent, and circulate in this way as a series of metonymies (a compressed format), isn’t the whole thing already cybernetic?  At the least, I would argue, it has become hypertext, with the physical environment operating as both platform (writing surface) and tag, that which enables the indexical aspect of the utterance,  represented by “these,” to connect the written text with the object that inspired its author.

The women who created this debate are using an ancient device of public communication, graffiti, in a restricted environment reminiscent of some women-only listservs devoted to “unfeminine” genres like fantasy and scifi.  Some of the comments on the door update the time-honored conventions of bog (public bathroom) graffiti by humorously declaring love for a particular literary character, or commenting on another woman’s choice.  The palimpsestic nature of the inscribed surface allowed for lots of meta-communication.  One writer “corrected” another woman’s profession of devotion, turning the singer Frank Black into the Harry Potter character Sirius Black.  In the upper right corner a reader/author gushed, “I love intellectual graphitti [sic],” to which another responded, “You call this intellectual?  Oh come on.”  This last commentator used a graphic convention common in the medium, indicating with an arrow the previous posting to which she was responding.  Meanwhile, in the next stall writers had commented rather wistfully on its more conventional inscriptions: “I like the conversation next door better!”  “Me too.”

I am sure that I am not the first person to argue that graffiti is a precursor to blogging, but the content of this particular example suggests that even eeconomically and politically privileged subjects are driven as much by the desire to create community as by technological conveniences.  Not that the bog does not present certain unique features that might attract the aspiring public intellectual: as an interface, the stall door combines graphic elements, wiki-like layering of content, and a gendered ahybrid public/private persona-generative matrix of elements, all in a relatively distraction-free discursive space.