Philosophy on bathroom stalls

Never thought I would write that title, but I was over at buzzfeed, indulging the juvenile proscratinator in me, and I looked at this. It’s pretty funny, but more importantly, there is actually philosophical value to this piece of vandalism. Written on a bathroom stall was the following:

Things I Hate

1. Vandalism

2. Irony

3. Lists

Whoever came up with this is pretty smart, because there are multiple layers of self-reference, recursion, and meta-statements. In fact, I’m not sure how to characterize them all.

Number 1 creates irony by introducing a contrast between the communication of a message (that the person hates vandalism) with the form of that message (a message on a bathroom stall, which is vandalism). Number 1 would not be out of the ordinary if it were written on government form or a school test.

Number 2 is meta-irony. If one sees something ironic, one can draw attention to it by labeling it as irony, “hey, that’s ironic,” and 2 is like that (we just saw irony with the vandalism case) but it’s better than that. Because the person is putting irony on a list of things that he hates, but previously just created, there is further irony. Does the fact that the person uses the word “irony” ironically, introduce further irony? Is it of a different type then what went before? One could say that 2 not only points out the irony of (1), but also exemplifies irony by itself.

Number 3 is an example of the same pattern. The person is writing a list in writing 3, just as he was vandalizing in writing 1. This similarity between 1 and 3 makes me think that 2 is the special one in this list. The person has somehow created an environment in which pointing out irony is itself ironic. Quite an achievement.

What if the inscription on the stall was

Things I hate

1. vandalism

2. ironic lists

3. self reference

Would this make 2 somehow more self-referential then before? I’m not sure what to think.


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