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Picture a car covered in dust. What to draw on this blank and grimy canvas? A dick, but of course. A mate is running around at a party with a white t-shirt on, and you have a marker pen. What illustration shall you adorn them with…what else, but a schlong? You’re not Jonah Hill in Superbad – you’re an ordinary if slightly immature person. So what’s the deal?
The hit HBO series Euphoria has brought the penis debate (to show or not to show, and why) to the pop cultural table, but there are a number of other discussions around the dick pic being had at the moment. Cyberflashing, the act of sending unsolicited sexual images (often dick pics) online, is set to become a criminal offense as of next week, a result of forthcoming amendments to the online safety bill in England and Wales.
Less seriously, the National Senedd in Wales are currently considering (as a result of a petition that closed in January, which received over 1000 signatures) whether the Welsh Dragon should be depicted with a penis. The point being that dick pics in popular imagery, however ridiculous, are ubiquitous and constantly contentious.
To understand the presence of penis imagery in society more thoroughly – and to get to the bottom of that Jonah Hill calling to draw to the outline of a cock and balls in places you shouldn’t – PRUDE has undertaken a Bill and Ted-style journey through the history of dick pics past.
The Prehistoric Penis
Don Hitchcock – yes, that’s his real name – is an avid amateur archaeologist based in Australia, who researches palaeolithic (roughly 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 B.C.E) depictions of the phallus from all over the world. He says: “The modern success of websites such as Youporn and Pornhub draw at least partly on the age-old fascination with these parts of human genitalia.” Some ancient depictions of genitalia can even be described as early kinds of animation – perhaps the first forms of moving-ish image pornography. Venus figures made of mammoth ivory from the Late Paleolithic period, found at Mezyn (modern day Ukraine), can be said to depict penis, vulva and a bird all at once – “Look at it this way, it is a phallus, look at it that way, it is a venus,” explains Hitchcock. “There are believed to be quite a few examples of this [considered movement] in the art of painted caves. As the light from a torch – a burning piece of wood – plays across the feature on an uneven wall, many appear to move, or as you yourself move from one point to another, the images also move.”
Sexual organs are inherently funny, no? Not always. Hitchcock explained that although some palaeolithic depictions of penises – such as a male figure from the Grotte du Sorcier not too far from Bordeaux in France (below) were likely to have been exaggerations or caricatures, drawn for humorous reasons – most drawings and representations of genitalia were deadly serious: “They were [drawings] of magical beings.”
Moving forward in time somewhat to around the 4th millennium BCE, a similar kind of not at all tongue-in-cheek representation of the member appeared in Ancient Egypt. Min, god of fertility and the harvest, thought to embody masculinity, was typically represented holding his fully erect penis in his left hand. As well as religious significance, drawings of penises could carry a military message – in Medinet Habu, a temple in Luxor, Egypt, one rather sinister wall depicts soldiers of Rameses III claiming the penises of the vanquished as trophies after a battle. This is no innocent doodle, though to modern eyes it’s so painful to think about it’s difficult not to laugh at – this is a laboured display of biggest dick energy.
In Ancient Greece, penis imagery got a bit lighter – literally. The small dicks that Greek statues have were meant to represent temperamental balance. But humour also entered the picture. There was an infinite variety of funny, cartoon imagery present on pottery used in the Symposium (the drinking party). This also had an element of animation to it, like the palaeolithic Pornhub of earlier – images would be drawn at the bottom of a drinking cup, so when you finished your wine you would find an amusing and often sexual scene. On a more banal level, statues called Herms (after the god Hermes) were often placed at crossroads to ward off evil – there were rectangular stone pillars with the god’s head at the top and a little penis near the base. For luck.
The Romans, preferring to amp everything up to 11, took this idea of lucky penises but went for an extra large scale. As historian Tom Holland – not to be confused with Spiderman – puts it in his book Dynasty: “The phallus was everywhere to be seen, protecting doorways as a symbol of good luck, guarding crossroads, or scaring off birds in gardens, ramrod size was much admired.” In the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, lots of smutty graffiti survives, but penises were also depicted above shops and homes, such as this one below, around which is inscribed “Here dwells happiness”.
Objects called fascinae, that were shaped like phalluses were carried around as amulets and thought to protect people, especially travellers, from evil.. Tintinabullum was the name given to a fascinum with wings and bells on – often suspended in a doorway like a way more entertaining windchime. Given how ubiquitous penis imagery was in Greek and Roman times, it’s unlikely they found the phallus quite as funny or as provocative as we do.
The Middle Ages
Whilst genitalia in illustration became sneakier in Mediaeval Europe, it was no less present – there are 93 penises in the Bayeux Tapestry (likely made in the 1070’s), according to a count made by professors at the University of Oxford, but they don’t take centre stage. After fornication and nakedness became wrapped up with Biblical ideas of sin, the penis as a benign doodle got pushed to the margins of illuminated manuscripts, where it appeared as a rebellious or absent-minded gesture from bored scribes whose hands ached for studious reasons. Such images have recently had a revival in the form of internet memes, such as those which form the currency of Cheezburger.com (who argue that it’s ‘okay to laugh at gross jokes when they’re accompanied by classical art memes, right?‘) and particularly on Twitter. This inclusion of mediaeval images to validate otherwise juvenile jokes is the inverse of the inclusion of juvenile scrawls on illuminated manuscripts as a release from the mundane labour of producing spiritually weighty books, but it serves a similar function of balancing high and low content.
Neoclassicists and pre-Raphaelities
The nude was again elevated to nobleness in the Renaissance, but casual depictions of genitalia in art were still rare. In the 18th and 19thcenturies, as archaeology gained momentum as a discipline and young men began to take ‘Grand Tours’ when they finished school, there was a revived interest in the ancient European world which informed contemporary imagery – including depictions of the penis. The exhaustingly named Pierre-François Hugues d’Hancarville (1719-1805) was an amateur art historian operating in Naples – he compiled a ‘Collection of Pornographic Art from Antiquity,’ in which the sensitivities of his time were balanced with the perceived raciness of the pictures by printing them very small, in the middle of the page.
Even the Pre-Raphaelites, romantic and proper, managed to find ways of including penis imagery in their paintings. John Everrett Millais did so in the form of a well-placed shadow in his painting Isabella, where not-that-subtle desires play out across a table where dinner guests crack nuts in a big ol’ visual euphemism.
Modern and Postmodern Penises
In the 20th century, expressionism and surrealism brought greater freedom as far as phallic imagery was concerned – penises became generally less marginalised in popular culture, but still male nudity remains less common than female nakedness in art and films. And, as the cubicle door of most public toilets will tell you, the urge to draw dicks hasn’t gone away.
One news story from 2015 featured a Danish man who was arrested for walking through Ikea with one of those little wooden pencils, drawing 30 penises throughout the shop. In the same year, an anonymous vandal or vigilante dubbed ‘Wanksy’ spray-painted dicks next to potholes in the Greater Manchester area to get the problem noticed. Similar bouts of pothole activism have sprung up in various parts of the UK; the taboo that’s still attached to the act of drawing a dick can be useful in creating discussion, or simply attracting attention. There are even whole teams of maintenance workers who censor the roads ahead of the tour de France, as every year someone inevitably draws a penis on the tarmac, hoping it will be seen on TV.
The scratched-into-the-school-desk, little bit transgressive meme quality of quickly drawn dicks is possibly the essence of their post-pagan appeal. The 90’s band, Ben Folds Five (self described as “punk rock for pussies”) mused upon this subject in the chorus of their song Draw a Crowd:
“Oh-oh if you’re feeling small, and you can’t draw a crowd
Draw dicks on a wall”
It’s a basic power that we all have within us – and that’s the draw. Be it blissfully immature or stupendously cosmic, an act of comedic rebellion, guerilla community service, boasting, superstition or reverence, everyone can scribble a dick on a wall.
Enjoyed this article? Read more here: Naked bodies in Euphoria: Can you bare it?