Words | Leon Fleming
Illustration | Andrea jones
It may not be something people want to discuss in polite society, but the phallus has a far greater impact on the world around us than we realise. Blushing cheeks, turned heads, riotous laughter, even total indignation are reactions to it because we all know what it is; we all know a penis when we see one. But the horror comes not just because of the piece of man it signifies, but because it is erect; a symbol in our modern world for sex, pornography, promiscuity and infections, and the fun that can be had.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg – phallic also – because it is not a product of the modern world, but originates with the ancient peoples of our race, stretching back to when we walked for the first time on two legs and began to consciously explore our bodies, our minds, and every other living thing around us.
It is a misconception to believe that the phallus is merely a symbolic representation of the penis, even though that is what it describes. It is so much more. It is fertility, heterosexual and homosexual union, strength, birth; and because of its links to creation, the phallus has also been used as a manifestation of God.
We cannot help but fill our environment with them, and once you start looking, you see them absolutely everywhere; bottles, glasses, bollards, buildings. We like to think it’s coincidental that they just happen to have the same shape as our beloved male sex organ, but that may not actually be the case; there may instead be an unconscious draw to this shape because of what it means to us. Looking at structures like Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, twentieth century skyscrapers like the Empire State Building and the ‘Gherkin’, also known as the ‘Crystal Phallus’, it can be seen that there has always been a little bit of a preoccupation. Temples and churches too with their spires and minuets, meant to denote a route to our chosen deity, may in fact be symbols of strength and power in the form of the male protrusion.
Monarchies, religions, governments, corporations have all felt the need to show off their prowess in their architecture; exerting the power of their egos over those that walk in the shadow of these great bestial erections. Or possibly over-compensating for a lack of real power; a trick to fool us all into being afraid and actually just a physical realisation of massive insecurity.
I’m not sure where the difference is; maybe they are both equal factors in an ever-spewing cycle. Either way, the power, real or imagined, of this penile icon is an obsession that is unlikely to ever leave the human psyche.