Sounds pleasant right? Well, maybe it would have been if the design wasn’t immediately mistaken for another similarly shaped object. Before explanation of the statue was made public by the festival committee, viewers only had one idea on what the sculpture was: A giant butt plug.
Even those who don’t make use of such aids can be rendered speechless by the uncanny similarity. If “The Super Big End” at AdamEve.com were green, for example, it would be hard to find any differences at all between the two. And it’s not just the shape that brought the statue worldwide attention. At 80 feet in height, the sheer size of the design is enough to make even the most sexually outspoken person blush.
While some may think that the artist, Paul McCarthy, wasn’t trying to elicit any such similarities or thoughts with his design, the argument quickly lost all of its credibility. When word of McCarthy’s design went viral, it encouraged postings of his previous pieces, one of which was titled “Santa Claus.” Originally the design was supposed to be placed by a famous concert hall, but it was moved because of the odd staff that the Santa Claus statue was holding. According to Tandfonline.com, the statue is commonly referred to as the “Butt Plug Gnome.”
And yet, the works are still just subtle enough for some to hold the opinion that those making a fuss about the phallic statue are simply looking for something to be offended by. It might sound like a catty response to the backlash, but it’s actually a theory that is at least partially backed by scientific research.
According to ascd.org, our brain retains information better when attached to established knowledge, as it makes the process of understanding and organizing information easier. In part, this can be why some people find seemingly unrelated items offensive. Their brain connects the item or action in question to something that is already in the forefront of their minds. In many cases, it’s something that the person is passionate about. Consequently, it is something that can easily evoke an emotional or physical reaction—whether it be a positive or negative one.
Basically, you may not want to see a giant butt plug instead of a Christmas tree, but you probably will if sexual thoughts are something that you actively try to avoid or that you regularly engage in or think about.
There is even an entire subcategory on the community forum Reddit that is dedicated to the sighting of things that look unintentionally but objectively like a penis. They include everything from a stain on a ceiling tile and the appendage of a starfish, to an oddly shaped office chair and a stalagmite in a cave.
So it seems that you might not be able to control whether you associate one item or action with another, but you can control how you react to it. A little self-reflection can usually be a good way to determine whether your emotional response is warranted. This is something that a particular group of vagrants in Paris probably should have tried. It was recently reported by TIME.com that McCarthy’s tree statue was vandalized and deflated. They also said that the artist chose not to re-inflate the statue because it would be too much of a hassle. So for the rest of the festival, it seems that the only way to marvel at the design is in its currently flaccid state.
Kevin Gannon is a freelance writer with an interest in all things related to tech, video games, and music, but he keeps an eye out for the weirder news out there, too. When he’s not writing, you can find Kevin playing his latest gaming purchase or tweeting @KevinGannon9