'Penis Man' Graffiti Keeps Popping Up in Tempe

"Penis Man strikes again - 1202 W Broadway," a Reddit user wrote in a post on Saturday.
"Penis Man strikes again - 1202 W Broadway," a Reddit user wrote in a post on Saturday. RemoteControlledDog via Reddit

Who is "Penis Man" and why has he come?

Tempe residents and city officials don't know, but he has social media standing at attention after his spray-painted moniker popped up 38 times in various places around the college town in recent weeks.

Crudely scrawled, the graffiti has appeared since late November on Tempe buildings, dumpsters, and other private and public property.

To many on social media, he — or whoever's promoting the name — is already a meme-worthy legend.

On Sunday, writer Coley Mick of the the popular sports and culture blog Barstool Sports waxed poetic about the genitalic graffiti:

"The Penis Man is a watchful, silent hero of Tempe, Arizona... History books will be written, this time in society will be reflected upon, do YOU want to be on the side against The Penis Man? Of course you don’t. Long Live The Penis Man, may no street corner, stop sign or park bench go untagged in Tempe as long as you reign."

click to enlarge ABC-15 News aired a story on Penis Man on New Year's Eve. - ABC-15
ABC-15 News aired a story on Penis Man on New Year's Eve.
Barstool Sports Twitter account also posted a New Year's Eve article by ABC-15 (KNXV-TV) about the graffiti, quipping, "The Penis Man has brought Tempe to its knees," garnering 545 retweets and 4,000 likes.

"Penis Man is my hero," wrote a Twitter user in reply — just one of dozens of posts that seemed to praise the mystery artist. Social-media users have made Penis Man's name and images go viral like an STD at a college frat party. Twitter user "Barroo," who has 2,351 followers, generated about 15,000 retweets and 67,000 likes after posting the news report with the message, "sorry to absolutely everyone but i'm losing my mind."

Facebook and Reddit likewise have been all over this important story from the beginning, which resulted in the TV news report.

"Long live PENIS MAN. Lol," wrote Facebook user Amy Hansen on the site's "Maple - Ash - Farmer - Wilson Neighborhood" page, adding numerous pictures of the tagger's work that she's collected.

Other posts have taken a more philosophical bent: "The hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now," wrote Reddit user MarxistPharaoh.

Several social media users are demanding to "Free Penis Man."

Yet Penis Man has not been found and arrested for his hard work. His or her identity remains a mystery. Tempe police aren't actively looking for him, Tempe Detective Natalie Barela told Phoenix New Times on Monday.

"We have no reports of actual calls for service for it," Barela said of the graffiti. "We can only make an arrest on a related call for service." Presumably, cops could also catch the guilty party in the act.

Isaac Chavira, Tempe's transportation maintenance manager, told New Times that few calls have come in about the graffiti. Out of the 38 confirmed "Penis Man" taggings, city crews proactively spotted 34, he said. Three others came in on a city hotline for residents; he didn't know the origin of the last one.

The graffiti has mostly appeared in the downtown and central Tempe areas north of Broadway Road and south of Tempe Town Lake, Chavira said, and released a map of the offensive tags that marks each location it was found.

This particular problem was one of more than 17,000 logged in the city's graffiti-tracking system, representing just under 300,000 total stickers, taggings, and other graffiti-type vandalism the city has dealt with since 2015.

click to enlarge The green circles represent each spot, (some overlapping), where the Penis Man graffiti has appeared. - CITY OF TEMPE
The green circles represent each spot, (some overlapping), where the Penis Man graffiti has appeared.
City of Tempe
"To me, it's what we do on a daily basis," Chavira said, while acknowledging that this graffiti has captured more attention than the usual mess his crews work to abate. While the city hasn't made this particular graffiti a priority, "explicit" graffiti is generally seen as a priority and usually gets erased sooner than the 24 to 48 hours it takes for city crews to rub out other types of drawn vandalism.

Some of the Penis Man paint has been easy to take off with a good power-wash, he said, while other examples of the artist's handiwork required painting over.

No new Penis Man graffiti has been discovered since ABC-15's report last week, Chavira said, adding, "That's really good."

Whether Penis Man has gone flaccid from the media heat can't yet be determined. But the absence of new tags hasn't stopped the social media deluge, and the hashtag "#penisman" has continued to appear over the last couple of days.

"The one thing that makes me happy about living in arizona we love you #penisman," wrote Bob the Banana on Sunday.

Some people have expressed theories about the graffiti: "Since this is in Tempe I'm assuming this is a massive prank by a bunch of college students," wrote another Twitter user.

Others are not as amused, if not bored of the topic: "The news story is ridiculous," Mikec_NJ wrote on Reddit. "I moved from Philly back in October and stuff like this would be an everyday thing in Philly. Google search "BONER 4 EVER" that's been there for literally years."

(UPDATE: Writer Nathaniel Kennon Perkins published an article on today purporting to contain an interview with the graffiti artist, who remained anonymous in the piece. Because he's anonymous, his identity — and, therefore, Perkins' story's premise — can't be verified. But the article attempts to prove that it's really Penis Man by having him draw the name on a piece of paper, as can be seen in the YouTube video below.)
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern