by Hank Leukart
August 8, 2005

Penis envy

Why spam makes me insecure in Italy.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. (view all Florence and Rome, Italy photos)


LORENCE, Italy — I don’t understand spam. I’d understand if I received e-mail ads in my inbox for conceivably useful stuff, like ads for new restaurants near me or new novels that I might be interested in or travel deals to Asia. But I don’t get any of that. Instead, I mostly get only one type of spam, over and over and over. It goes something like this: “Penis enlargement announcement! 3 months ago I found The Extender. I could tell my penis was getting longer and heavier, and now my girlfriend says it is the best product I’ve ever bought!” and so forth. I’ve never been self-conscious about that area of my body, but because spam’s power is supposedly its ability to provide cheap, targeted marketing, I’ve started wondering whether these manufacturers of penis enlargers know something about me that I’ve never noticed. Whatever’s going on, these guys are absolutely sure that parts of me need to be bigger.

Penis envy isn’t a new idea as a result of direct-marking spam; it seems it was even a problem many hundreds of years ago as well. In Apeldoorn, Netherlands, I saw Paleis Het Loo (i.e. The Woods Palace), billed as the Dutch version of Versailles and a glorious example of Neoclassicism. Built in 1685, the palace served as a country residence for Dutch William III and his wife Mary Stuart, who eventually became king and queen of England. Behind the palace are four meticulously planted gardens, designed by Daniel Marot (who, incidentally, was an ancestor of Audrey Hepburn). The crowning glory of these gardens for William was his fountain, which Marot designed (phallically) to shoot water into the air many feet higher than the fountain at Louis XIV’s Versailles. And if that wasn’t enough to guarantee William a spot in the hall of self-important men, fresh water from the Rhine feeds the fountain, as opposed to the recycled, dirty water that feeds the one at Versailles. Wow, he really showed Louis XIV who was boss; if fountain size is any indication of penis size, it’s clear William III won that battle. Of course, William III’s size probably didn’t matter to Mary much, considering that her quarters were in the east wing of the palace while his were in the west.

“I’m not sure that I want anyone to, say, remove my knee-cap after my death and put it in the Louvre. What if my knee-cap is ugly?”

It doesn’t stop there. In Florence, Italy, the powerful Medici family and the Strozzi family (not to mention others), spent most of their time trying to build larger and larger palaces, trying to outdo each other. They also commissioned hundreds of works of art, including frescos, sculptures, and whole buildings, flaunting their wealth. Then, even the artists competed with each other to create the most beautiful works of art and perform the most impressive architectural miracles (for example, Florence’s Duomo, an enormous cathedral with a beautiful dome designed by Brunelleschi). There are no complaints from me about this, since these families practically funded the Renaissance art movement and tourists get to enjoy these beautiful buildings and sculptures today, but a hypothetical modern equivalent of this today is hilarious; imagine if Bill Gates and Donald Trump kept trying to one-up each other with continuously larger skyscrapers and more beautiful sculptures. Well, I suppose Mr. Trump has a tendency to keep building large phallus-like buildings, but it’s more humorous than impressive, considering his inability to make money on his ventures and prevent his corporations from going bankrupt.

Speaking of appendages, another thing I’ve seen a lot of here in Florence are “relics,” which are body parts of important dead saints kept behind glass in museums. I’ve seen St. John the Baptist’s fingers (supposedly his head is kept in Cathedral de Notre Dame in France, but another church in Syria also claims to have it), St. Jerome’s jaw bone, and unidentified body parts of St. Minius. My question is this: did these people know that after they died, museum curators planned to chop them up into little bits and put those pieces of them on display in glass cases?

First, this hits me as generally disgusting and morbid (see also: Princess Mombi’s collection of severed heads in the frightening Return to Oz). Second, I’m not sure that I want anyone to, say, remove my knee-cap after my death and put it in the Louvre. What if my knee-cap is ugly? What if people don’t want to see my knee-cap and my knee-cap exhibit becomes an embarrassing joke for the museum? Can I write in my will which body parts I want these people to use? After all, my hands are much more attractive than my nose which still is probably more attractive than my knee-cap. And I hope to God that it’s not my penis, because I still haven’t written away for that penis enlarger. WB

A fountain in the Paleis Het Loo gardens in Apeldoorn, Netherlands.

A fountain in the Paleis Het Loo gardens in Apeldoorn, Netherlands.


  • May 19, 2012, 5:07 AM


    Quite an entertaining essay. Good job!