Tattoo Me… And Everyone I Know

Vale and Juno discuss the modern trend of visually marking one’s self in a way that parallels older “primitive” models. They’re very curious about what prompted this trend and what it communicates. They note, “it is impossible to return to an authentic ‘primitive’ society” (Vale & Juno, 4). By examining last week’s pinterest boards we can see that this message holds true for the “authentic” tattoo culture. For multiple reasons, a separate “tattoo culture” has disappeared; having a tattoo alone does not make an individual stand out. Bodily transgression has expanded to include a wider market and those looking to be seen as truly separate individuals have to find new ways to mark themselves. While some tattoos are no longer seen as very trangressive, like women with flowered tattoos as seen on Samantha’s board, , other bodily transgressions, like Karin’s pin, , show the new ways for individuals to modify their looks to stand out.

My favorite pin is this one, , Karin’s image of an ancient hand with tattoos on it. While she relates this image to the Ed Hardy Interview, who explains that tattooing is not, by any means, a new form of transgression, I think it also relates to Vale and Juno (53). They discuss the impossibility of returning to authentic primitives because of the intensive permeability of modern society into “primitive” societies. Perhaps instead of looking to primitive societies that still exist, we should be looking to mirror the images of societies that once existed if we are searching for authentic primitiveness. Instead of marking oneself to match the Tasaday in the Philippines, one could get a tattoo matching the marks on this ancient hand. Though, in my opinion, before one goes about doing this, they should probably look into what the marks mean.

Vale and Juno also discuss the commercialization of body modification. They talk about how people will even pay for the temporary counterparts of permanent modifications to try out the product. They say, “A recent issue of New York Woman reported the marketing of non-piercing nipple rings ranging from $26.50 to $10,000! No doubt further attempts at commercialization lie just around the corner…” (5) This commercialization has heavily normalized the tattooing and piercing culture and has dispelled many myths about those with bodily transgression marks. Samantha’s pin, shown here, , shows a doctor with tattoos, with a lab coat, and without. As we discussed in class, and from what we can see on the board, tattoos are no longer a mark of subculture. Having a tattoo on its own does not mark someone as a transgressor, the context, placement, and history of the tattoo matter as well.

Catharine Lundoff’s piece “Tattoo Me”, discusses the way a tattoo can mark a subcultural belonging. She identifies being tattooed with being queer and explains that when she did not feel she belonged in the stereotypical “woman” role, she used tattoos to stand apart. Samantha’s ballerina pin, , shows how tattoos can help someone reclaim their body if some other part of it seems to be appropriated for something else. Samantha’s caption ends with “Ballet usually symbolizes self-control, uniformity, grace, and speaking through dance. This ballerina has chosen to get numerous tattoos, proving that her body is her own. She is using her body as a way of speech to say that ballet does not control her life.” Samantha’s caption does a great job of explaining her curatorial decision and relating it to the reading. It explains that while the woman in the image is graceful and feminine, she is not conforming to the uniformity that is part of what might be her passion. This image also reminds me of the discussion we had in class that proves that nearly everyone can have a tattoo, from punks to ballerinas.

Lundoff continues to explain that having a tattoo gave her feelings of empowerment through the visible display of her difference. While Karin’s pin of Rihanna, shown here, , is captioned in relation to Sweetman’s article, it could also have been related to Lundoff. A Mohawk is rarely seen as part of daily dress but even more so, they are rarely seen as feminine. In that image, Rihanna is remaining feminine in her dress and make-up, but her punky Mohawk helps her stand apart from others in that category. Lundoff says “Having a tattoo is a way to broadcast that you don’t belong, that June Cleaver is not in your future, the thing that the tough, bad girls do” (125). In this image, Rihanna is showcasing how she might not want to have a good girl future. Having a Mohawk definitely fits in with her self-branding, as one of her albums is titled “Good Girl Gone Bad”. But, if everyone from ballet dancers, to punks, to doctors and rock stars have tattoos or bodily modifications, are they truly transgressive anymore?

In “From Carnival to Transgression” by Stallybrass and White, Carnival is observed as both an activity and a category for activity. The authors write, “For the moment it is enough to suggest that, in our view, the current widespread adoption of the idea of carnival as an analytic category can only be fruitful if it is displaced into the broader concept of symbolic inversion and transgression” (299). While they are explaining why Carnival should be looked at as transgressive, and I do see their point, it seems they are missing that Carnivalesque behavior has been heavily mainstreamed. As we ended up exploring in class, Carnival like rituals are a lot more common nowadays, with events like the pride parades and St. Patricks Day occurring all over. I would have liked to see a pin that maybe showed a modern version of Carnival as something other than its original form.

However, the pins on Carnivalesque, are especially strong. I particularly like Samantha’s pin on the body, seen here, . Her captioning here explains why she chose it, how it applies to the themes, and how it applies to the readings. I’d call it the perfect pin. I also like that it addresses multiple kinds of bodily transgressions at once, including the Mohawk, a corset piercing, and tattoos.

I really enjoyed this weeks pins but the only thing I would have liked to see more of is the way tattoos are appropriated today. Like we talked about in class, tattoos and piercings have seemed to lose meaning and been heavily commercialized. I might have liked to see some pins of mainstreamed transgressions and how they might have contradicted or interacted with the papers for this week. Overall, still very impressive.


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