Tattooing was introduced to Western culture the 18th century through Captain Cook and his tales of polynesia and the tatau. Tattooing was then transformed into a visual culture practice for sailors that went to exotic places or eccentric arististocrats who could afford to have someone reproduce this quaint cultural practise as part of their fetish obsessions the ‘other’ and with orientalism.
By the 20th century, the invention of the electric tattoo gun and the production of tattoo art as ‘flash’ made tattooing accessible to the working classes and less unique. Consequently the practice fell out of favour with the elite as it became popular among military servicemen, the lower, working classes and their so-called “low” culture like tattooed circus sideshow ladies.
Tattooing became more “fragmented” in the 1960’s and the practice was appropriated among subcultures such as bikers, prison convicts, punks and the gay/leather subcultures to create marks of identity. Today. although popularity has resurged among the middle class, the act of getting a tattoo is still connected with deviance and resistance to the mainstream, which in itself can mark a body as different “other” which is part of identity. In addition to this however, there are specific symbols that are chosen to mark one’s identity within a specific group or a desired association with that group.
Here are some examples:
West Coast Gang Affiliation
My references and excellent reading about tattooing history and representation:
Beeler, Karin E. Tattoos, Desire and Violence: Marks of Resistance in Literature, Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. Print.
DeMello, Margo. Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. Print.
Hemingson, Vince, and Lars Krutak PhD. “Tattoo History – History of Tattoos and Tattooing Worldwide.” Tattoo History – History of Tattoos and Tattooing Worldwide. Vanishingtattoo.com, 1999-2010. Web.
Hesselt, Van Dinter, Maarten. The World of Tattoo: An Illustrated History. Amsterdam: Kit, 2005. Print
Mifflin, Margot. Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. New York: Juno, 2001. Print.