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:
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
Interesting program called “How Art Made The World – More Human Than Human” a BBC documentary regarding theories about trends in human art history suggests that we tend to create images, not to represent reality, but an ideal. Like the Venus of Wilandorf, or the Greek sculptures of athletes, the human form is represented with enhanced features, features that were an important focus for a particular culture at a particular time – for whatever reason. The argument is that ancient humans were technically capable of representing more realistic human forms, they just chose not to.
Flash forward a few millennia and this theory could be used to explain contemporary adculture. Current cognitive psychology theories of perception in humans (not seagulls or red stripes on beaks, which in my novice opinion have more to do with evolutionary psychology and survival than ideals of beauty) could also also support this idea I think. This is a theory I am developing anyway after taking cognitive science courses I am having a much better understanding of communication theory.
For example: The brain notices the novel and pays extra attention to the unordinary. Think, for example, of when you have met someone who had a nose (or some other feature) that was larger than anyone else’s you have ever seen before. You probably recall the experience well, and remembering really noticing it, could not ignore it and likely felt you might be staring at it for a socially inappropriate period of time. Such a stimulus for your brain and the processes that follow fix the experience in your memory along with associations and assumptions based on previous experiences and cultural knowledge. The brain will also make associations with this new experience based on whether the person was perceived to be physically aggressive or passive, soft spoken or boisterous, eccentric or conservative, and so on.
Unless you consciously override this process, the next time you meet someone with a similarly large nose, your memory will be triggered and subconsciously you will have certain expectations of the person based on your previous encounter and the associations you made. You may realize this consciously or subconsciously and depending on the impact of the experience you may, consciously or subconsciously, start to emulate them if you are impressed by them, especially if you notice that others people are too. You will want to experience that perhaps, you may want others to feel a similar impact when they meet you. You attribute the impact of the experience to the fact that people with big noses are much more loved, wanted and accepted in your community. So, you might look into how diet or exercise could make your nose bigger so that you too can be more accepted and loved like that, and when you realize that method of pursuit does not produce a nose big enough, you may turn to surgery for better results.
This may all seem laughable, but think of it how this could apply to physical features that humans in our culture currently focus on and put importance on. Large breasts, and small waists for example, or pale skin, wide eyes, full lips and small noses. These are the ideals that get portrayed in our media and are criticized by some (ie: Jean Kilbourne) as harmful and ridiculously inauthentic and unrealistic. And yet there are thousands more images created in a similar way, and thousands of people who go out of their way to emulate them. Think of Michael Jackson’s transformation or Deborah Voigt’s.
Were these people unduly pressured by media images? or was their internal desire to be more accepted and loved stronger?
I find I am quite exasperated reading academic work on gender or sexual representation.
There is much discussion about male and female representation in medial culture, in addition to homosexuality or heterosexuality. Everything in neat binary categories.
One category if you have certain chromosomes, a penis and testes and another if you don’t. One category if you are attracted to the same sex and another if you’re not.
And all the while lamenting on the ‘marginalized’ of society and how communication and cultural studies should seek to emancipate individuals from oppression.
Isn’t this a little hypocritical when in reality there is an entire spectrum of sexualities and genders that are not being acknowledged in academic discourse? isn’t that oppressive?
Indeed even the language used in such discussions “opposite-sex attraction” implies a binary.
When we are born we are defined as ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ on our government paperwork that will be used for the rest of our life.
When we are in public spaces, we have to make a decision on whether it is more acceptable to use the ‘men’s’ toilet or the ‘women’s’
When we are given forms we are asked to tick one of TWO boxes: M or F.
When we are in social situations, if we are not attracted to a member of what could be perceived as the ‘opposite-sex’, it will be assumed that there is only one alternative.
It is endless…
Media culture representation discourse focuses on men or women, gay or straight and discusses the aetiology of these artificial social constructs, but not the continuum of alternative possibilities.
Gender has nothing to do with binary categories or medical dictionary definitions and sexuality is far more complex than just “who “you are attracted to, or if indeed you are attracted to anyone at all.
Our society needs some additional constructing apparently, because the limited binary role models we currently have are not adequate or inclusive.
Who we are, who we identify as, is affected by our biology, and our environment. Our gender and sexuality reflect the complexities of these relationships that two simple categories do not adequately encompass.
“The context that we live in always shapes the way you identify yourself and the way others identify you”
“Being Black is not a matter of pigmentation – being Black is a reflection of a mental attitude.” – Steve Bantu Biko
In talking to people about race – here is a helpful tip <http://youtu.be/b0Ti-gkJiXc>
(1)ne drop also has a FB page with lots of excellent related stories around colourism/ shadism/ racism
How does the context you live in effect how others see you? how you see yourself?