In trying to keep up with local Massachusetts news while at school, I came upon a story today that involves a recent attack on several gay bar patrons by an accused Nazi follower. The 18 year-old attacker is reported to have a swastika tattooed on his hand and a bedroom filled with Nazi paraphernalia. Hearing this story immediately reminded me of a section I had recently read in Modern Primitives on an artist who goes by the name Man Woman.
Although both Man Woman and the disturbed teenager from the news story sport tattoos depicting the swastika symbol, the meanings of such are in sharp contrast to one another. Many people immediately associate the swastika symbol with the terrors of Nazi Germany during WWII, ignorant of the fact that swastikas have been used by a wide array of cultures as a pure and benevolent symbol for hundreds of years. Man Woman is part of a loosely organized group called the Friends of the Swastika, whose goal it is to educate the rest of the world about the innocent nature of the swastika symbol and how it has been perverted by the evil values of anti-Semitism.
Man Woman’s personal contribution to this effort is his collection of several hundred swastika tattoos derived from “every culture and religion on the face of the earth” (V. Vale, Modern Primitives pp.42). He also collects pre-WWII memorabilia that contain some form of the swastika as it was used to represent things ranging from the sun to divine enlightenment, and hopes to showcase these items in an educational tour or museum show in the future. I'm incredibly intrigued by the interview with Man Woman, and how he describes the process of “stripping away false education [...]; false attitudes” that he received during the early years of his life. I love the concept of realizing that the norms we have come to accept are not ultimate truths, because one deconstruction of this sort seems to set off a chain reaction that eventually leads to a completely new outlook on the world. I also enjoyed Man Woman’s response to questions concerning the reactions he has received to his seemingly offensive ink scheme: “The people who won’t talk to me because of my tattoos are probably people I don’t want to talk to. And the ones who spot me in a crowd and come running over – sometimes I meet interesting people that way” (V. Vale, Modern Primitives pp.43).
More information on the origins and various occurrences of the swastika in its benign forms can be found in Thomas Wilson’s 1894 essay, Swastika: the Earliest Known Symbol and Its Migration. This particular resource was recommended by Man Woman as an excellent source for anyone wishing to learn more about the swastika and rid themselves of the subconscious association with evil that it has unfairly acquired.
Sadly enough, confused youngsters like the New Bedford teen mentioned above only help to perpetuate the kind of ignorance that Man Woman has spent the majority of his life trying to eradicate. I suggest that we all try to do Man Woman a favor: after you have read this post, take a Sharpie and draw a version of the swastika on a visible area of your body. I know that this may sound like dangerous advice, and please follow it only at your own risk, but you will likely be surprised at how many comments and inquiries you receive. And when one of those know-it-all types object to your donning of what they perceive to be a symbol of evil and hatred, you can find satisfaction in correcting their ignorance.