Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the tatted celeb effect

Sooo...after a week of emitting positive energies into the universe and hoping with all my might that I would be able to get my second egg tattoo before the holidays, I got a call from Transcend on Sunday night! Lou had a cancellation for Monday and I was more than happy to take the appointment, and thus am now the bearer of two gorrrgeous inked Ukrainian Easter eggs! I can't wait 'till they're healed so I can finally show my Mom, who, I've decided, is going to love them (fingers crossed!). I know her reaction to my plans to get the tats wasn't so supportive, but once she sees the final product I don't think she'll be able to resist falling in love with them.
In other news, Brad Pitt was on an episode of Oprah recently, and in response to a question from a fan about the significance of his many tattoos, became reallllly awkward and, arguably, kinda irritated. He completely evaded the fan's original question despite being encouraged by both his recent co-star, Cate Blanchett, and Oprah herself to spill about his mods. Unfortunately for his devoted (read: obsessive) fan of 17 years, Pitt remained unwavering in his decision to not speak about (and certainly to not reveal) his mods. Luckily for curious viewers the fan had a thorough knowledge of his ink work, and pressed Pitt to speak about one tattoo in particular: an Ice Man. Pitt still refused, making for quite an uncomfortable situation considering he gave no explanation whatsoever for the apparent sensitivity of the subject. At that point Oprah finally changed topics but, phew, what a tense few minutes. I couldn't believe how secretive Pitt was being about his tats, and wondered what was going on in his head to make him clam up like that. I have to admit I was disappointed in him at first, assuming that he was embarrassed to have tats at all, not wanting to be associated with what some of Oprah's viewers might see as a barbaric or juvenile practice. But thinking back, his emotional reaction probably had less to do with being ashamed of his tats and more to do with being frustrated that he truly can't retain any aspects of his life as private property. I mean, it's also possible that he's no longer happy with the tats, and wants to pretend they're not even there. But I'd bet that the real issue was that the stories behind his tats reveal a lot about him - the real him, not the him that goes on Oprah to promote his movies - and he wanted to keep that part of his life to himself. Poor guy doesn't really get much privacy I guess, so it's no surprise that he would want to maintain his body as the last frontier not poked 'n prodded by the ravenous media. Thoughts?
Although Pitt may not have been concealing his ink specifically to maintain some sort of image in the eyes of his fans, I think that revealing them probably would have helped boost the perception of tats in general by some skeptical Oprah viewers. I show off my tats to customers at work all the time, and although most people who actually talk to me about them are pro-tat, others apparently can't help asking me why I would "do something like that to myself," with more than a hint of disdain in their tone. In the West, negative reactions to modified bodies seem to be relatively rare, and will often manifest in the form of a post-encounter conversation -"Did you see that girl's chest? It was completely tattooed! How unfeminine..." - rather than outright criticism. However in Japan, having visible tattoos can get you kicked out of a hot spring, public bath, or water park, get your gym membership revoked, get you fired from your job, or cause fellow train passengers to refrain from sitting near you or even looking at you. For those of my readers unfamiliar with the origins of tattooing in Japan, public sanctions against displaying tats and disdain for tats in general are not without reason. The Japanese aren't simply behind the times or too straightlaced to be accepting of tattoos, but rather have come to associate tattooing with Yakuza, or the Japanese mafia. The cutthroat criminals have been known to acquire elaborate tattooed bodysuits to pay homage to their clan, whereas the typical Japanese citizen sports pristine, unadorned skin. Thus, the sight of a tattoo in Japan, whether on a gaijin or a native, instinctually evokes fear and contempt. So, whereas tats are incorrectly associated with violence and delinquincy by some older or more sheltered Westnerners, such associations actually still hold true in Japan. Of course, there are tatted convicts in the West as well as harmless tatted housewives in Japan, but the majority groups are flip-flopped.
I've been researching the verity of negative reactions to tattoos on an awesome forum called Gaijin Pot, where us gaijin (Japanese outsiders) can go to ask questions about Japanese culture that are then answered by Japanese natives or foreigners currently living in the land of the rising sun. Searching the term "tattoo" on Gaijin Pot yields thread after thread of conversations about the reception of tattoed gaijin in Japan, from questions of where to find a tat-friendly gym to whether to reveal one's tats to one's host family before being invited to an onsen (hot spring) for the first time. From what I can gather, having visible tats in large cities like Tokyo typically isn't an issue considering the wide variety of nationalities and cultural quirks found there, but things are quite different in a small town. People can be extemely rude to the tatted, leaving some inked foreigners dumbfounded and offended at their seemingly unfounded ill treatment.
Since tattoos are so much more likely to be negatively received in Japan than the States, their appearance in pop culture is far more valuable. The J-pop singer, Namie Amuro, is one of the most prominent tatted celebs in Japan, and some have speculated that her tattiliciousness has contributed to a recent boom in tattooing amongst J-girls in particular (despite her official website featuring airbrushed and tat-free photos of her...). Not wanting to risk compromising their futures, some girls have opted for temporary tattoos to satisfy their urge to mod, but I would assume that the effect on Japanese society remains the same, faux or not. Simply seeing tattoos on giggling schoolgirls and trendy gonguros, as well as a harmless pop singer, can only help improve the perception of tats by the Japanese public. The same effect is achieved in the States when tatted celebs openly flaunt their ink, as one NY Times article recognized this past September. Sometimes all that is necessary for stereotypes to be broken down is more evidence to the contrary of popular assumptions than in support of them. So, please Mr. Pitt, tell us more about your mysterious Ice Man. Show us that your tats were acquired for reasons relevant to your life experiences, and that you're proud to have them. Maybe hit up some onsen while you're at it. People already love you, so rather than your tats changing people's perception of you, maybe they'll change people's perception of tats themselves.

No comments: