Tattoos: They've been applied and acquired throughout history for a wide range of purposes. Beauty, status, rites of passage, rebellion, fashion, gang affiliation and remembrance of deceased loved ones are just some of the historical and present-day motivations for tattooing one's skin. However, not everyone who bears a tattoo underwent the procedure voluntarily. The most obvious example is, of course, Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust being branded with tattooed identification numbers. And in more recent times the power of permanently marking another's flesh has ended up in the wrong hands more than a few times, always with disturbing results. But never in my life did I think I would learn that police, the supposed peacekeepers and protectors of the innocent, were forcibly "tattooing" peaceful protestors from the Occupy Movement. Alarming, non?
Now, let me begin this discussion by saying that I've scoured the web for hard evidence that this story is true, and have come up empty handed. Thus, I must admit that it could very well be a fabricated tale told by an angry Occupy protestor looking to demonize law officials. Either way, here we go.
At this time only one individual, a girl named Nina Haigh, has come forward in stating that she was "branded" with a UV reactive "tattoo" after being arrested during the eviction of an Occupy Montreal encampment in late November. This statement originally appeared on her Facebook page, lending little credibility to the claim, yet other protestors are reportedly considering a civil suit against the officers as a result of the incident. To me this suggests that her accusations may actually hold some verity.
According to Haigh, officers used UV reactive ink to mark her and other protestors who were detained following the raid, but they didn't stop at a mere marker swipe. "They wrote on my hand with a permanent marker, and then after I felt something pointy and metallic scraping across my skin," says Haigh. She claims that once she was released from custody there appeared to be no ink on her skin, and it was not until the following morning that she realized the ink used had been UV reactive and that officers had apparently embedded the ink in her skin using the sharp object she recalled being scratched with. As many of you may already know, the use of UV reactive ink in tattoos is a hotly debated practice amongst tattoo artists and the medical community, with many arguing that such ink is unsafe and may cause irritation, blistering, and even an increased risk of some types of cancer. Indeed, Haigh reported in her original message as well as in response to follow-up questions that the ink had caused an allergic reaction on her hand which lasted for multiple days.
If what this girl claims happened truly did occur, I am for one outraged that police would go so far as to breach the sanctity of a peaceful protestor's skin as a means of later identifying her should she return. A person's body is sacred, not to be violated for any reason, and especially not by a police officer. I understand that police are authorized to use some types of force if protestors "actively resist" being moved along, but embedding ink into their skin (with who knows what makeshift tools) simply has no place. It seems that every time I pick up the paper I read about law-abiding citizens exercising their Constitutional rights and subsequently being treated like the enemy. Speaking out against the government could get you labeled as one of the "associated forces" referred to in the National Defense Authorization Act that just passed through Congress and is poised to be signed by Obama unless some miracle can prevent it. With bills like this one appearing on Obama's desk it's no wonder that police have been treating protestors like low-level terrorists, ignoring their most basic human rights and throwing compassion to the wind. We're on our way to the disturbing reality of a police state, and I pray that our cries for sanity and mercy will be heeded before it's too late. When the unregulated scratcher tattooist in the back of a white van giving sketchy UV tattoos is actually a police officer...something is definitely very wrong.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
If you haven't already caught wind of the media outrage regarding the recently released Tokidoki Barbie, here are a few articles to catch you up:
Parents and conservatives the blogosphere over have been voicing their disdain for the collectable doll, who sports a funky outfit and an assortment of brightly colored, Asian-inspired tattoos all across her body. In each article you'll find quoted parents and community members spouting a variety of reactions to news of the toy's appearance on store shelves. These snippets, however, are tame compared to the heated responses found in the comments sections below the articles themselves. I've been sifting through them for hours now, and am quite exhausted by the back and forth between the defenders and the haters. Many of those who oppose the sale of an inked up Barbie are quick to reference stereotypes of tattooed folk as criminals and druggies, yet others seem to have delved a bit deeper and come up with some thought-provoking points. What really captured my attention were the comments regarding how tattooed individuals are judged. They made me consider not just how modders are judged by mainstream society, but also by those within the body modification community itself.
Although we (modders) don't like people to make snap judgements about us based solely on the fact that we sport body art, I have seen evidence that we from time to time make similar judgements about fellow modders who sport certain types of tattoos. I'm not attempting to claim here that everyone in the body mod community is judgmental, but if you can recall your first time in a tattoo shop you might be able to see where I'm going with this. More than a few tattoo artists I know can be quite condescending toward the newly initiated modders amongst us, and I kinda don't blame them. I mean, imagine being a talented tattoo artist running your own high-end shop, and one day an 18 year-old girl comes in asking you for a tribal sun - or worse, her boyfriend's name - on her lower back. You'd probably find it damn difficult to suppress an eye roll and a sigh. Tattoo artists are becoming fine artists of the skin, resulting in an unavoidable sense of disdain for anyone with, or who aims to acquire, a poor quality or generic tattoo. Heck, there are even tattoo artists out there who specialize in the New Skool style and think those covered in Old School designs are just plain lamesauce. There are many qualities of one's ink that can evoke a measure of contempt from fellow inked, including but not limited to motivation for obtaining the tattoo, location of the tattoo, subject matter of the tattoo, quality of the tattoo, significance of the image/words, and artistic style of the tattoo. Now the question must be raised, how can we so readily judge others by their ink when we wish not to be judged by ours?
The answer, in my opinion, lies in the fact that body modification has not yet gained full societal acceptance. When a professional, licensed body piercer sees a botched, infected eyebrow piercing that is pussing and rejecting, they will understandably scorn the wearer as a contributor to a negative perception of body piercing as dangerous and repulsive by society at large. Similarly, the gent who indelibly self-scratches a tattoo loosely resembling barbed wire across his forehead will undoubtedly get a rise out of the veteran tattoo artist who has spent decades perfecting his art and craft. We simply can't be expected to respect those whose body projects contribute to perpetuating a negative image for body modification as a whole.
Granted, widespread acceptance of mods is not necessarily something that every modded individual hopes for. Indeed, part of the allure of modifying our bodies is that we can thereby differentiate ourselves from the rest of society. If everyone accepted and practiced body modification, it might not be so appealing anymore. Additionally, many modders agree that people who immediately judge their character based on their being modded probably don't fit the bill for friendship anyway. In this sense, mods are a "friend filter," as one commenter put it. However, when it comes to acceptance of mods by prospective employers, we can't help but give a damn. If I am better qualified for a particular job than the plainskin next to me, and he gets hired, it becomes clear that there is certainly reason for someone like me to care about how society views mods. Thus, for fellow modded job-seekers, judging those with sub-par mods is somewhat of a self-serving instinct.
Despite this justification for judgement, I still don't condone holding those with inferior mods in contempt. It may be inevitable that I dislike certain mods themselves, but no matter how ugly in my eyes they may be prized possessions in the eyes of their beholder. Thus, I consider it my responsibility to try and cut the thought process short before disdain for a mod becomes disdain for a person himself. We must remember that no matter how tattered and torn, some books hold much more beauty inside than might be suggested by their covers.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Wow, has it really been a year?! Jeebs, MSOM, I've missed you. That's why I've come back out of hiding to lay down yet another of my body mod musings.
San Francisco has been incredibly good to me since moving here 3 years ago, but it sure is distracting. So many wonderful diversions! Recently, though, I've begun to settle back into a slightly calmer lifestyle of homemade dinners, Friday nights in, and yes, even reading a novel or two in my spare time. Am I growing up? Nah, not anytime soon. Not in the traditional sense, at least. I am, however, going through a bit of a quarter-life crisis that has me thinking more than ever before about my health and well-being. That youthful period of whimsicality and fearlessness has begun to fade and in it's place lies a newfound sense of anxiety about the many potential harms that can come to us at any given moment. Don't worry, I haven't developed Agoraphobia or anything. I have, however, begun to monitor my health more intently than ever. I've experienced a number of disconcerting medical symptoms over the last year, and with a history of cancer in my family, I've spent much of the year worrying about disease. However, in the last month or so I have finally decided that I will no longer add the stress of worry to the numerous features of my fast-paced life that could potentially lead to illness. If I'm worried about illness, and illness can be exacerbated by worry...that cycle needs to be ended ASAP.
Ok, so, where does body modification fit into all this?
Well, about two months ago, I got two beautiful new microdermals (dermal anchors) installed below my clavicles. I was excited to have new piercings, as it had been a few months since I removed my sternum dermal. A week in, after daily sea-salt soaks and lots of TLC, they were looking quite good. Unfortunately, that didn't last long. I made the mistake of wiping them dry with a piece of toilet paper - big no-no when it comes to piercings. The preferred cloth to use on healing piercings is paper towel, as it doesn't leave a residue of microscopic dust like toilet paper and doesn't harbor bacteria like cloth towels. Even knowing this, I lazily decided to use TP instead of going downstairs to get a paper towel. D'oh. Literally hours after using the TP, my piercings both grew very angry (i.e. red and swollen). I happened to see my piercer that day, and asked him for some guidance on how to calm them down. He asked if anything out of the ordinary had happened to them, and I was embarrassed to tell him that I had used the TP. I instead told him that they had just started looking like that on their own. He advised me not to touch them for a little while and just leave them be, so naturally I stopped all aftercare including soaking. Mistake #2. Without being soaked the piercings were not draining the fluid that had accumulated within the wound as a result of the irritating toilet paper dust. They swelled up and got very sensitive, as did my lymph nodes - and that spells infection. Upon seeing the updated status of my dermals, my piercer chastised me and told me to start soaking them twice a day. I have to admit, I felt pretty shitty upon walking out of his shop that day. I like to think of myself as pretty piercing-savvy, so I was embarrassed that I had made as amateur a mistake as allowing them to get infected.
Little did I know I would feel a helluva lot shittier upon leaving my ENT's office the next day after going in to get my glands checked out. One word: biopsy.
The word itself gives me shivers. No one wants to have a biopsy - to sit fidgeting anxiously in the waiting room, to endure days or even weeks of mental distress while waiting for results - it's not exactly a fun procedure, and my case wasn't any exception. There I sat with a 4-inch needle embedded in my neck for a full 3 minutes as the technician wiggled it around in an attempt to get a sample. Let me tell you: it felt fucking bizarre. I get squeamish at just the thought of it.
Thankfully, the results came back negative. I am completely healthy aside from the swollen glands - a sign that my body had been fighting an infection. However, both my ENT and the woman who performed the biopsy made sure to advise me to remove my irritated metal friends ASAP if I wanted my glands to go back to normal. They said that the dermals were putting unnecessary strain on my immune system and could result in my getting sick easier that usual. Any body modification practitioner would agree that piercings, tattoos, scarification, branding, suspension, etc. are not exactly beneficial to one's health, especially when the wounds are not properly cared for. I knew this as well, but had always thought it a moot point if I wanted to continue to test my body's limits and ornament it via body modification. Now I'm getting older, and those warnings no longer seem so irrelevant.
At that point I knew I should take the piercings out, but I stubbornly tried to heal them for a few more weeks. To my dismay, they eventually became unbearably tender and didn't seem to be encouraged even by daily soaks anymore. It was finally time to make the dejected trip to get them removed.
Regardless of what my doctors told me, I probably would have gotten the dermals out at about the same point in time anyway. They were ready to go. What my encounters with my doctors did alter, however, is my stance on whether or not to get the (very expensive) microdermal jewelry autoclaved and re-embedded in my body at some point in the future. I think...and it hurts to say this...but I think I may be over dermal anchors. Once so fun and exciting in that they could be placed nearly anywhere and were virtually painless to insert and remove, they now seem to me a risky and annoying bodily adornment that just isn't worth the gamble nor the hassle.
Thankfully, I don't quite think I'm done with piercings altogether, and I'm told that the white gold fire opal disc from one of the anchors can be be set onto a nostril screw. This means I might finally go for the double nostrils I've been contemplating for over a year! Judging by the large number of successful nostril piercings I've seen on SF denizens young and old, they seem to have a pretty low risk of complication or infection compared to other piercings. Oh the nostril piercing, how vanilla. At least I'd be getting two of them...
Now, I may be starting to go the less-risky route when it comes to body modification, but I certainly won't be giving up my motorcycle or snowboard anytime soon. I'm also still quite the hardy partier here in SF (tough not to be), and I enjoy staying out into the wee hours of the morning from time to time. In exchange for maintaining these venturesome features of my lifestyle, I've got to start making some sacrifices insofar as other risky behaviors in my life go. I'm relieved that doing so won't mean giving up on body piercing altogether, as it will always be a source of fascination and intrigue for me, but it will mean becoming more tame in my piercing conquests. That, I think I can handle.