Tattooed People as Taboo Figures in Modern Society

Copyright (c) 1996 Kelly Rothenberg, Lemarchand@aol.com

"Everybody wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them."
. . . Ray Bradbury -- The Illustrated Man


There used to be a time, back in the days of P. T. Barnum, when circuses traveled from town to town. There were always crowds for the usual sights--the elephants, the clowns, the strongman, et cetera--but it was at the Freak Show where you could see the Bearded Lady, the Human Skeleton, or perhaps the Elephant Man and, if you were really good boys and girls, you might get to see "the tattooed man with the tail of a dragon curled around his burly neck like a fabulous hangman's noose (King, 33)." Freak shows are uncommon nowadays, but there is still the urge to stare at the crippled person, or the person with some other sort of oddity about them. People with tattoos willingly go out and place themselves in this center of attention, acting as modern-day taboo breakers and crossing a line that most of us would just as soon leave alone, that final boundary between societal acceptance and ostricism.

This article will not retell the stories I collected, or try to analyze the symbolism each individual tattoo represents, though each was given to me readily by the people I interviewed (complete stories will be found in Appendix A, along with a reference to what kind of tattoo each person had, if any.) Instead, I focused on how society reacts to this folk group, and how this folk group reacts and thinks about itself. Why is this a folk group? Because the people who have gotten tattooed share a common knowledge that others outside the group--people without tattoos--have no access to. Instead, these outsiders have to draw from a pool of preconceived notions about this folk group, including notions about drug use, being a member of a gang, or some other deviant aspect about them. There is always a grain of truth in stereotypes such as these and they may apply to some people, but stereotypes never apply to everyone.

To better understand the whole concept of taboos, it would be good to start with a working definition of what a taboo is. The one that I like best is by Lewis Spence, who says that a taboo is "a Polynesian word meaning 'prohibited' and signifying a prohibition enforced by religious or magical power, which has come to be applied to similar usages among savage peoples all over the world. Taboo [italics from source quote], or prohibition is enforced in the cases of sacred things and unclean things (Spence, 399)." Notice the word "unclean." Unclean denotes something negative and dirty, and tattoos are thought of by many in this same way, usually by people without tattoos. For example, Rickie and Lynn (no last names provided) hate the idea of tattoos with a passion. In Rickie's case it's because her sister, who lives in Texas, "has two tattoos... and now, she hates them." She goes on to say that it was "one of those druggie... things." Deloyd Loveless has seen the results of a bad tattoo first-hand. His friend, who wanted a tattoo in the first place, got something that looked like "a lopsided tire with a pair of wings that was barely outlined... Something about 'Wings On Wheels.'" Someone Francis Moore knows tried to get the lyrics to Jimi Hendrick's "Voodoo Child" tattooed on his back, but because the tattooist left out a couple of "O"s the person ended up with "Vodo Child... So he had it all covered up with clouds and everything." Vern Howe's friend Kotkie actually did get drunk (as is often the stereotype) and woke up to find, "Fumio, I Love You," tattooed on his rear end. As a side note, nobody I interviewed made the decision to get a tattoo while under the influence of alcohol, contrary to popular lore. They were also all educated college students, as opposed to being "people who's not quite evolved enough yet," as Deloyd Loveless puts it.

It seems that each little piece of negative lore about tattoos has other lore implications associated with it. Lynn says, "If you have a tattoo, you ride a motorcycle," and Rickie finishes, "If you ride a motorcycle, you're not a feminine kind of woman." Along with seeing people with bad tattoo experiences, they have also had this reinforced by their parents; in Rickie's case, her father. "My father told me if I ever got one that he would peel the skin off." Bikers have their own particular tattoo lore which, according to Jed Wired, may not be "associated with anyone in particular, except that it's just supposed to mean you've killed someone." This appears to be a well-rooted piece of lore, because I heard many of the same things from a lot of different people. Jamie Sadler says that if you're in a gang and "you have a tattoo of a tear on your cheek, it means you've killed someone in a gang fight." Amy Schneider says, "It's also a biker's thing to tattoo a spider web on your elbow if you've killed someone."

Tattoos are also associated with broken hearts, usually involving someone getting their lover's / spouse's name tattooed on their body, only to end up with the relationship eventually falling apart and the person stuck with a tattoo of a bad memory. Charlie, someone who worked for Deloyd's father, removed his wife's name himself. "I'm no longer married now. So I have scrubbed her off of my arm with a heated knife blade!" Lynn plays soccer with a friend who tattooed her boyfriend's name "across her thigh... and broke up with him three days after she got the tattoo." A lady Gina Mavigliano saw had a tattoo of the year "1974" on her arm, which her husband had tattooed on her arm on their wedding night while he was drunk. "Since then she's been divorced, but that little tattoo has been a great reminder of a mistake that she obviously once made."

Francis Moore told me about the skinhead with "the opening sentence from Mein Kampf on the back of his head," and Vern Howe told me about the Bitch of Buchenwald, where the commandant's wife (Frau Koch) had people's tattooed skin made into lamp shades. "She would take the skin and then she would cure it and... she'd make beautiful lamp shades and everything out of people's skin." In the book Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness, Konnilyn G. Feig notes that "one piece of skin that struck her [Frau Koch's] fancy had the words 'Hansel and Gretel' tattooed on it (Feig, 103)." With stories like these, it's little surprise that tattoos have such a horrendous type of lore surrounding them.

So, with all these horror stories about tattoos, why do people still get them? The reasons seem to fit into two main categories. The first one is a way for them to state their personal beliefs, which is also the reason why someone chooses to get a particular design tattooed on their body. In Scott Brightwell's case, it was a way of reinforcing his belief in the martial arts customs that he had been taught. "It's part of the philosophy I learned along the way, and it's just something that really struck me as a nice way to live, a nice little thing to live by." Amy Schneider is a feminist, and her tattoo reflects this. "Here was a statement that I could say, 'I'm in control on my own body. I do whatever I want with it... I want a reminder that I believe these things, and I thought they were this important." Jed Wired is a self-admitted hippie, and designed a peace symbol that included the initials of two close friends, and the Greek letters Lambda Sigma Delta. "It's kind of a joke," Jed says about the Greek letters. "It's just translating to English lettering." If you do that, you get the letters LSD, which is also associated with sixties hippiedom. More importantly, though, the tattoo "was a friendship thing. There were three of us, and we got the same thing in the same spot." Although he isn't as close as he once was with these people, he doesn't regret getting the tattoo because it still reflects his other beliefs. Bill O' Berry says of the reason he got a tattoo, "I wanted something that couldn't be taken away from me. No matter what, I could go all the way to my grave and it would still be with me."

The other reason I discovered for getting a tattoo fits in very closely with Laura Makarius' study of ritual clowns. For some people, getting a tattoo is a symbol for a rite of passage that no longer takes place in today's society. Troy Steiner, an avant garde dancer from New York and other places, says, "I feel here, especially in America, there are no more rights of passage anymore... and you have to design your own." It's appropriate that Troy got his tattoo on his twentieth birthday, since birthdays were often associated with maturation and initiation rites in many Indian groups. Francis Moore also feels that "it's a right of passage still, you know. People don't really talk about it that much anymore." Joining a select group usually involves some sort of initiation. To join the Russian club might require taking the Russian language. To become a taboo figure involves breaking a code that society holds above all else. To a lot of people, decorating the body with art is such a taboo. "It's degrading and defacing your body," says Deloyd Loveless. Brian Ravetta adds, "But for me it's sort of a religious thing... Would you go and spray graffiti on your temple? And I believe your body is a temple to God."

Laura Makarius, when discussing the backwards behavior of North American Indians, writes, "Thus the evidence shows that backward speech... is associated with the violation of taboo in order to underline it, bring it out clearly and mark its author as a 'contrary' person, exceptional and opposed to the other members of society (Makarius, 65)." Getting a tattoo is the same thing: it marks you as someone different from society, different from everybody else. Stephanie [no last name provided] says a tattoo "marks a person separately... It sets me apart." In a society that is increasingly conformist in many ways, other people are trying to find other ways to set themselves apart from the crowd. They want to reaffirm their uniqueness to themselves and others, and tattoos are one way to do it. I wouldn't say this applies to everybody, but it applies to some people. In some cultures, in order to fit in you have to have a tattoo. Brian Ravetta's friend from England has several tattoos that would probably be considered obscene in America, including one "that grows and will occasionally fire." Why such an obscene tattoo? "He's from the Northeast of England, which is an extremely hard area... where... men are men. And tattooing is part of the culture." If he hadn't gotten tattooed, his life would have been even harder because he didn't fit in. In that part of the world, then, the taboo would have been being arrogant enough not to get a tattoo, and not to conform with that tradition.

Brian's friend has sexually suggestive tattoos (see Appendix A for details). It's not surprising that tattoos and sexuality--both taboo subjects--should have merged at one point. Like the tattooed man at the freak show, most people love to hear dirty jokes, or jokes with deviant behavior in it, but won't usually admit it. The few dirty jokes I collected were from Vern Howe, and can be found in their entirety in Appendix A. Vern's tattoo jokes combine several types of ideas found in sexual humor. The story about "Dot," as I call it, combines the idea of tattooing your lover's name on your body with penis size. "When the thing gets long and hard, it spells CHRISTINA JORGENSON." Obviously sexual humor wouldn't be possible without reference to either the sexual act or the sexual organs. In Vern's other joke, this time the female pubic area is used, being referred to as "Grizzly Adams" and showing that humor, like the people who get tattoos, has no gender barriers. There are also gender stereotypes involved in the humor. The male of the "Dot" joke is shown as getting a tattoo as a noble gesture to remember someone he loves. The woman in the "Grizzly Adams" joke does it strictly for vanity, which is something women are accused of quite often.

So, are the taboos breaking down? Troy Steiner feels that tattoos have become "somewhat fashionable, if you will." In his case, as an avant garde dancer, he considers his tattoo an asset. While the arts are generally more open-minded about such things, there are still people in society who keep the tattoo lore alive, mainly the mass media industry of television, movies and literature. Both Deloyd Loveless and Gina Mavigliano feel that these have contributed to people's notions about tattoos. While it may not be intentional, many of these sources themselves still draw from the lore that's available to them for their material.

In Thomas Harris' novel The Silence of the Lambs, the psychopath Buffalo Bill has two tattoos on his left hand and one on his chest. According to popular lore, if he's a psychopath, then he must have tattoos. Drawing upon this negative cultural lore about tattoos helps make the atmosphere of the movie even more sinister, because everyone recognizes the symbols for what they are. As a further note of emphasis, Buffalo Bill was the only character with tattoos in the entire story. Even Brant Parker's comic strip "The Wizard of Id" made the idea of a blind date even worse by giving her tattoos on her lips. Note the date of the strip: October 16, 1991. We consider ourselves an open-minded society, yet old preconceptions still pop up. As the older generation passes on, though, the more open ideas of the younger generation will predominate.

Everything is cyclical: fashion, politics, and even attitudes towards tattoos. Gina Mavigliano describes people's attitudes towards tattoos as going from "representing honor, like for the war... Then I think people came to think of them as kind of dirty... 'oh, only lower class people have tattoos,'" back to the mainstream of college campuses. "It just seems like a lot of younger people, college students that I know, have gotten tattoos," she says. Both Gina and Troy have accurately described what is happening in this lore group. Look at all the media personalites--Cher, Julia Roberts, Roseanne--that have gotten tattoos. People see other well-known people getting them and decide that it wouldn't be so bad to get one themselves. If they do decide to get one for whatever reasons,though, they want it to be unique, so they either design their own tattoo or let the artist add his own flair to it. Scott Brightwell says of his, "This was taken from a book, yet it's not a direct copy. It has the design of the tattoo artist in it; his own inflections on the gun."

The barriers are breaking down because more and more people have crossed the line of taboo, and shown that nothing bad has happened. When I did the research for this article five years ago at Florida State University, I was honestly surprised to find the number of people I did who weren't bikers or punkers or some other cliche'. I was drawing from the same lore pool that everyone else had, fed by the media. I think that once things become unstigmatized they can never go back to being completely stigmatized again. The taboos haven't completely broken down yet, though they are slowly weakening.

What was once taboo is now becoming mainstream, and in fact has become so mainstream that body art has already moved on to the next level with body piercing, which will also continue to push the mainstream acceptance envelope until either something else comes along to surpass it, or society snaps backwards to ultra-conservancy once again. It won't snap back completely, but the interest will eventually wane. Tattoos are not a point of fashion for the majority of the people who have them, but to the outsiders looking in to the group it appears to be this way. Once their fascination to stare dies down, however, tattooing and other body art will slip back into the background. Society doesn't treat people with tattoos as freaks anymore, but even so, "there is something so attractive about freaks, yet something so forbidden and appalling (King, 33)." I think we all feel the attraction to see, but just don't want to be caught staring. If we don't look, though, we'll never learn to see past the barrier.


Appendix A

The following are the complete stories, referenced in the preceding pages. The contributors are listed in alphabetical order by last name, unless no last name was provided. Everyone was interviewed on or around the Florida State University Campus, mainly outside Strozier Library, in Tallahassee, Florida, with the exceptions of Vern Howe and Bill O' Berry, who were interviewed in Gainesville, Florida. Since spoken dialogue is often full of pauses and such, the ellipses were used extensively to make the dialogue more discernable but to retain the original flow and feel of the dialogue (a folklorist changes nothing.) Oftentimes, a section will end with... to indicate that the subject wandered before returning to what is transcribed here.

SCOTT BRIGHTWELL:

"I got it in New Orleans. It's three Chinese symbols. It's considered a Chinese salutation based on the most ancient of Chinese calligraphy... The salutation is 'Luck, Happiness and Long Life,' based on--not letters--but drawings that are very ancient to the Chinese that represent houses and stuff. It's embedded in the actual symbols themselves. I've spent the past nine--ten years studying martial arts: China, Korea, Japan, and its part of the philosophy I learned along the way and its just something that really struck me as a nice way to live; a nice little thing to live by.

"A couple of my friends had tattoos done about a year ago, and I saw theirs and I really liked what they had done, but I didn't care for the classical, you know, biker, bloody dagger and dragon all up and down the body that they had. So I decided to choose something a bit more subtle and with more meaning and a bit more philosophical... The only people I know that have tattoos like this were some of the masters of the martial arts that I take that I met at some seminars who had tattoos on their bodies done in Japan and in Okinawa that were symbols and statements of their heritage and background, and their involvement with their clans and families...

"I'm planning to get some more. There's another salutation that goes along with this one: 'Prosperity and Wisdom,' which I'd like to put on the opposite inside forearm. And then there's a primitive Indian symbol that I used to have as a necklace as a little kid, and that was given to me from an Indian; a relative. And it was stolen. I'd like to get something representative of that.

"It's something that's totally individual that I don't believe that anyone else has ever had on them, so it's distinctly mine. This was taken from a book, yet it's not a direct copy. It has the design of the tattoo artist in it, his own inflections on the gun. It doesn't have the exact same patterning as the calligraphy book it was taken from, but the meaning is the same. It allowed him a little bit of artistic freedom in it, so it'd be truly individual."

VERN HOWE:

"[This woman] went and she had Elvis Presley tattooed on her right thigh, and then over on her left thigh she had Kenny Rodgers tattooed on it. And then she looked at it... in the mirror after it was done and she said, 'It doesn't look like them.' She said, 'I don't know why. It just doesn't look like him.' So she goes outside and she goes to this drunk who's walking on the street and she grabs him up and she says, "Look." She says, "Take a look at this," and she pulls up her skirt and she says, "Look." She says, "Who does this one look like, and who does this one look like?" And he says, "Gee... I don't know who either one of them look like... but the one in the center looks like Grizzly Adams...

"There was a group of guys over there and they were in Scandinavian Country and all. Bunch of sailors and all, so they all wanted to go down and have their girlfriend's names tattooed on them, and all that. So this guy, he's gone into the doctor's office, and he's getting examined, and the doctor looks at his penis and everything, and he's got this purple dot on his penis. And the doctor asks him, 'What is that?' And he says, 'Oh, well, a bunch of us got together. All of us in the Navy and we went down and got our girlfriend's names tattooed on our penises and everything.' And he goes, 'Well, good gosh, that's a dot. What's your girlfriend's name: Dot?' He says, 'No no no.' He says, 'When the thing gets long and hard and everything, it spells Christina Jorgenson...

"My dad had a purple dot on his knee and all. And he got that with a group of guys when he was in the service and everything, and he said it was just sort of a group thing that the guys did. They had sort of a little group and a club... And he never went into a lot of detail to tell me about it. It was probably something too raunchy...

"And then a friend of mine, who had gone to the police academy with me... His last name was Kotkie. And he was stationed overseas and all, in the Navy and he had gone to Japan, and he got a three-day... letover in Japan... So he went in and he met this Japanese girl at a bar, and they got drunk and they stayed drunk for three days, and when he finally sobered up... he woke up and his butt hurt. His upper right buttocks. And he went to the bathroom and he looked in the mirror, felt around then looked in the mirror and he saw that he had a big red heart with a ribbon over the top of it, and it said, "Fumio, I Love You." And so he showed it to us in the police academy. He dropped his drawers right there in the academy to show us because we all thought he was bullshitting us. There it was... and with his big butt it was larger than life...

"[The Bitch of Buchenwald] It's a concentration camp during the holocaust and all that, and what she did... any of the people that came through that had really beautiful tattoos she would have the skins removed from them after they had gone through the gas chamber. And she would take the skin and then she would cure it and she'd make lamp shades out of them... And they said they have them in museums now, the works and stuff, that she did with these lamp shades... Her husband was the commander, and she used to pick out the people."

DELOYD LOVELESS:

"I have a friend. He's about twenty-one--no, he's twenty now, and he decided he wanted a tattoo. And he went to a friend's house and had to go and buy the Indian Ink--I think that's what they use. And he went over to his friend's house, and they kind of started drinking up the beer before they did the tattoo. He ended up getting a lopsided tire with a pair of wings that was barely outlined... Something about 'Wings on Wheels.' It took him about two years before he finally found somebody else to try and straighten up the "Wheel of Wings"... It looked like an amateur. It looked like he'd given himself a tattoo with his left hand, you know, and he's right handed... And then afterwards they have the rubbing process or something they do to the tattoo, and that wasn't done right. It ended up getting infected. He wasn't very pleased with it, and I don't think it was a very non-painful experience. Now he's got it straightened out, and the last person that done it... has tattoos all over him... He tends to run in the lower, socioeconomic background people...

"[Deloyd's grandmother] had some sort of heart with a spot in the middle of it... for somebody's name. Which reminds me of another guy that used to work for my dad. He had one of these, and he had put his wife's name in it... He came to work one day... with his arm all bandaged up. 'Charlie, what happened to your arm?' And he said, 'Well, remember that tattoo I had on my arm?' 'Sure.' 'Well, there was something in it that I didn't want to see anymore.' And I says, 'What was that?' He said, 'My ex-wife's name. I'm no longer married now. So I have scrubbed her off of my arm with a heated knife blade!"

GINA MAVIGLIANO:

"This is a story about a lady I saw who had a tattoo on her arm, and it was 1974--that's what the tattoo was. So I asked her what it represented, and she said that it was from her first marriage... Their wedding night she passed out, 'cause they drank so much. And he tattooed it on her arm while she was passed out. And she woke up the next morning and her arm was hurting and she found that she had this on her arm... Since then she's been divorced, but that little tattoo has been a great reminder of a mistake that she obviously once made...

"You know, honestly, I think that tattoos at one time were seen as a, like, well of course, like when my grandfather had his [World War II]... that was representing honor, like for the war or whatever. Then I think people came to think of them as kind of dirty, you know, as kind of like, 'Oh, only lower class people have tattoos'... But now it just seems like a lot of younger people, college students that I know, have gotten tattoos since then. I don't know why... I saw someone wearing rose colored classes the other day."

FRANCIS MOORE:

"I got a wolf's head... on my back shoulder... People want to be bad-asses about things. They want to get something... a snake or a scorpion or something, and I just wanted to get a wolf... A lot of the... Non Commissioned Officers--sergeants and everything--have a tattoo or two... I guess it's a right of passage still, you know. People don't really talk about it much anymore... I don't wear jewelry or anything like that... so it's just something I just wanted to do... People always say, 'You're going to have it permanently,' but I've got... all sorts of cuts and things that... I'm always going to have permanently, too... I got one as a statement, and if I get anymore it's going to... just make the... first one I got just, it's going to devaluate it... I've always identified with the gray wolf, the arctic wolf kind of thing. My family raises Saint Bernards, and I want to go in and start raising wolf cubs. I've always just wanted to do that... I never really read into it any.

"There was a skinhead used to work down on the docks at Daytona, down by some of the boats I used to work. He had the opening sentence from Mein Kampf on the back of his head, and he had a spider on his neck, and snakes going up his arms... spider webs, so he killed somebody. Just all sorts of craziness... I've seen some pictures of a guy with a bullet hole... on the left side of his head, and on the right side of his head it's like this gaping hole where there's supposed to be an exit wound, and there's, like, goop dripping down the side of his head... Not something you'll show your parents, I'm sure.

"Here's a horror story. A friend of mine was a good friend of my ex-roommate was going to get 'Voodoo Child' on his back and some Jimi Hendrix lyrics on there. And they guy left out two of the 'O's, so it was 'Vodo Child'... So he had it all covered with clouds and everything."

BILL O' BERRY:

"My birth sign is a Leo, and it wasn't nothing that was going to offend anybody and all, you know, 'cause anyone who has a girlfriend with a girl tattoo, that's not cool... So it was something that was really neutral... It's on my chest... with my tank top line, so at any time if I want to cover it I can wear all the way down to a tank top and not have it seen. I got it for myself. It was something that I wanted, and it was being rebellious. I had just gotten out of boot camp, and the first thing they tell you is, 'Don't get a tattoo.' I spent two months putting up with their hell. I said, 'Forget it. I'm going to do what I want to do'... [The red color is] part of the American flag, and it's also a symbol for loyalty and courage... It also symbolizes Leo... At the time it seemed like everything I had was being taken away from me, and I wanted something that couldn't be taken away from me. No matter what, I could go all the way to my grave and it would be with me."

BRIAN RAVETTA:

"I've got a friend in England who's got three very interesting tattoos. All of these were seen in a pub when he exposed them to everybody, so to speak. One of them is two sheep on his stomach that, when he starts poking his finger into his stomach, these sheep go at it. Another one is under each of his arms. He has going up one arm a lady's leg with stockings. Going up his side--a lady's leg with stockings. And in the middle, well, you can use your imagination. And he also has a tattoo on--one day, I did not actually see this but a bunch of people did when he just dropped his pants in the pub one day. He has a tattoo that grows and will occasionally fire... He was drunk [and is] straight [non-homosexual]... He's from the Northeast of England, which is an extremely hard area... where... men are men. And tattooing is part of the culture."

RICKIE AND LYNN (notated R and L):

R: "I hate them... I think it's a big turnoff, too."
L: "Yeah, I don't think it's such a cool thing, either."
R: "I could cut my hair, it would grow out. I can dye it, it'll grow out, you know?" Anything else you can do you can take off, but not a tattoo. It's there forever... My sister has two tattoos that she got when she was nineteen and moved to Texas and she was an art student. And now she hates them. She's twenty-eight in January. My father's never seen either one of them... It was one of those druggie... things... The one on the back of her shoulder... at first it was a heart, and, she didn't marry that guy, so he had it done over as a flower... And then she has one on her arm of a little cartoon devil, and can't stand either one of them... [She] always wears a shirt around my dad.
L: "My father told me if I ever got one that he would peel the skin off... My father's not one of those big, tattoo people."
R: "No."
L: "If you have a tattoo, you ride a motorcycle."
R: "If you ride a motorcycle, you're not a feminine kind of woman..."
L: "I know one girl in my soccer team, who had her boyfriend's name tattooed across her thigh, with an arrow. And broke up with him three days after she got the tattoo."
R: "That would... bite... When I was in fifth grade I wrote my boyfriend's name across my hand. My father came home and scrubbed my hand raw... I wouldn't pay anyone to hurt me that much."

JAMIE SADLER:

"If you have a tattoo of a tear on your cheek, it means you've killed someone in a gang fight. If you're out for revenge you tattoo a knife on your forearm, and then when you kill that person you tattoo an X on the back of your forearm to symbolize you've got your revenge."

AMY SCHNEIDER:

"I've known for a long time that I wanted to get one, and I'm very spiritual. And I got a symbol that means something to me. It's a woman and moon, and it just means a lot to me. I decided to get a tattoo, in particular, because of the issues of women being in control on their own body, and here was a statement that I could say, 'I'm in control of my own body. I do what I want with it'... It's kind of a spiritual symbol of women being tied in with the moon and cycles of... menstrual cycles, things like that... I want a reminder that I believe these things, and I thought that they were this important.

"I saw somebody that had... the word 'Trouble' tattooed on their face, and they had tear drops. And I asked him what they were for... That was for how many times they had been in jail... It's also a biker's thing to tattoo a spider web on your elbow if you've killed someone."

TROY STEINER:

"I got it a year ago on my birthday, which is November twelfth. And I got it because I feel here, especially in America, there are no more rights of passage anymore... and you have to design your own. It's difficult to say [why he choose a cross for a tattoo]. I'm basically an atheist, but... I like the story behind it. I like the myth behind Jesus Christ. It's a nice little romantic myth... I intend to get a couple more tattoos... I'm getting a psychic cross... I have one on my ankle; it's a homemade one. It basically symbolizes balance. It's similar to yin-yang without all the new connotations...

"A lot of people like it. It's threatening to some people 'cause tattoos were, and still are, associated with deviants and sociopaths and psychopaths and bikers... But in the past year it seems to have become somewhat fashionable, if you will. So, it's a little more socially acceptable now, I think, for the average person to have a tattoo... I've been involved with avant garde [dance] companies... I consider it to be an attribute. Anyone who doesn't accept my tattoo doesn't accept me."

STEPHANIE:

"It's small and it's hidden... It's just a small heart, and it's hidden... on the bikini line... Tattoos... I think are beautiful. It marks a person separately. It's something I could stay with for the rest of my life. It's just a small heart, and it's got a little sparkle, like added dimension, on the side. It's something that when I look at it when I'm forty, I mean, it's going to be hidden, and only me and my mate will know it... It's something that I don't think I'll ever regret. It sets me apart."

JED WIRED:

"I have a tattoo on the back of my left shoulder of a flower. I designed if over last Spring Break... We'd been wanting to get a tattoo, a couple of my friends and I, so we all got the same one. And it's got our initials on it. And it's got some Greek letters... That's Lambda Sigma Delta... It's kind of a joke... Maybe somebody will figure it out... It's just translating to English lettering.

"I was stoned... My friend sat down and he said, 'Get this over with quick. I'm really stoned.' 'Cause he knew it hurt. The tattoo artist goes, 'Yeah, me too,' and he turned the machine on.

"It was a hippieish thing. There were three of us, and we got the same tattoo in the same spot... It was a group concession. You know, 'What do you want?' Well, let's make it a flower... It was kind of hippie. I'm a hippie type of person... We wanted a flower, and it's got a peace sign in the center of it, and it's got some initials in it. Initials of each of our first names, and the Latin initials... I was [close to them] at the time. I seemed to have slipped away from a couple of them in the past year.

"I met a lot of bikers, and they say if you have a tattoo of a spider web on your elbow, it means that you have supposedly killed someone... Up in New York I knew some. I've seen some skinheads that do the same things... I don't know that it's associated with anyone in particular, except that it's just supposed to mean that you've killed someone."


Bibliography

Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1990.

Feig, Konnilyn G. Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1979.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1981.

Makarius, Laura. "Ritual Clowns and Symbolic Behaviour." Diogenes. Spring 1970: 44-73.

Spence, Lewis. An Encyclopedia of Occultism. New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1960.