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Recently I saw an episode of TLC’s “My Strange Addiction,” (lets not go into how exploitative this show is) and was first introduced to a man named Davecat. Davecat is a man with a synthetic partner, a growing trend where people marry anatomically correct, fully functional, mostly silicon, lifesize (sex) dolls. I call them sex dolls because they are clearly created in the image of a sexualized female ideal (small hips, large breasts, busty lips, flawless skin, long legs).

Real Doll Assembly Line

Now this is just the latest trend in a long list of what many would call “strange” new types of marriage unions. For instance, a few years back I remember a young man in Japan marrying a Nintendo DS character, and there is Zolton, the man who married a robot he built for himself, and the young man in Korea who married an anime character on a bodypillow.

Synthetic partners appear to be a growing trend, or else these relationships have simply become more visible as of late. There are several companies now specializing in these types of synthetic, lifesize dolls. There is Sinthetics brand, which appears to specialize in the pornstar variety (ie: unnatural proportions and exotic features), and there is RealDolls, made famous by the BBC Documentary “Guys and Dolls”, and the countless, extremely-creepy, celebrity sex dolls you can buy at most adult stores.

Now these trends play into what some have called “robot fetishism,” or “technosexuality.” According to the Wiki, this fetish is based on a sexual attraction to humanoid robots, or to humans dressed up like robots. We can see these sorts of anthropomorphic portrayals of humanoid robots in Svedka advertisements, in several popular anime series, and in music videos.

But what does it mean when the majority of media representations of robot fetishism are from a male perspective? Are the majority of cases actually male or is this simply a case of phallogocentrism? And why are women’s bodies so often portrayed in sexualized robot form? What does this tell us about our culture, gender, and sexuality? Finally, how has human sexuality changed as a result of these sorts of technological advancements?

Although some claim that humans react to real dolls because of our instinctual desires for abnormal, idealized, “freakish” proportions, much like an Australian jewel beetles reacts sexually to beer bottles. I personally think robot fetishism may stem from a desire for control and passivity in one’s partners. Though this is clearly not the case for ALL individuals with synthetic partners (I am sure many people are just lonely and tired of searching for a partner), it appears to clearly be the case for men like Gordon Griggs.

But there does seem to be a preponderance of males with female synthetic partners and a minority of females with male synthetic partners (Though they do sell male RealDolls, after all). What does this tell us about gender, power, and culture? I would argue that this overwhelming male bias stems from male privilege, or the belief that men are entitled to females as sexual partners. Tiring of rejection and refusal from human lovers, many men turn to synthetic ones.

A very unnatural Real Doll

Watching some of the interviews with RealDoll owners contained in the BBC documentary lends me to come to this conclusion. The men contained in the film, from socially-awkward loners to jilted lovers, all seemed to have psychological issues stemming from alienation and the inability to achieve societal expectations in coupling. Several of the men had girlfriends when they were younger, but had since become recluses unable to talk to women. Other men were simply controlling and abusive, and turned to synthetic partners because they “can’t say ‘no’” like living women can.

In conclusion, I find myself lamenting the liberatory possibilities of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”. Rather than seeing the coupling of human and machine as something which frees us from various forms of oppression (gender, race, age, infirmity, etc.), I see the phallogocentrism of robot fetishism in the mass media as myopic, exploitative, and reinforcing of existing gender oppressions. Namely, these trends reinforce the objectification of women, male sexual entitlement, and controlling behaviors in men.


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I already wrote on augmented reality tattoos once before, so I will keep it brief. This video shows a client receiving a QR code tattoo, which then links to Youtube and plays a little cartoon of a singing man. Now, although the artist is off in proclaiming it as the “first ever” of its kind, it once again highlights a growing trend in the body modification community. Not only does the fusing of technology and the body create unique cyborg bodies, it also reveals the importance of such new technologies for the expression of our selves and identities. For instance, will people begin tattooing QR codes on themselves that link to their personal blogs and Facebook accounts? This would make a very interesting case of self-branding!

Another trend I have observed in my own research on tattooing is the role of the prosumer. This video shows the tattoo artist K.A.R.L. livestreaming his tattoo appointment online, communicating with observers in a chatroom format while tattooing his client. Now this is nothing new. In fact, some of my close friends have been doing this for years and I myself have been tattooed in front of an internet audience several times. But what makes this example interesting is the fact that the internet audience, as a body of prosumers, helped K.A.R.L. determine the tattoo design itself. This is unheard of. I have yet to see tattooers take such a “crowd-sourcing” approach to their work.

But this video does speak to the importance of Web 2.0 to contemporary tattoo fame. In a media-saturated environment, tattoo artists now must aggressively market themselves online through SNS like Facebook and Myspace, and through livestreaming tattoo events like this. At a time when tattoo collecting itself has become globalized (Irwin 2003), tattoo artists can no longer afford to become a “big fish in a small pond” as one tattoo artist told me. In order to survive in an increasingly media-saturated community, tattoo artists themselves must become hypervisible online, showcasing their work across several online avenues and building a client pool that spans several continents. Such is the nature of contemporary elite tattooing (Irwin 2003).

A “catfish” is someone who misrepresents themselves online. This is all you really need to know about the movie catfish. The rest is kind of hard to describe, like trying to explain the movie Inception after you just watched it one time. I don’t want to debate the authenticity of the film, because it doesn’t really matter to this discussion (read about it on the wiki). I want to talk about the film’s noteworthy use of social media and the probing questions that it raises for scholars of new technology and Web 2.0.

The film incorporates social media in a very integral and experiential way. The producers take a pretty postmodern approach to depict the characters and draw out the narrative of the film. Mirroring some of the techniques seen Cloverfield or the Blair Witch Project, similar pseudo-documentary mystery narratives, hand-held cameras and panning screenshots allow us to experience the characters, to develop the plot arc, and to eventually come to the realization that all is not what it seems. We experience the characters through social media, as the protagonist Nev is gradually introduced to the family of a young girl Abby.  The camera pans across grainy computer screens, as Nev clicks through the Facebook profiles of the films characters and we, by proxy “get to know” these characters. The point of this exercise is for the viewer to gradually build trust for the characters alongside the central character Nev. So in effect, the film takes the technique of Takashi Miike in Audition The film builds this trust and then quickly shatters it, at which point the trust we had for the characters is broken.As Nev makes the realization that people are not how they appear online, we the audience also learn this vital lesson.

Nev's internet love interest, "Megan"

The woman of the film, Angela, creates an entire social universe
vicariously through public content she takes from the web (She can be seen here giving an interview with 20/20). Impersonating a beautiful, young dancer named “Megan,” she befriends Nev and eventually falls in love with him, all-the-while mailing him paintings she claims her sister “Abby” painted for Nev.

On a hunch that Megan is not who she seems, Nev makes a surprise visit to her, travelling across the US to her rural town in Michigan. Upon arrival, Nev discovers that the entire social network he had been interacting with online and through the phone, including her family, friends, and children, were a complete fabrication. “Megan,” “Abby,” “Angela,” and everybody else were created by Angela Pierce, a middle-aged, shy, lonely female blogger with two handicapped children who require constant care.

Henry Joost (left), Ariel Schulman (center), and Yaniv "Nev" Schulman (right)

The film’s producers, actors, and cameramen, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, appear to document the entire escapade from start to finish, beginning with Nev’s surprise package and painting from young “Abby” and culminating in their visit to Ishpeming, Michigan. But questions have been raised whether or not Joost and Schulman may have exploited Angela from the start. Film critic Kyle Buchanon rightfully questioned the authenticity of the film after viewing it during Sundance 2010. He states,

“Schulman and Joost let us listen in on Nev’s cursory calls with Angela and romantic calls with a strangely Angela-like Megan, but when Nev says months later that he’s never spoken to precocious painter Abby on the phone — and apparently never grew suspicious about that — it begs credulity. Meanwhile, to go by Angela’s own Facebook pictures, she looks even younger than her supposed daughter Megan. If the filmmakers didn’t think that was strange, then they’re truly gullible bumpkins.”

Such trends incorporate what Nathan Jurgenson has called Fakebooking, or the deliberate modification of one’s social profile in an insincere, sarcarstic, or downright false way.  However, it also raises issues of inauthenticity and “mean machinations” (Simmel, 1900) in an era of Web 2.0 technology. There are several cases of people misrepresenting themselves or baiting people into false pretenses using social networking technologies and the increased distance these technologies allow.

Fitness guru and internet celeb Pernilla Pramberg

For instance, the popular blogger “Delacroix” just came out to her readers as a farce, after two long years and over 20,000 tumblr followers. The imposter, who is also the creator of, came out on July 1, 2011 with a formal apology from her personal blog. She had been pirating images from fitness guru Pernilla Pramberg’s personal blog and posing as her under the pseudonym “Kimber Delacroix.”

But Catfish also raises issues of intellectual property in an age of prosumption. Besides the more obvious issue of identity theft, the film makes one think about how easy it has become to steal others work online. Angela, while imitating “Megan,” sends Nev and the directors several acoustic songs as MP3 files, songs which she had pirated off YouTube and claimed as her own. These acts of theft are what initially lead the filmmakers to question the authenticity of these women in the first place, and eventually travel to Ishpeming to confront them. When so much work is collaboratively done online, who owns the rights to an encyclopedia entry that has been tweaked by dozens of different users across the globe in a collaborative online space like Wikipedia?

Finally, the film raises questions of pseudonymity in online prosumptive communities like Flickr, Tumblr, or Blogspot. Angela’s behavior is part of a growing trend of misrepresentation online, which I believe stem largely from the increased distance and anonymity such avenues of communication allow. In this way, I think Simmel’s adage about money is apt. Just as money increases the anonymity of transactions, allowing individuals to secretly purchase goods and services that would otherwise taint their image, pseudonymity allows for greater security, increased anonymity, and leads individuals to engage in “mean machinations” (Simmel, 1900) online. The misrepresentation and deception contained in the film Catfish makes this all the more clear.

While we generally focus on contemporary cyborgs and new technologies, the case below illustrates the longstanding entanglement of human bodies and technology. And yes, this is a medieval prosthetic hand.

According to David Forbes over at Coilhouse, this little guy belonged to famed mercenary and medieval knight Gotz Von Berlichingen of the early 1500s.

This metal apparatus was fitted to Gotz’s right arm after he lost it in a cannon firing accident. This prosthetic was way ahead of its time, equipped with articulated fingers, spring action, and a variety of levers so that Gotz could grip his sword and lance during battle. This sure would scare the bejeezus out of me if I spotted it across the battlefield in 1512! Even today in 2000’s, people are impressed with his style and love to carry a Wakizashi sword with them or else like to keep that as a status of riches at home. Everyone, thinking to buy a word has to keep few things in mind on what they are going to buy.

Tо kеер іt simple Functional Swords аrе mаdе tо bе used аnd tо kеер аn edge. Hоwеvеr, tо really answer thіѕ question уоu hаvе tо explain thе thrее kinds оf swords people sell. Thе fіrѕt іѕ a Decorative Sword. Thеѕе аrе swords mаdе tо decorate аnd fоr display оnlу. Thеу аrе vеrу elaborate аnd аrе ѕоmеtіmеѕ heavy replicas оf historical, fantasy аnd movie swords. Thеу оftеn соmе wіth a sword plaque оr stand fоr thеіr display іn thе home оr office. Thе blades аrе mаdе оf stainless steel аnd аrе generally highly polished. Thеу look really good but аrе nоt designed оr mаdе fоr uѕе. Thе second іѕ a Costume Sword. Whіlе thеу hаvе mаnу оf thе ѕаmе characteristics оf a decorative sword, thеу аrе generally lighter аnd соmе wіth a sheath оr ѕоmе means оf wearing thе sword wіth a costume. Thе lаѕt іѕ thе Functional Sword.

For a more dense history of amputation and prosthetics, check out Robert Meier’s article “History of Arm Amputation, Prosthetic Restoration, and Arm Amputation Rehabilitation.”

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There is a video floating around the internet of a woman getting 152 of her closest Facebook friends tattooed on her arm, creating a full sleeve composed of tiny profile pictures that looks like a geometric checkerboard. As a scholar and an avid tattoo collector, I find this very illuminating.

For one, this reveals the increasing popularity of tattoos. Despite the vehement commentary one finds attached to stories like this (scroll down and read the comments if you want to feel angry), tattoos have become increasingly popular in urban environments and global cities like New York, London, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Amsterdam.

Second, and perhaps more germane to this blog, this case reveals the general merging of the digital and the material, fashioning an augmented reality that we all now share and may soon take for granted (or do we already take augmented reality for granted?). Nathan has already written on this topic extensively, especially with regards to the merging of the digital world and the physical world.

Thirdly, this case reveals the ubiquity of social networking sites (SNS) as an expression of our selves in an era of augmented reality. And this is where this specific tattoo is interesting. Where tattooing has long served as an expression of personal identity (see Hewitt 1997), SNS tattoos serve to blend these two mediums of self-presentation and identity work in new ways.

For example, T-Pain recently got a Facebook inspired tattoo that likewise plays testament to this trend. His use of the “Like” button is ironic, but totally in line with existing tattoo practices that use symbols of popular culture to make personal statements.

This Facebook profile picture sleeve is an overt expression of the bearer’s social network, particularly her digital social network of her closest family and friends. As a unique form of self-expression, the tattoo grafts the digital social world onto the bearer’s material body, creating an augmented (cyborg) body.

For many people, social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace are integral to contemporary understandings of friendship and identity, and it is no wonder that someone took the time and money to permanently tattoo this network onto her body. But it begs to wonder, what are the limitations to this form of self-expression? In an era of increasing fluidity and change, do tattoos serve as a viable avenue for self-expression and identity work? It appears that most of the opposition to this tattoo comes from the seemingly tenuous character of many online friendships and the permanence of the tattoo medium. What do you think?

Just came across the personal blog of Nick Pearce, a scholar at Durham University’s Foundation Centre, who is doing some very interesting research on higher education, technology, and zombies. I discovered his website while researching existing work on zombies and higher education, and I discovered that he is one of the scholars putting together the much-awaited anthology “Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education” (to be published in 2012).

I was particularly drawn to an old post on “Zombies, Technology, and Capitalism,” because of Pearce’s use of the zombie metaphor in depicting some of the recent trends in higher education. He states rather eloquently:

The very general thrust is that VLEs (such as Black(magic)board, and VOODLE) replace face-to-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching. These VLEs have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students. The embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices.

In Pearce’s words, the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) of today’s academy sap the human element out of the classroom (or computer screen in this case). He also likens these new forms of “teaching” to new forms of social control; I am pushed to think about Foucault’s notion of discipline creating docile bodies amongst the student body, or Marcuse’s one-dimensional man.

I find this depiction of higher education as an inherently “zombifying” institution very interesting. For those of us who work in the academy and teach classes, the notion of higher education creating student zombies (or researcher zombies) is very appealing. Who among us does NOT get frustrated at our students’ general sense of apathy and passivity in the classroom? Who among us does NOT feel slightly overwhelmed with all the general administrative duties and academic requirements that our schools now place on our shoulders? And who among us does NOT tire of giving multiple choice examinations rather than more creative forms of assessment and pedagogical instruction? I know I tire of all these things. Perhaps you do too?

I often feel like I am teaching a classroom full of zombies…

Maybe the zombie has a place alongside the cyborg as a metaphor for the human condition in contemporary society. If we conceptualize the zombie as the passive, non-responsive, human-slave, then this metaphor may be apt—this is the traditional figure of the zombie in Haitian folklore and early cinema. Or perhaps the more contemporary figure of the zombie as one of rabidity, infection, and “rage” (as epitomized by Boyle’s 28 Days Later) is more appropriate? Either way, I think the zombie metaphor is a powerful symbol of mass society, something that the cyborg—in all its individuality and flesh-machine symbiosis—lacks.

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Greetings cyborgs,

I came across this interesting video last week on BME Modblog. If you are unaware, the Nintendo 3DS now offers augmented reality video games. One gamer was so excited by this new technology, he got the AR card tattooed on his forearm to allow himself to become part of the game experience itself.

This exemplifies what Nathan and others have discussed on this blog many times. That is, the merging of the digital and the material and the creation of an augmented reality. So is the man in this video truly a “cyborg?” I believe so. In fact, we all are to a certain extent. Heck, you are reading this blog right now, engaging in a dialogue with me from far away through the help of internet technology. In this sense, the Nintendo DS AR card tattoo serves as an exemplary case of modification and the new cyborg body that I have spoken about before in this blog.

For clarity, I refer back to PJ’s definition of augmented reality and the cyborg. He states,

Cyborgs are the indigenous subjects that inhabit augmented reality. They are physical bodies enmeshed in the techno-social formations that characterize a particular historical moment.  In conventional sociological terms, cyborgs are the micro/agentic object of inquiry when augmented reality is the macro/structural unit of analysis.

In my opinion, extreme body modifiers are the vanguard of the new cyborg body. Individuals who insert magnets into their fingers, place implants in their foreheards, stretch their earlobes, split their tongues, and tattoo simulated images on their bodies are all exemplary cases of the Haraway’s cyborg. They take the academic metaphor to the next level.

But like I have stated before, these instances of body modification are nothing new; affluent white westerners are not the first to modify their bodies in extreme ways. What is new is the use of sophisticated technology to extend and enlist the corporeal in creative ways. This Nintendo DS AR card tattoo is but one example. Perhaps in the future we will see other individuals merging body modification with other unique passions like gaming.

So how far will augmented reality lead us? And what are some of the limitations to this new augmented reality? Is this really anything “new?”

Onward and into the future, Godspeed.

I came across an interesting piece the other day on SNS and dating. Instead of simply stating the obvious, that casual sex has moved to the digital realm, Charlotte Metcalf raises some interesting questions about bachelorhood and SNS. The author, a middle-aged mother, posed as a 21-year old brunette named “Charlie” on the SNS Badoo. Using a stock model’s headshot, she described herself as “a fun-loving, easy-going, fit, athletic girl who worked in sales and was in an ‘open relationship’. [She] loved parties, sport, dancing and cinema.” When asked to describe her drinking habits, she responded with an exuberant “Yes please!”

A very “Videodrome” image of “Charlie”

Within 11 meager hours of posting her profile (and paying a minor sum to ensure that her profile was made public to all), she received over 1,500 messages. Many of these messages were candid requests for sex. But many of the messages were also desperate attempts at friendship and conversation. As the author states,

“So many seemed convinced they would find genuine friendship, even love, among the millions of faces in the Badoo membership lists. Here were men, young, old, professional — or so they said — and otherwise, all seeking to fulfill unresolved longings for companionship, and all seemingly willing to suspend their disbelief that this beautiful young woman they were sending messages to might be real.”

And many of the men were worried that “Charlie” might not be real. Many of the men messaged her out of desperation proclaiming, “Please, please, please be normal.”

This guy sure looks lonely.

Metcalf raises some important questions about impersonation and authenticity online. As is often the case with SNS, the most beautiful women are seen as imposters, fabrications, and inauthenticities. As she states, “why on earth [would] a good-looking girl like Charlie [try] to meet men online, when clearly all she had to do was walk down the street to start heads turning?”

Metcalf concludes by proclaiming the dangers of such behavior, citing the experience of a colleague whose husband had recently left her for a woman he met online. She argues that “Sites like Badoo give married men — and women — an opportunity to be unfaithful, and married and single people alike the chance to indulge fantasies and dream up new identities. More alarming still, the women at least are putting themselves in the sights of lurking online predators.”

But I think the author takes her concerns too far. She states,

“But isn’t there something deeply troubling about the fact that, instead of socializing with their families or friends, hundreds of thousands of men and women are sitting alone throughout the night engaged in this fantasy world where, I have no doubt, so few people are what they seem?”

Do SNS really provide opportunities for individuals in committed relationships and marriages to cheat on their partners? Is it really SNS to blame? Or are individuals who scour the internet for partners already inclined towards infidelity?

Metcalf’s piece also raises some important questions about authenticity online. Do “beautiful” people really have less reason to engage with others online? Or do we simply assume that digital relationships are for people lacking in “real” relationships? Have our social relations sufficiently become digitized that even the most popular and beautiful individuals engage primarily with others online?

Finally, Metcalf’s piece seems to suffer from digital dualism, a topic that has been discussed before on this blog. Her views of dating on SNS seem ripe with condemnation and a belief that such digital liaisons are false, inauthentic, and unreal. In essence, she seems to pivot the digital against the material, seeing them as different and distinct spaces. But isn’t it possible to see SNS as spaces of “augmented reality,” where our social relationships of the material world collide with relationships of the digital world? Could these relationships be theorized as one and the same?

In an earlier post, I discussed growing trends of body modification as illustrative of the new cyborg body. Although it is debatable whether these trends are in fact “new,” (after all, various indigenous cultures have been practicing body modification long before European colonists began taking note of it in their travel diaries), I would like to continue this conversation by looking at one subculture of body modification: tattooing.

As an avid “tattoo collector” myself, I have spent the past few years attending tattoo conventions, hanging out with tattooers, and getting heavily tattooed, all while working on my research regarding the popularization of tattooing. What I notice are changing norms regarding appropriate use of the body as canvas. I would like to draw your attention to one particular trend that is growing in the tattoo subculture: facial tattoos.

What was once the purview only of convicted felons has become an increasingly normative way of expressing one’s commitment to the subculture. (For a case in point, simply Google “facial tattoos” and see what pops up.) What I notice from my interviews and discussions with tattooers and clients alike is a sharp disparity between those who see the face as a legitimate space for artistic display and those who see the face as “off limits.” Traditionally, tattooers were wary of getting tattooed on “public skin” (e.g., face, hands, and neck), as employment in the industry was unpredictable and one never knew if she would need to find another job amongst the masses. Having tattoos on public skin was almost certain to prevent employment. But things may be changing.

As the tattoo industry has become somewhat of a pop culture phenomenon, and many consumers have become visibly tattooed (full sleeves, bodysuits, and the like), tattooers have begun to see the face as a legitimate space for getting tattooed. Many of the artists I have spoken with now have prominent facial tattoos, and the ones that don’t often plan on getting them (usually something small beside one or both eyes). For many, it is now the only way to differentiate themselves from tattoo collectors or other body modification enthusiasts who now sport full body suits, stretched earlobes, and other prominent modifications. Where having full sleeves once denoted one’s status as a tattoo artist – a professional in a tightly-knit and guarded community of craftsmen – now facial tattoos serve to display one’s commitment to the profession, lifestyle, and artform.  As such, facial tattoos have become a new form of (sub-)cultural capital, where those who were on the “inside” of the subculture now find themselves defending their turf from a onslaught of newcomers wanting to jump on the bandwagon.

However, even among tattooers, there is a resistance to this growing trend. Many of the traditional tattooers (those who were trained long ago or received a formal apprenticeship) that I have spent time with spoke strongly against facial tattoos. In fact, most traditional tattooers refuse to tattoo clients on public skin entirely. It is simply not a part of their habitus (to borrow Bourdeiu’s terminology). This was certainly the case for the likes of Bert Grimm, Charlie Barrs, or Amund Dietzel, traditional tattooers from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, as well as many other artists who were trained prior to the Tattoo Renaissance of the 70s. For the young man who walks into the tattoo shop and asks for his lover’s name emblazoned across his neck, he now has to find a “friend” in the industry who is willing to do it. Either that or he must risk receiving a poorly-rendered tattoo from a “scratcher” (someone untrained and unaffiliated with a tattoo shop, who purchased their equipment online) who will agree to do the piece at a dramatically reduced rate at a tattoo party or out of somebody’s basement.

In conclusion, as tattooing has become more popular, tattooers and those whose lives revolve around the art of tattooing must create new forms of distinction to differentiate themselves from the masses. This goes back to Bourdieu’s notion of the social field, and how forms of distinction change after the entrance of new social actors with much different forms of capital and very different habituses. Although many a Nu-Skool tattooer (those who recently joined the tattooing profession, often with art school training) sees no problem tattooing their face, hands and neck, many traditional tattooers still see it as a questionable practice and refuse to do it themselves. However, with pressure resulting from the increasing popularity of tattooing and the increasing numbers of individuals with their faces prominently tattooed, we may see an increase in traditional tattooers who choose to tattoo their face.