Several months ago, a British police chairman called for lifting the ban against tattoos on police officers. His argument was that tattoos serve as an “icebreaker” for dealing with the public. Now this is not a new argument, but it is the first time a public official has argued for the social benefits of tattooing. The change in perspective comes as a surprise, especially given the longstanding associations between tattoos and deviance.


I have already written about QR code tattoos before on this blog, so again, I will keep this brief. The video above shows the latest QR code tattoo to gain public attention, this time for generating random .gifs, tweets, and videos.  I find these tattoos fascinating because of the way the flesh is made to transmit digital information (“LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH?!”), in essence augmenting the human body with digitally-encoded information (or are we augmenting the digital with the corporeal?). But many have found these trends disheartening (D’Costa 2012), in part because of the permanence of such body markings.

In a culture that is fast approaching lightspeed (both technologically and culturally), many see the permanence afforded by tattoos and other body modifications as attractive. For many enthusiasts, tattoos have become a source of stability in the postmodern era, a way for individuals to “ground” their identities in an era of whirlwind change (Oksanen and Turtiainen 2005; Sweetman 1999). more...

Kurt Anderson, writer, critic, and public intellectual

I share (most of) David Sasaki’s sentiments when he says,

Along with David BrooksJeffrey Goldberg, and Jad AbumradKurt Anderson belongs to my select fraternity of idealized, intellectual American man-crush.

But while Sasaki is disappointed with Anderson’s “Person of the Year” article, I am concerned about his recent article in Vanity Fair titled “You Say You Want a Devolution.” Anderson contends that the past 20 years have seen a total stagnation in the production of new cultural aesthetics. In other words, the end of the 50s looked nothing like the end of the 70s, but 1989 looks remarkably similar to 2009. Anderson concludes:

We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle-economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation.

This is concerning, since that means the entirety of our blog is nothing more than the fungal growth sitting upon the neutral technological substrate that we impregnate with decaying cultures of past decades. Tattoos, Facebook, Burning Man, the iPhone, Twitter, sex dolls, wifi, internet memes, reality TV, geek culture, hipsters, video gamesfaux-vintage photographs, and dubstep are all popular topics on our blog, and (along with blogging itself) are products of the last 20 years. Anderson assumes that cultural objects are made possible through technology, but refuses to admit that technologies can also be cultural objects in and of themselves. more...

Over the summer of 2011, several interns at BBH Labs (a marketing research firm in New York) came up with The Social Tattoo Project as a way to direct empathy towards natural disasters and social crises that continue to plague populations around the world. They used Twitter to track “trending topics” and then asked the Twitterverse to vote on which issues they wanted to see memorialized in a tattoo, essentially “crowdsourcing” the content of each piece. Volunteers were then selected to receive these tattoo designs without ever having seen them ahead of time. The final five topics included “a cresting wave for Japan, handcuffed hands for human trafficking, a broken heart for Haiti, a pie chart for poverty and a flower flag for Norway” (Corr 2011). The video above is a short clip highlighting the “broken heart for Haiti” design and the woman who had it tattooed onto her body.

However, this project is not the first of it’s kind. For example, Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal took it upon himself (quite literally) to commemorate the deaths of Iraqi’s and American’s since the invasion started in 2003. On March 9th, 2010, he had over 100,000 recorded fatalities of the “War on Terror” tattooed on his back during a live, streaming performance at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts gallery in New York City titled “…And Counting”: 5,000 dots were tattooed in red ink to represent fallen American soldiers and 100,000 dots were tattooed in invisible ink to represent (largely overlooked) fallen Iraqis. His art project was featured on NPR and DemocracyNow, and became the focal point for discussions about the costs of the “War on Terror.” more...

As part of my research into the popularization of tattooing, I have accumulated quite a few interesting links on tattoo toys for children. I don’t mean those temporary tattoos we all used to get from the vending machines at popular chain restaurants. This toys I am talking about have drawn flack from parents as being “inappropriate” for kids, creating an example of a burgeoning “moral panic”. Some examples include: tattoo inspired toddler wear, tattoo machines for kids, and of course, tattooed Barbie dolls.

The new Tokidoki Barbie is causing quite a stir


I have been really enjoying the Google Correlate function lately. I think it is a very powerful tool for examining popular topics because more and more people are going online to look for information. More specifically, Google Correlate allows you to see the correlations between search terms, allowing you to see what other search terms are associated with one another. In some sense then, it provides a “window” into the Internet user’s mind. I took this as an opportunity to do a little investigating about the popularization of tattoos and tattooing. What I found is striking.


Recently I stumbled across this interview with Jacqui Moore, a rather well-known and visible member of the body modification community for her extensive black and grey full body suit. Bearing the rather exploitative tagline (which states “A respectable mother celebrated her divorce by asking her new boyfriend to cover her entire body – with a single TATTOO”), which makes her sound not only impulsive but pathological, what does this case reveal about contemporary body modification practices? What is the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and body modification? And what are the costs of using indigenous iconography and rituals in one’s body modification practices?

Jacqui Moore with husband Curly


A "Fakebook" Sleeve

Just as we might have expected, the much-tweeted Facebook sleeve tattoo that I wrote about before has turned out to be a hoax. More specifically, it was a marketing campaign for the company Pretty Social. The company allows you to create custom handbags, stickers, and other products emblazoned with the profile pictures of your (digital) friends.

Nonetheless, the viral video itself made its way around the Internet, serving as but another case of tattoos as advertising. Much has been written on the topic already (Bengsston et. al 2005; McKelvey 1999; Kosut 2005), but I want to theorize further the use of tattooing in marketing as it relates to the phenomena of brand tattoos and lifestyle consumption and the repercussions these trends have for understandings of consumer culture. more...

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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).

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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.