“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”– E.E. Cummings
One of the things that BME preaches rather endlessly is a doctrine of individuality, self-expression, and self-determination, and when people ask my advice on tattoos I always urge them to get custom work and never copy someone else’s tattoo. Because of that, I am regularly asked what I think of people who choose to tattoo the BME logo on them. Short answer: Personally, I think it’s awesome, and very much in line with my general ideology on tattoos.
The tattoo section of BME also has a gallery of music related tattoos, largely images of band logos. While I suppose it’s very valid for a fan who feels that a band is an important part of their life to commemorate that with a tattoo, I don’t see that getting a BME tattoo is quite the same thing. A band is special because of the creative expression of the people in the band that is then enjoyed by the “fans”. BME on the other hand is special because of the creative expression of an entire subculture which is then appreciated by that subculture (and the mainstream world).
To put it another way, getting a tattoo of a band logo is an act of appreciation for the work of another person — saying “your music is important in my life” — whereas getting a BME logo tattoo is an act of appreciation for the work that we all did together. The vast majority of people who’ve chosen to mark themselves with the “BME4LIFE” message are regular contributors to BME, and can validly say that they helped create BME. More so than saying “I love Grobschnitt” or “Eloy Rules!”, a BME tattoo says, “I love myself. I’m proud of who I am, and I care about my family.”
Short of choosing the life of a sociopath, even the most individualistic people have family and community, not just by birth, but in modern times they also have the one they chose for themselves.
Most cultural groups develop iconography to identify and league themselves in a form that has meaning to them. Scottish tartans — the striped and checked patterns which represent different Scottish clans — date back nearly two millennia, and have evolved over time both to reflect both new manufacturing technologies and cultural and political changes such as clan intermarriage. With just a scrap of fabric from a person’s tartan it can be possible to identify where they are from, who they are related to, and in some cases even what they do for a living. Because of a ban on the tartan in the 18th century in an attempt to kill off the culture, coupled with modern commercialization, the direct significance of patterns is certainly up for debate, but the underlying drive is not. The heraldry of European families also illustrates similar motivations.
African scarification in different regions is well defined and carries a very specific set of iconography as well. While it’s dying out quickly, by the marks on a person’s body you can tell where they’re from, who their family are, and what point in their life they’re at. Maori facial tattooing serves a very similar purpose, signifying both individualism, allegiance to a certain tribal group, and as a marking of social status — with the lowest people not being tattooed at all (as they effectively had no identity).
The notion that body modification is an important part of defining one’s identity is far from unique — I’d go so far as to say it’s nearly universal. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC of the Thracians (who lived in what is now Turkey and Bulgaria), “to have punctures on their skin is with them a mark of nobility; to be without these is a testimony of mean descent.” Nearly every culture has at one point in their history used permanent markings to signify both individual identity and group identity.
It’s also not an expired idea in any way — gang tattoos, fraternity brands, and BME tattoos are all permanent body marks that involve both an act of individualism and an integration into a specific tribe by embracing and personalizing its shared symbols. When a person marks themselves with any of these they’re not simply making an esthetic statement, nor are they bowing down before an idol. They are glorifying themselves and what they stand for and what they work toward in life.
So to return to the question of why a person who encourages individualism and discourages copying others ideas as one’s own would support tattooing a “website’s logo”, I say that a BME tattoo, assuming that it is in the context I’ve described here (and I really believe it almost always is), does in fact achieve those goals. It’s not just a tattoo of a pretty picture; it’s a tattoo of an idea.
If BME has played the catalyst in bringing about someone’s emancipation from the shackles of conformity and somehow helped them “be themselves”, then I can’t imagine how signifying that with a shared symbol of the people who collectively fight for that is anything but wonderful, beautiful, and meaningful.
PS. If you want a BME tattoo yourself, first and foremost remember that it’s your tattoo and your symbol. Don’t be afraid to alter it and fine-tune it (or not) to reflect your own feelings and interests and thoughts. Don’t be afraid to integrate it into other pieces (one of my favorite BME tattoos is one where a BME head was put on the end of a staff in a larger tattoo) and always remember: you built this site… It’s not just a trademark of a website — it’s an icon of a subculture with a set of shared values and beliefs and activities.
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