“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Jim Nelson, the first person to license their skin as advertising, tattooed with the logo of Texas-based CI Host (cihost.com).
The tattoo advertising boom began in 2003 when Jim Nelson, a 22 year old from Illinois sold off the back of his head for about $7,000 to CI Host. For the next five years, Jim is to keep the tattoo visible, and pitch the brand to the public. So far he’s been averaging well over a hundred new customers a month for them, and other skulls are lining up on auction sites, eager to sell their flesh to the highest bidder. These days there are almost always ads on eBay from people selling their skin to advertisers — “with a starting bid of only $55,000 you can tattoo anything you’d like on the back of my head!”
Kerra Fowler, a 29 year old wife and mother from Southern Indiana saw a series of ads on eBay from people offering to sell their skin to John Kerry supporters — “your anti-Bush message tattooed on my skull, starting bid $10,000” and “Tattoo My Head For Kerry/Edwards, starting bid $30,000”. An anarchist and no fan of Bush’s, two words came to Kerra’s mind when she saw these high-priced auctions: Extreme Audacity. Kerra decided to put her skin on the auction block for an anti-Bush message as well, but with a starting bid of only one cent. BME recently had a chance to talk to Kerra, as well as Drew W., the winner of the auction (who has asked me to keep his full name out of the article for fear of harassment).
Kerra Fowler and tattoos designed for her by her children.
Kerra: The idea that you should be paid to say what you think is incomprehensible to me. I did try to get the $30,000 guy to do it for the cost of the tattoo. He’d have nothing to do with it, writing “I’m doing this as a paid promotion. No money, no tattoo.” That made me think he couldn’t really believe very strongly about the matter. He was also dogging the other pro-Kerry tat person, and accused her of plagiarizing his auction. I would think we’d all be supporting each other since we have the same goal!
It seems so insane to think you are so important, or that what you believe is so important, that someone would actually pay you thousands of dollars to prove it. So, I put my head up for auction for tattooing anything anti-Bush. Kerry may be Satan himself for all I know, but I’d rather have that than Bush bombing weddings and calling himself a Christian. I’m an anarchist. A politician is a politician is a politician. The auction was more about making the point against money than it was about politics, but few people understood that.
BME: How did people respond to the auction?
Kerra: The auction’s Q&A got pretty interesting. There was hate mail sent to my email account with some very ignorant things said (and some very brilliant things as well).
so you think its okay for bin laden and his boys and hussein to terrorize and kill thousands of americans, but you think bush is an azz because hes doing something about it…you are the mentally ill one….bush is doing a fantastic job ! and trust me when i tell you , he will be the prez again this election year !
Would tattooing “Patriot” on your head be “anti-Bush” enough.? You say you are 29… I think you’ve done your time. Bush never did his… I think that makes you more of a patriot than him. I have never seen so many p*****s as these eBayers and Bush supporters… All talk, no action. Here you are ready to take action for what you believe!! These tough talking Republicans want to send others’ kids to war, want to inforce the birth of others’ kids so that they can exploit others’ kids. You want to live what you believe. That is a patriot! Good luck.
I was wondering if you would tat the word “Idiot” on your forehead, but that would be redundant. Please educate yourself before you do anything else ridiculous. We cannot afford to commit Hari-Kerry. Each vote for Kerry puts the U.N. that much closer to running our country. Do you want France or Russia to dictate our foreign policy?
I just wanted to say good luck to a good cause. I don’t really like Kerry all that much, but I think I’d vote for satan if he ran against bush!
Only liberal attention whores can come up with kind of crap.
HAHA!! This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. You think Bush is stupid yet you want to tatoo your own head?! And your a mother?? Pathetic. I pity you. Sounds like you have some deep issues, other then just being an anti-american. P.S. Bush for President ’04!!
Kerra: That last one is the very worst one I got because it questioned my mommyness. The only one to make me mad — I invited her over to talk about it in person…
BME: Did anything else happen during the auction?
Kerra: Some guy tried to sabotage my auction and the other similar ones. The first lady had already quit due to his harassment, but all they could get on me was an auction where I sold a duck skull. Some rule against the sale of duck parts. The other guy’s tattoo auction was closed early. The reason given was only “item no longer available”. I found an eBay rule banning the sale of an item with someone’s name on it — you can’t make T-shirts for a singer and sell them. I guess his “Kerry/Edwards” fell under that ban?
BME: What did the auction end up going to?
Kerra: It went to $103.50. I gave half to the tattoo artist and did normal things with the rest. Bought some beer, paid part of a bill, and bought a present for our kids.
BME: That doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but like you said, it wasn’t about the money. Drew, you don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d be bidding on someone getting their skull tattooed. What made you decide to move from buying Willie Nelson’s Healing Hands of Time for $25 to buying such a culturally charged political advertisement?
Drew: I do not buy space on people’s flesh. I was bidding on people getting interested and involved with the political process, and that is what I won — the opportunity for everyone to express themselves. Kerra was putting something on the line to create a forum for peoples’ views. She did it with grace, and she handled some tough opponents with dignity (and also received a lot of praise). She is a good strong passionate American. Maybe Americans will get off their ass and into the voting booth. I tell my kids, “the only people worse than Bush voters are people that don’t vote!”
BME: Why is that?
Drew: People make the argument that there is little difference between candidates. Those people are asleep or numb. I don’t believe any U.S. President has changed the face of the world and sent it into a tail spin in such a short time as George W. Bush!!
The Democrats got lucky: John Kerry is an intelligent man, and a hero, whether or not you want to believe it. He is not a pacifist and he has served our country not only as a soldier, but as a Senator for most of his life. Yeah, he is outspoken, opinionated and sometimes a bit long-winded, but he can resolve the Iraq issue, and if we continue with a Republican Congress, we’ll have gridlock that will put an end to the Republican pork barrel spending that has ballooned this country’s deficit with domestic spending growing at more than 10% annually for the past three and a half years (it averaged just over 3% annually during Clinton!).
The frustrating thing today is that Americans want a Schwarzenegger-type for President. A guy who will get on an aircraft carrier in a flak suit and say anything, and that says a lot about Americans today. But are we really that arrogant? Are we ignorant shallow “trigger happy” fools? Should one of the greatest nations in the world be represented by a simpleton with muscles for lips and shit for brains? America remember; the price of our freedom is tied directly to our demand on, and exploitation of, the world… we need to remember that when we stand up against a world population that has had enough.
BME: Obviously you feel strongly about this — how did you decide what Kerra was going to have tattooed on her head?
Drew: I paid for her great idea that got people involved in the process, not the tattoo — I actually asked Kerra not to waste skin and ink on a man that doesn’t deserve even a footnote, but she insisted. Good for her, she has conviction. I love tattoos, and piercings turn me on… but just to look at! I am forty-three years old with nothing on my skin but a few moles and a birthmark. If you want to tattoo something with the word Bush in it on me… you will have to wait until I am dead!
Kerra: Drew is a great guy with lots of good ideas politically. Perhaps he was having fun with the auction and just didn’t have the understanding that I could be as serious as I was? This shows that tattoos can still shock and offend even in these trendy times.
BME: So how did you eventually decide on the design?
Kerra: My husband, Shane Dunkelbarger (the tattoo artist), and I came up with the design. The cowboy hat was my old man’s idea. I thought it’d help get across the Bush meaning but now I’m getting people in town asking if the tattoo means “No Westerns”. It’s starting to make me ill! Like I wasted the space by doing something over people’s heads. It doesn’t seem that tricky, does it?
In any case, Drew didn’t want anything to do with the tattoo pictures so I sent him the original stencil. He responded with a thanks and, “good luck pleasing yourself.” I’m afraid his feelings are hurt. But really, how would it look if I ran my mouth like that and then didn’t follow through? I’d be just another fucking poser.
Kerra’s finished “No-Dubya” tattoo.
Drew: I wasn’t actually uncomfortable at all — I just didn’t want to have any impact on the final product. It was not my wish that she get the tattoo, so I didn’t want to affect her design.
BME: Kerra, what are your plans for this tattoo after the election?
Kerra: If Bush wins I’ll keep it visible as a protest. Kerry doesn’t have a chance since only the one they want will get in. Let ’em. Look how Florida ended up after handing it to Bush last time. I’ll gladly sit on my raft and watch them burn or sink or blow away. If Kerry wins by some cosmic reasons beyond my understanding, I don’t know what I’ll do. A cover up or just let my hair grow over it and let it become another foggy memory.
BME: Would you ever do anything like this again?
Kerra: Hell yes! Doing another auction would be lame but if I can get tattoos that can mean something to people besides myself, I’ll keep on. I recently tattooed “Allah Akbar” in Arabic on my husband and I will copy it on myself if he doesn’t mind. Talk about going over people’s heads though; who can read Arabic?
BME: Do you think you still would have gotten the tattoo if it weren’t for the auction?
Kerra: I guess not, since it was the other auctions that fired me up to do mine. I don’t think I would have thought of it if I hadn’t become so annoyed about the huge sums of money requested by the others. In my heart of hearts I don’t give a damn who thinks they’re in control since we’re going to continue doing what we want, and most importantly, what God wants us to do. But Bush is so easy to dislike it has become a hobby of sorts to try to get him out.
BME: Anything else either of you would like to add?
Kerra: I’d like to request any artists who’d volunteer to help me design a cover up in case Kerry wins. I’m at a loss. Please, print out a picture and doodle on it. I’d be forever grateful!
Drew: Let’s really think about where we are headed as a nation and what we want to leave for our children. It does take a village to raise a child; families throughout the world are varying and complex. The world is complex… We need each other. “God bless our tiny little planet, and please protect us from big fat liars.”
Thank you to Kerra ([email protected]) and Drew for talking to us about this auction and their experiences! Whether you agree with the sentiments they’ve expressed or not, I hope everyone reading this will take part in defining the political landscape by first informing themselves and then by voting — after all, your future depends on it.
As of this writing, you have less than one week to register for the US Presidential election!
This article was part one one of a two part series on political tattoos. For part two, I need your help! If you have a poltical tattoo (Republican, Democrat, Communist, Anarchist, Nazi, whatever!), please send a picture of it to BME at (removed old email) along with answers to the following questions (feel free to be as wordy as you’d like):
- Why did you get this tattoo and what does it mean to you?
- How have people responded to the tattoo; any interesting stories?
- How would you characterize yourself as a person and politically?
Any other commentary you feel is relevant is certainly very welcome, and tattoo artists are definitely more than welcome to contact me with stories about tattoos they’ve done on clients as well. Until then,