Where should the line be drawn?

In follow-up to the conversation on in what context (if any) a “Hitler tattoo” is appropriate, Lane Jensen (iam:inksation) asks,

Does a shop have a moral obligation to turn away serial killer portraits the same way they turn away racist tattoos?

Mike Gibson at Dragon FX who did these Richard Ramirez (the Nightstalker) and Albert Fish portrait tattoos says, “no”.

This entry was posted in ModBlog and tagged , by Shannon Larratt. Bookmark the permalink.

About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

68 thoughts on “Where should the line be drawn?

  1. Yes. they must.
    think of a vicrtim’s family member seing this tatoo on a person.
    I know if my i saw my daughter’s(tfu tfu tfu) killer tatoo on a man, i would kill him. really.. murder.

  2. My friend Javier from tattoo galery in venezuela, usually refuses to do racists tats…I remember a time ago, a black guy entered to our shop, and said: “Hi, I want a swastik tattooed on my arm”…Javier said: “do you know what does it mean? why do you want this symbol?” he said: “don’t know, is cute”…LOL

  3. its the artists decision, if they feel impartial then they can tattoo what ever they want. it’s the persons choice. one way or another they’ll find a way to get it done.

  4. I agree with trailerparkray. I think it’s the artist’s choice regarding what form of art they will transfer to someone’s skin. I do, however, believe that it isn’t the artist’s place to judge what isn’t going to be on his or her own body forever; rather, make it clear that this isn’t something that he/she typically tattoos and why. That alone may deter the client or send them elsewhere. I believe the same for religious tattoo work.

  5. I think that what it boils down to is whether we are at liberty to decide what’s more important, the suppression of taboo or disliked ideas or people for the supposed good of society as a whole or the individual being able to be happy within themselves. I’m not a person that has any desire to get a racist tattoo, or indeed a portrait of a serial killer, however I do think that if I were to get one I’d inspire anyone to go murder someone or pick a fight with another race. And if we are to say that we are morally obligated to stop these kinds of tattoos to be done then we’re allowing the attitudes of a majority to rule over peoples lives. My concern is where this line would stop. I could well see the boundaries being pushed further and further until even tattoos of Reagan from the Exorcist become “morally” wrong.

  6. It is a grey area to be in. I can see both sides. Though I think it would be interesting to find out why one would want a serial killer tattooed on oneself? Is it for shock value? Is it because the idolize the person? There are many questions that come with those kinds of tattoos.
    For me personally I couldnt do it. There is too much baggage tied up in a tattoo like that and hell I got enough of that already.

  7. Well, a Rule of Thumb here might be that a killer like Richard Ramirez, who many living people remember, would be off-limits. But Albert Fish might be all right, since all his contemporaries are gone now. But as people have noted, it’s difficult to make a good determination here.

  8. Whats the difference between getting a tattoo of a serial killer than, say a tattoo of the devil? Both are evil images. A religious Judeo-Christian person might be offended by a Satanic image, yet hundreds of artists ink demons and devils everyday.

    My wife is planning to start a leg sleeve of serial killers. Not because she idolizes murderers or condones murder; but because she is fascinated (as am I) by what they represent: A normal person who has snapped. What causes an average person to wake uyp one morning and decide to start offing people (who almost always have a very obvious connecting trait) the same way everytime? Its a fascinating study, so why not express it in ink?

    I think a symbol or picture of a serial killer or other “evil” person is still better and more interesting that seeing the same old boring butterfly and rose tattoos all the time.

  9. An artist can tattoo or not tattoo whatever they want. Freedom of expression.

    Not that I indentify with this person, though.

  10. As with all other topics that can be brought into a tattoo design, I guess the artist will have to think to themselves, “If I turn away this type of work, why don’ I turn away this type?” The whole, if this pushes the limist for then, why? And if so, what else could be considered the same.
    Any case, I feel the artist should just accept payment and move on, these people are the ones who will have these potraits on them forever, not they.

  11. The leg sleeve was my idea ..i had been looking for a worthy person to wear it for a few years and when i ran the idea by my friend he loved it . so we planed out thirteen killers so there are eleven more to come .
    i dont think it is any different than doing a tattoo of Stalin or Patton or Napolion or even Bush! We are marking events in history nothing more (our vision is just a bit of a twisted one)

  12. I think anyone is free to do with his or her body what they want. Pierce it, cut it, tattoo it. Tattoo it with anything they like, where they like. Tattoo artists therefore, are free to tattoo what they wish, too. If they don’t want to tattoo certain things because it goes against what they believe, fine.

    But do they have a moral *obligation* towards society? Hell no.
    Individual expression before anything, even if the consequence of that self expression is expulsion from society because of what the images represent to that society.

    Or why else would they turn away these requests…because they do not want evil to spread? Evil ideas won’t go away if you suppress them…

    …blah, I’m tired :(

  13. my personal thought is that its anyone’s right to get whatever they want on their body. its their skin, they want it for the rest of their life. so, its their choice. my opinion….

  14. This is off topic, but because I read it a few times in here, why would you call getting your entire leg tattooed a leg sleeve? Wouldn’t you call it a pants leg?

  15. I say live and let be.

    From images of a ‘devil’, serial killer, mass murder, dead baby, people who direct others to kill, to words of murder, rape or whatever it may be.

    Unless it’s illegal, it’s solely the tattoo artist’s call.

  16. i think its more so the artists decision. I mean I enjoy the stories behind serial killers very much! Its like watching a horror movie but it was a moment in history, to me its like tattooing Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, the only diffrence is that its real life vs fiction. Many movie horror characters are based on serial killers anyways.

  17. Following the logic, a tattoo artist should never tattoo a picture of a Police officer either, because if someone’s relative was killed by Police officer, it would upset them. Maybe a portrait of George H W Bush should not be tattooed either, think of all the Iraqi civilians that have been killed, and all the soldiers who have come back with limbs missing or worse have died.

  18. ChopperMark: I’m thinking that you’d get wide agreement that nobody in the Bush family should be tattooed on a person…of course, that’s not your point.


  19. I would just like to say Thanks to the people who take these pieces of art for what they are ART!!! thanks again for the positive reactions ….we worked hard on them

  20. The idea that I have for my leg is simple these people no matter how obscene are meant to be rememberd. They represent the worst in all of us. But no matter how much bullshit I spout I just think it’s Cool! I told Mike he could do what he want’s and I’ll give little input. Thanks again Cancer Manson both pieces are scrumptrulescent!

  21. who cares about the fact that they were murderers… all im wondering is who the hell would want such an ugly face like Albert Fish put on their body for a lifetime?
    only a mug a mother could love *shudders*

  22. Yep, I think getting them tattooed is fine. people will take offense to things no matter what. On a personal level I would never even consider getting a serial killer tattooed on me for, as one apt posted has already stated, they are generally dog-ugly fuckers. Looking down during sex and seeing albert fish, Mr Moon Maniac himself on my leg would be the equivilent of a few cold showers in my mind, but to each their own.

  23. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Hall on Voltaire – comes to mind. One may not necessarily agree with what it stands for, but there’s always a certain amount of ambiguity with a stand alone image anyway. Really, how different is it than making a movie or book about killers, and look how well those sell. I have a number of friends who would kill to read more serial killer stories, they just love learning about how and why they did the things they did. It’s not because they believe they were right to do them, or want to themselves. But even if it were who are we to tell them that they can’t persue their quest for knowledge or whatever as long as it’s not hurting someone else. And there is the arguement on that, that by broadcasting those images it is hurting people, but really, can they hurt you any more than another image that isn’t contested could hurt someone else?

    P.S. since I just got my IAM and haven’t found where it explains how to set the name to a link here on ModBlog, how does one?

  24. i just feel sorry for someone he/she wants to get tattooed criminals.
    they cant even imagine what other people think of it.
    i think it doesnt matter what artists do.

  25. In very humble opinion, it is the persons right to tattoo whatever the hell he wants on himself. It is also the tattooists right to accept or decline any request, according to his own beliefs, morals, and likes and dislikes.
    I will defend that persons’ right to do what he pleases with the canvas called his body.
    I will also defend my right to (at least try and) kick the shit out of the him.

  26. Allahcat: “pants leg” – You win!
    MeatGrenade: “scrumptrulescent” – You win!
    starspring: “…a few cold showers…” – You win!

    Those three comments have made my day so much better. :)

  27. I pretty much agree with RustY. Who am I to say someone shouldn’t get something tattoed on them. I think a tattoo artist should be able to refuse if they want, but based on their opinion, not forced to because the general population doesn’t like it.
    That being said if someone hurt my daughter and someone was memorialising the bastard in a tattoo i’d beat the crap out of them.

  28. I have mixed feelings about that question…
    so I’m just gonna say, that no matter who these two are, the tattoos are very very nicely done!

  29. why would you use violence against someone for having a tattoo? that seems very shallow. you don’t like serial killers because they hurt people, so i guess that makes it ok for you to hurt people who like serial killers? so i guess we all better make sure our tattoos get the approval of every jerk on the planet who beats people up whenever they are offended by something. we have the right to free speech and we can get whatever we want tattooed. you do not have the right to use violence on others because you don’t like their views (unless you are the president, apparently). you also do not have the right to go through life without being offended. freedom of speech means people will sometimes be offended, including you. the world isn’t a Disney movie! and just to be clear, i’m talking about RustY and obsidian_wings, and anybody else who would ‘beat up’ someone over a tattoo. that mentality is far more dangerous than any serial killer tattoo.

  30. the swastika was a peace symbol, but the nazis flipped it. backwards, it still stands for peace but not many people can notice the difference.

  31. Dani you need to read The Gentle Swastika. To oversimplify, right and left facing Swastikas represent yin and yang energies in the Far East. It’s different in every culture, and the Swastika shows up in many ancient cultures.

    And to some you others: shame on you for calling other people’s tattoo choices stupid. You should keep in mind that someone out there probably thinks your choices are stupid too!

  32. I think it’s the artist’s decision. I mean – it’s his/her artwork. If he/she didn’t want to do it, make the person go find someone else.

    I understand the fascination of serial killers. My dad is a shrink so we often discuss the mental disorders of such – quite interesting. However, I (personally here) wouldn’t get a tattoo of one. It’s the mental disorder that’s interesting to me – not a fascination with the person or the acts. Quite frankly, Albert Fish was the only serial killer that I actually got sick reading about. I mean heaving and whatnot.

  33. I think tattoo artists should only minimally turn down people.
    Because things will start to suck if everyone gets turned down.
    It’s impossible to avoid offending others.
    I think we should be more open-minded.
    Ask questions before accusations are made, or insults (or fists) are thrown.
    Freedom of speech and expression.

    I know that one day, I’ll probably get tattoos that offend people, that others think are stupid, and maybe even that someone or two wants to beat me up for.
    I can’t help that. I’m not here to please everyone.

    We all have a right to modify ourselves, and different people will do it in different ways.

    Although personally, I don’t really think it’s a good thing to put murders/serial-killers on your skin.
    Because someone in my family was killed, and if I saw a tattoo of him on someone, It’d probably hurt me.

    I’m against censorship, but I definitely understand tattoo artists having certain beliefs/convictions, morals/ethics, and not wanting to tattoo certain things.
    My mom worked with a criminal lawyer and he represented a child molestor, and she refused to help out.

    Tattoo artists have the right to refuse just as much as people have the right to be modified with anything on their body.
    If a tattoo artist doesn’t want to do it, go somewhere else… and if no one will do it, maybe you should rethink it, eh?

    Stay open-minded. Controversy is abound.

  34. I’m very split; on one had, a tattoo artist should of course have the right to turn down anything they want.

    However, the flip side of the coin is that it can be very difficult to find a good artist for controversial work. For example, in the past especially, it was very difficult to find top-quality artists willing to tattoo hands and faces. One of my more explicit tattoos (Tom of Finland style homoerotic CBT-themed tattoos; in progress) took some convincing as well because the artist didn’t want to get known as “the ball torture guy”…

  35. for me,it would have to be what the tattoo represents to the person that would decide whether i slapped them in the head or not…i actually like richard ramirez but,i wouldn’t be willing to get a tattoo of the guy on me,that woulod disturb me!

  36. I think it’s the artist’s right to decide what they do and don’t want to ink; would you bitchslap a painter if they turned down your commission for a CBT scene? Probably not. Feel free to think less of the artist, or not patronize them, but in the end I’d rather they had the choice to turn down work they don’t feel comfortable doing.

  37. First and foremost the pieces are amazing.

    Second, this has become a rather complex discussion so I’ll deal with the actual question first before commenting on what has been said in the past eleventy posts. Shannon, your question has a simple answer – no. Artists are artists no matter the medium of expression. People get so wrapped up in concern of their own rights and what they want that they forget that tattoo artists have the exact same ones. If they don’t want their name attached to something it’s completely their right to deny service – whether you continue to support their shop is yours.

    As for the “use of violenceâ€? comment I would agree that fighting is ridicules in most circumstances. However, I would also have to agree with the individuals who stated that they would be hurt by or would hurt a person with such a tattoo if a loved one was harmed by such an individual (no matter how unlikely). For those in Southern Ontario, imagine the controversy surrounding a Karla Homolka or Paul Bernardo tattoo and they didn’t even kill many people. I’m not saying that violence would be acceptable, I just have the rational to admit that I don’t know how I would react. Calling someone shallow for showing genuine emotion seems a bit uncalled for.

    As for the justification of the tattoos through fascination of the acts or mere interest in the figure, it works as long as you believe it applies to all areas. Is it ok for those who are interested in terrorism to get images of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Theodore Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh done, civil rights students to get images of James Earl Ray, or those involved politics to get images of Lee Harvey Oswald? Or like so many things does it have to do with the context surrounding it?

    I agree that we can’t worry about every single person out there and offending their delicate sensibilities. I also understand that “poor tasteâ€? / “offensiveâ€? are subjective terms. Morals, values, ethics, all vary radically right down to a person to person level (obviously) so questions like this will never really reach a consensus. WE can only leave it up to the artist / client to make the call and deal with the after effects of how controversial (hate, race, sexual) tattoos will effect their business / life.

    I would go on but I already feel the need to apologize for this novel.

  38. Nicely said Duck. I agree with much of what you said. You just spared everybody from my own essay :)

  39. Butt-Rash, you do realize that it’s more complicated than “oh that guy has Fish on his arm! Let’s kick his ass”, right?
    I have an entry about this from some time ago, if you’re that interested, I’m not.

  40. But someone tell me, why get that on your body? Yes, I realize that we have freedom of expression as individuals, which Im all for, but why choose a serial killer?

    Those people murdered others… raped, tortured, skinned them and made them into lamp shades. If someone raped and brutally murded, say.. your mother, and someone tattooed their portrait on them, wouldnt you be a bit offended?

    Im a HUGE art fan, I really am, but it just seems insensitive to me.

  41. I’m not one to judge other peoples’ decisions, but I will.

    Such tattoos are TACKY and TASTELESS. What’s the point? Do the wearers of these tattoos idolize these monsters? If so, that’s pretty lame. Very lame.

    You want an evil tattoo? Great. There are more than enough evil fictional characters to choose from. But glorifying somebody who did monstrous things to human beings is horrible.

    I think I’ll get an ENRON tattoo.

  42. Butt-Rash, You realise I said if someone had hurt my daughter and there was someone wearing a tattoo of that guy I would beat them right? Not just a random serial killer. I think people should be able to get what they want, and I am not easily offended. But if you had a child and they were killed/raped/whatever and you saw somebody with a tattoo memorialising the person that did it, theres something seriously wrong with you if you wouldn’t be pissed off.

  43. The work is amazing, but I’d never geta serial killer tatooed on me. I hope the person who has it doesn’t idolise that evil man

  44. I think it’s up to the artist themselves, the same way that I think that many tattoo artists should say no to the hundreds of lower back butterfly/chinese symbol tattoos. Ok, butterflies and serial killers are by no means in the same category, but the tattoo artist should say yes or no. After all, their name will forever be attached to the tattoo that they create as well.

  45. I love the fact that these tattoos stirred up so much shit!!!! again thatks for the positive reactions and anyone who didnt like them REMEMBER im LAUGHING my ASS OFF at you!!!!!

  46. I love the fact that these tattoos stirred up so much shit!!!! again thanks for the positive reactions and anyone who didnt like them REMEMBER im LAUGHING my ASS OFF at you!!!!!

  47. I love the fact that these tattoos stirred up so much shit!!!! again thanks for the positive reactions and anyone who didnt like them REMEMBER im LAUGHING my ASS OFF at you!!!!! SISSY MAMMAS BOY !!!

  48. Seeing these inspired me to research into what Albert Fish actually did. The whole butching and eating of children was quite unsettleing.

  49. The person who wants the tattoo has the right to get what they want, no matter how pissed people may get. On the same hand an artist has the right to say no. I’d hope that more artists believe in free speech and personal expression and would do the tattoos than not, racist or otherwise. As much as someone hates the ideals some tattoos may represent, they have the right to express it.

  50. yes. they can refuse the right to service any customer. just like any other business. besides, tattoo artists are not monkeys for hire. they are highly skilled people that you pay so they can perform a service. you dont tell them to jump and they ask how high. if they dont want to, they dont gotta.

  51. i think that the majority of people shouldn’t take these tattoos seriously. we have to keep in mind that people are weird. some of this countries worst serial killers were married during their trials when everyone knew they were guilty. so it may just be a strange obsession, i mean i like to research serial killers but i wouldn’t get one drawn on me.

  52. One of the up, and downsides about freedom of speech.

    You might disagree with someones choices in life. You might dislike who they are, and what they stand for. But to CENSOR them, is nasty.

    I don’t like the KKK. I don’t like racism, sexism, and I think MOST rapists and murders frankly deserve worse than they get. *there are aceptions to EVERY rule…Take, for example, “Dexter” from Showtime. He’s a serial killer. But he kills the right people…some respect in that. Old school justice.*.

    But it’s up to the individual artist to decide where there morals stand. And the individual who gets the tattoo.

    Some artists showcase shock art. They draw, paint, and display horrible things. Rape, murder, and so on. Paint, photo-manipulation, drawings, and so forth. Why should tattoo artists NOT create as they choose?

  53. Albert Fish Died the day I was born! That piece of human refuse.

    And Ramirez was a little cowardly misguided punk. It’s a shame ANYONE would try to glorify his memory this way.

    Different strokes, folks.

    Off to Potter’s Field with the BOTH OF THEM. STAT!!!

  54. i can see how one would get upset, but you can’t automatically assume that they are in support of the killer’s actions.

    i’ve been thinking of getting a serial killer/true crime tattoo for awhile now, not because i support their actions (i do not condone the killing of any living species!), but just because i enjoy true crime in general. the subject matter and it’s impact on society and our culture is interesting.

  55. I’m in school currently to become earn my specialty degree in Forensic Psychology, also known as Criminal Psychology. Is anyone here going to come out and tell me I’m not ‘allowed’ to get a sleeve of serial killers, the very men and women I am basing my career path and life choice of studying on just cause it might offend someone? Psh. My body, my tattoo, my choice. These are different than a swastica or Hitler because they are, and that’s relaly the only reason anyone needs.

  56. Pingback: ModBlog - Jack the Ripper Portrait - Body modification and ritual blog sponsored by BMEzine.com

  57. i guess it is a microcosm of anything else.
    ask this question…john q public sports his albert fish tattoo..great, is my hitler tattoo going to get me kicked off of iam?

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