Tattooing “666″ on a Baby

An incredibly disturbing video — probably the most offensive tattoo video to date — is currently doing the viral rounds. In it, the tattoo artist (whose face we never see), tattoos what appears to be a small “666″ on a toddler that screams in pain and terror while he’s doing it. A woman that I assume is the mother is holding the child down the whole time. Since there is parental consent in the process, it is 100% legal. Arguably this isn’t any worse than the doctors that have have cut off the ends of millions if not billions of baby boys’ penises to satisfy their parents religious or cultural leanings, and of course there are indigenous cultures (many of them idolized by the “modern primitive” movement) all around the world that do a wide variety of heavy mods on babies and children… But wow… I don’t think I could bring myself to be involved in something like this, either as the artist or the parent. But I wonder — how many of you who are willing to denounce this video are also willing to denounce the tribal cultures who do similar things in much larger quantities and to a more horrific extent, or even denounce circumcision which is still commonplace in America (although not many other Western nations at this point as the cruelty and needlessness is recognized)?

YouTube pulled the video — click here to download our backup or play it here:

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Update: If I had to guess [edit #2: this is now confirmed, and if you listen in the video you can hear them say that the child is now "blessed by Jesus"], I would say these people are followers of Jose Luis de Jesus of Growing in Grace. Followers of this fringe religion often get 666 tattooed one them as a part of their faith. The question is, do you believe in freedom of religion? Where is that line drawn for you? This group even has billboards around Toronto where I live — this isn’t just some isolated event. Below are some other similar tattoos done by their followers:

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Update #2: Trying to find examples of tattooed children in Western culture, I was hoping to dig up an old story in BME’s old newspaper archive of historical mod stories because I remembered one about a father taking his identical twin sons to a tattoo artist in order to get a beauty mark tattooed on one of them as a way of telling them apart more easily. Anyway, I couldn’t find the actual article I was searching for, but I did find another from the October 19, 1899 Twin City News which mentions how an increasing number of parents are tattooing their children with a hidden ID mark (I believe this was in the midst of abduction paranoia).

Also, I mentioned above that the parents were “100%” legally in the right (although not ethically in my opinion), but I should point out that there have been cases — for example, this North Carolina mother arrested after allowing her 11-year-old to get a tattoo of a small heart on her shoulder — that suggest the opposite. However, courts in America are very unlikely to call the actions of an established religion “child abuse”, so don’t expect to see Jews being jailed over circumcision any time soon.

Getting Heavily Tattooed at Age 15

There’s debate-inviting interview up on the 2KBT clothing blog that I have quite mixed feelings about — an interview with a 15-year old covered in tattoos. Tattoos that unlike those you’ll find on most 15 year olds, are at least slightly above scratcher level, although still far from the quality level I’d wish on anyone — I was going to ask how he affords this level of tattooing, but I doubt they were costly. I admit I started getting tattooed about that same age, but it’s hard to compare the experience directly since in the 80s it was a different world, one that began with me and a hand-poked needle and was followed by being tattooed out of his apartment by an artistically-minded friend who’d just gotten out of jail and ordered himself a Huck Spaulding kit. As you can imagine, those tattoos have almost all been covered up. Even if I had access to better quality tattooists, I’m not sure that at fifteen I had enough perspective on my life to choose tattoos that I’d be happy with today. Very few of us have the same tastes at fifteen as at thirty or forty. Of course, I wasn’t a whole lot more mature at 18 or 21 either… I don’t think it was until I was maybe 23 that I personally had the maturity to choose appropriate tattoos for myself and my life — which is part of the reason I waited until I was thirty to do my face tattoo. For some people that age is higher and for others it’s lower… But I doubt for many people it’s as low as 15.

Still, I dislike ageism as much as I dislike all forms of prejudice — I don’t like the idea of strangers in some government office telling me or anyone how old they have to be to be able to manage their life. That kind of misguided protectionism has often resulted in kids who are handed responsibility at 18 and rush into it, just as incapable of handling it as they would have been at 15, but with a whole lot more self-righteousness. Well, as I’ve said elsewhere, people get the tattoos they deserve. All we can do is continue publishing information on what good tattoos should look like and how to find a good artist — that information is widely available and any kid with basic internet access and a modicum of self-respect is perfectly capable of doing the research these days… All that said, if I was a tattoo artist, I don’t think I would be ethically comfortable tattooing someone at fifteen that I didn’t know extremely, extremely well. A sleeve to the wrist is starting to cut off some options in life — I wonder what would happen if the kid decided he wanted his face or his neck tattooed? It’s not a big step in today’s world for a kid to think that might be a cool thing to do. Even without worrying about tattoo-bigotry, it’s a very big load to put on someone — if their tastes change, a sleeve and a chest is a lot to steal from them.

I don’t think there’s any easy or definitive answer here — I don’t think there’s a universal age where someone is mature enough for tattoos, and personally, the less the government sticks its nose into body modification the better. Responsible artists, a community that strives to educate newcomers, and a general culture of self-respect seems like the right way to tackle this issue.

The tattoos by the way were done by Mike Casale, I believe of Unity Tattoo in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I have no idea what their local laws are or if this interview will come back to bite them in the ass — they seem to be part of that grimey lower-echelon of tattoo shops that prey on less discerning customers, at best a stepping stone for learning artists, but unlikely a home to artists whose work is likely to get much press beyond this sort of shocked “can you believe this crap” coverage…

Click the photos to jump to the interview.

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Read BME and become the future

One of the very first cover images that BME had was a crudely Photoshopped picture of businesspeople with piercings and tattoos. As an amusing aside before I get into this entry’s meat, a funny anecdote — after posting this I got a very angry call from a well known piercer accusing me of making fun of him or insulting him in some way because he felt I had knocked off his backpiece in my editing of this picture. I think he get even angrier when I told him that it was pure coincidence, that I’d just tried to draw a generic cliché of a tribal tattoo. It really was just a random drawing with no inspiration being drawn from him, but the whole time I was keeping my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t notice that I had in fact used his ear, I think scanned from one of Fakir’s beautiful Body Play magazines. It’s also funny what garbage passed for acceptable Photoshopping at the time

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Anyway, when this was posted, probably something like 1995 or 1996, most people were sort of like, “ha ha, tattoos and piercings on business people — we all know that will never happen!”

But of course the world did change, more than any of us could have expected. More than any of us could have hoped for. This morning I heard from my friend Matthew, who has worked in IT (networking to be specific) for years. He says, “I have always felt right at home with my facial tattoos, stretched earlobes, and other enhancements. The modified professional is nowhere more at home than working in network engineering, development, systems administration and product testing here on the West Coast — specifically, here in Seattle.”

He adds that he was watching a Cisco (a huge multinational megacorporation, part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average) infomercial, and actor they chose to portray the “confident young ‘IT person’” is sleeved. That image that was aiming for the “dreaming big” future those long 17 years ago has really come true, at least in part. Yes, there are areas where we still have a way to go, but there are also areas where we succeeded years ago. Either way, things have gotten so much better, and they’re still getting better. We live in a world where it’s increasingly safe for a person to express themselves without risking their livelihood.

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This reminds me — as some of you know, we’re currently making a push to repair some of the issues with BME, as well as adding new features. Something Rachel has wanted to do since I first met her, and gets mentioned practically weekly, is a database that keeps track of what employers are mod-friendly (and which are not). This has a prominent spot on my to-do list, and I think this is an excellent time to add it. It’s a useful feature for BME to have, not just for people looking for work, but also for consumers — I know that I would rather give my money to a company that I know tolerates personal freedom of expression among its employees.

Six microdermals at 76

Back in May, Buddy Williams (of Ancient Ink in Antelope, California) had a 76 year old woman walk in off the street. She wasn’t brought in by a grandchild that she was trying to impress by being the “cool granny” — she was just another normal customer thinking about getting a piercing. She asked Buddy about his microdermals, and wondered if he could do some for her. So he did, giving her a set of them. Since then she’s come back again to add more of them. There have been some longevity issues with the microdermals, with them not lasting as well in her skin as they normally would (three have been replaced), and we agreed that’s probably due to her older skin being less elastic than that of a younger person.

Nonetheless, it’s always wonderful to see stories about how body modification is one of those things that reaches every possible demographic and is one of those pure human experiences that everyone can enjoy. It’s also got the good “moral of the story” that you should never make assumptions about the person walking in the door of your studio — maybe they’re there to yell at you for piercing their grandkid, but more likely they’re another good customer waiting to happen. And I think that the fact that I’m even making this comment is an important lesson on ageism. Should I even be noticing this at all? Shit. Now I feel guilty.

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Healed Tattoos Are What You Live With

There’s been an incredible amount of debate about tattoo healing after my post two days ago — with a disturbing amount of denialism, and an especially deranged argument on Facebook — but the fact is, when you get a tattoo, you have to live with the healed version, not the fresh version. The tattoo artist on the other hand, thanks to their handy camera, may forever live with the fresh version. Photos don’t need to heal.

A fresh tattoo looks different because it’s not covered by an ink-free layer of surface skin — it is, in fact, covered by a layer of tattooed dead skin that may or may not have the same ink in it as the deeper skin — plus the ink particles haven’t had time to settle into their permanent locations. For starters this means that a healed tattoo will almost always have less intense colors and less deep blacks, and there will be some flattening and blending of tones. The degree of these changes depends on factors including the types and colors of ink and, the nature of the wearer’s skin, and the tattooist’s technique — and of course a client can destroy a tattoo with bad aftercare but that’s not what this entry is about. Also, the order the ink was put in won’t matter as much in a healed tattoo — in a fresh tattoo, the visually dominant color will be the last one put in, temporarily hiding what’s beneath it, but in a healed tattoo it will be more of an “average”. In a flat oldschool tattoo this doesn’t make much difference, but in a tattoo with a lot of shading and color nuance it can make a huge difference. And of course all this is assuming a best case scenario — if the tattoo artist has a light hand or otherwise didn’t put in the ink properly, there can also be fading, sometimes dramatic.

A reputable tattoo artist will always aim for the healed tattoo to look as good as possible, not for the fresh tattoo to look as good as possible. In many cases they may even need to create a fresh tattoo that doesn’t look as good as the healed one, and as a result, some unethical artists who are looking to win a convention tattoo award (and often do) that’s being judged that day, make decisions that don’t do the client any favors as discussed to death previously.

I’m very happy to say that the best thing to come about from this discussion is a number of artists vowing to make sure that their portfolios contain as many healed photos as possible. Healed photos are the only way a client can truly know what they are paying for, and are essential. Any tattoo artist that doesn’t have plenty of healed tattoos in their portfolio is one I’d be very nervous about.

On that note — and sorry for taking so long to get here — I’d like to share with you two tattoos, fresh and healed, from Mike Shultz at Altered Image Tattoo & Piercing in Indianapolis (alteredimagetattooindy.com). Compare the tattoos fresh and healed ones. Look at them closely — see how the colors and levels change — and you’ll get some insight into healing, and the decisions that Mike made to give his clients a tattoo that they should be happy with forever, not just something that will win him a Best of Show. Thank you to all the tattoo artists out there who have pledged to give the world an honest impression of what they’re capable of and including plenty of healed and unedited photos (or better yet, both, spreading an understanding to the public of how tattoos heal) in their portfolio.

Be sure you zoom in to really appreciate both my comments and Mike’s artistry.

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Dragon Lady Incognito

Most of the time my friend Eva Medusa really lets her freak flag fly so to speak — you may remember my recent post on her awesome green eyeball tattoos — so I was surprised to see this photo she posted wearing a wig. It’s quite amazing how different she looks “dressed down” like this — not better or worse per se, just… different. But different in a way that’s so traditionally feminine that it really shows off her double transformation. The other half of her transformation — into a dragon lady — somewhat overpowers most photos and it’s what I see first most of the time. But I hope I’m not revealing my predilection to traditional gender appearance, but add long hair to the mix and I really see the male to female aspect first. Actually I’m putting that wrong — saying it more accurately, I’m not seeing that aspect at all. I’m just seeing a beautiful dragon lady and not thinking about what may or may not have come before. Metamorphosis indeed!!!

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Finally, for context, let me show you two “before” photos, one very recent, and another definitely not so recent, from when Eva was still known as NoMan Pan — how many people get to be a bodmod icon (NoMan was one of the first people to get implants from Steve Haworth), more than once in their life? I’m not talking about being recognized for multiple aspects of the same person — I’m talking about being recognized in ways that the majority of people may not even connect. Eva may well be the only member of that very short list right now, although she mentioned that she is aware of a small handful of others doing a “double transformation”. If you have an interest in this subject and are looking for support, I’d urge you to get in touch with her.

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The Tattooed Face of the Future Czech President?

I have been watching with great interest the presidential campaign of Vladimír Franz, a Czech artist and composer who is taking advantage of the fact that he’s completely tattooed to attract a great deal of media and populist youth attention — first to his inky face, but once he has their attention, to his political message as well. Vladimir holds a law degree, but after graduating chose to ignore that field and focus on the arts, while supporting himself in a variety of blue-collar jobs. These days he is a teacher in the theatre department of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and also lectures in the film department. When asked about his tattoos in an interview he said (and I do my best to translate it here — the original in Czech is on his website),

Tattoo Art has accompanied mankind since time immemorial. In addition to the its original magic and ritual, it serves an aesthetic purpose. Of course it’s true that from an aesthetic point of view, this is a decision to be made by each free individual. Tattoos are an expression of free will. The tattoos are a permanent and unchangeable expression of my decision to stand up for the graces of freedom, for better or worse. I know that people have many questions about my tattoos, and that these questions will certainly continue, but I want to add that my tattoos are the result of a long-term sophisticated concept, not a sudden whim.

I can definitely appreciate those comments, and have always agreed that body modification and personal freedoms and civil rights are inexorably linked. If these thoughts are indicative of the rest of his politics (which I admit are not easy for me to really translate), then I’d be happy to see him succeed. That said, no one should ever make the mistake of assuming that someone is defined by their tattoos.

To be realistic, Vladimir Franz is about as long-shot as you can get, and I suspect his goal is more to inject a worthwhile independent voice into the dialogue and to inspire others to do the same — and I’m happy to see that his tattoos are being leveraged to achieve that — rather than the serious campaign for the Czech presidency he purports to be running. He is not the member of any political party, nor of any behind-the-scenes interest group, nor has he profited from overpriced government contracts. He sees himself as a man sensitive to injustice, with a sense of humor and an inner relationship to nature, able to listen to others, and with a never-ending passion to learn and expand himself. These are all wonderful, but the sad reality is that they go a long way to disqualifying an individual from the corrupt, beholden, and rotten-to-the-core political process.

Visit vladimirfranz.cz for more information.

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PS. I’m in no way saying that anyone should vote for a politician just because they have a tattooed face. But for me, when I see someone that looks like this, I know that we at least have some shared background and life experience, and that it’s worth taking the time to hear what they have to say. In addition, for better or worse, a tattooed face means there’s a very good chance the individual is not beholden to big business, because by and large a tattooed face is a great way — at least for now — of having those doors slammed in your face. The irony of my comment is that by supporting such politicians for that reason, we help eliminate the validity of that reason!!!

Nip-B-Gone TV Special

Mac “Dr Evil” Mccarthy, a full-spectrum bod mod artist at Punctured in Wolverhampton recently did a nipple removal (or a “nipple skin removal” might be a better way to put it because the “body” of the nipple is still there under the surface as is all the glandular tissue), which of course I’m in full support of if that’s what someone wants to do, and he posted some very nice pictures of it as well. But where he’s got my paranoia freaking out in overdrive is that he did it on camera for a television show. I think what body modification artists may forget in today’s world where these procedures have a high profile and a history is that technically speaking, there is a line somewhere — and I can’t say for sure where that line is — that when you cross it, you’re legally in the medical world, and there are a broad range of criminal charges that can be thrown at you. It’s rare, but it does happen. It’s why in “the old days”, modification practitioners (“cutters” being the term more common at the time) rarely put their name on procedures, and instead had their customers discretely refer qualified customers to them to stay a step away from potential prosecution.

Time has shown that overall the authorities would rather leave us alone, especially if we keep our heads down. The few charges than have been filed have usually resulted from complaints being filed by pissed off parents, or from an artist getting too high a media profile and becoming “impossible to ignore”. And I worry so, so, so, so, so much that when you put yourself on TV doing procedures than a great many people would claim are illegal to do without medical training (whether that is true or not is a complex matter), you stick your neck out so far that it’s gonna get chopped. That you get so loud that they can’t ignore you. Trust me, I of all people know how fun and how ego-satisfying it is to see your name up in lights, to be able to show off the supercool extreme mods you just did, but trust me also, that I of all people can tell you how soul-destroying and miserable it is to be dragged through the courts. It is not an experience I should wish on anyone.

Now, if someone is charged, you can bet that I’ll do everything in my power to defend and protect that person. And I am quite certain that BME, BodyMod.org, and the grass-roots bodymod community would rally to protect them as well. But all things considered, I’d rather not see that happen. Odds are nothing will happen here. But it’s playing with fire. I really want to encourage mod artists to be careful. Don’t get complacent and assume you’re safe. You’re putting your ass on the line every time you help someone realize their modification dreams. You’re sacrificing your safety to help others. It is a noble thing you do. Please keep yourself safe so that you can keep on improving people’s lives.

Anyway, let’s put those dreadful thoughts out of mind for a moment, and get on to the super-cool procedure!

I know some will point out that the cuts do not fully follow Langer’s lines to minimize scarring, but I believe the justification on the cuts was to minimize the amount of tissue removed to make closure easier, and in any case, since the removal is in the middle of black tattooing, any scar that does form can be easily tattooed over in the long run anyway.

The Friday Follow-up

Oh man, I’ve been waiting for this follow-up every since I posted about this scar back in June.  Thankfully Richard “Effin” Ivey was able to track Velo down to grab another photo of the scar six weeks into the healing process.

You know, come to think of it, Evan there deserves a BMEBoy tag on this post.

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Sleep now in the fire

My only complaint is that TrickyDick didn’t take more photos of this.  The image of Thích Quảng Đức‘s self-immolation has been burned into the collective consciousness of the world since that fateful afternoon in 1963.  Granted most people just recognize him as the burning monk on the Rage Against the Machine album, but his contribution to history will be remembered by Buddhists as long as they’re around.

Feel free to harass Rich to send in follow-up photos to the scarification galleries.