Previous - Next Page  updated 02-13-2011

First Article 1,   "2nd Bold-titled SectionIntroduction
the  3
rd, 4th, and 5th paragraphs of the article

1.2.3rd paragraph Introduction

Chalmers' Introduction presents categories and definitions of body art, tattooing, and piercing which seem to me, "faulty" (incomplete, full of holes and contradictory).

Chalmers

“Tattooing” and “body piercing” are two categories of skin piercing which fall within the wider phenomenon of body art, or indeed body adornment or body modification – all terms to describe activities that alter the human body in either a permanent or semi-permanent yet deliberate way for non-medical reasons. (Chalmers, 2009:102)

Anyone familiar with T&P can already see some obvious problems. This definition may be sufficient to make and enforce laws, but does not describe body art at all.

Her hierarchy:
 Top level is
"body art, [BA] or indeed body adornment or body modification"
      “Skin Piercing” (SP) is a sub-category of BA
            “Tattooing” and “body piercing” (T&P) are subcategories of SP

 

Chalmers

…“skin piercing” is now more frequently used in its widest sense to include acupuncture, cosmetic body piercing, electrolysis and tattooing activities.

In T&P literature, books, magazines, TV Shows, Conventions, T&P practitioners and clients never refer to themselves as “skin piercers” nor describe themselves as "skin piercing" businesses in the wider sense reported by Chalmers.

Because this is not the language of T&P,  it seems to be the language of those who want to use "uncomfortable," emotionally charged words, like "mutilation" to confirm to like-minded readers the implicit smear and disparagement.

You will see shortly how this false definition plays out to enable Chalmers to lump T&P with human sacrifice and torture because the definition allows these into the category of body art. I would judge it as incompetent rather than a genuine sinister motive:  activities that pierce the body therefore fall within the "body art" (BA) classification. This type of linguistic obfuscation is found in several places in Chalmers. Her definition could never be accepted by anyone within T&P.

Looking at it closely, Chalmers lists five criteria that determine if something is BA.

BA is an acitivity.

BA alters the human body (“alters” is undefined by Chalmers).

BA is permanent or semi-permanent (undefined).

BA is deliberate.

BA is non-medical use of BA.

Chalmers’ definition includes stabbing victims of crimes and atrocities.

Of course this definition is unacceptable, false and of no use to this discussion.

Chalmers' "for non-medical" reasons is contradicted when she cites Otzi the ice Man calling him ”tattooed”, possibly for medical reasons (1.3.10).

This is the easiest objection. The purpose for creating a tattoo does not change a tattoo into a non-tattoo. And whose purpose do we accept, the client, the practitioner; and if they were in conflict?  For example, the "location dots" on medical patients undergoing repetitive laser treatments everyone would agree are tattoos.

Another objection: Acupuncture is neither permanent nor semi-permanent body art.

A definition of BA that results in including acupuncture (1.2.3) because needles pierce or puncture the body shows her linguistic confounding, as if words create the reality, not reality being described by words. Even by her definition acupuncture should be excluded because it fails two criteria:  1) it is for medical reasons and 2) it does not alter the body in a permanent or semi-permanent way.

Sometimes tattoos may not be intentional.

A tattoo might have been created accidentally. One can imagine marks on the body, not deliberately created but referred to as tattoos, such as accidental pricking, or an accident, or absentmindedly, or even when it is not intended, such as when PPD is used to temporarily “make a design” but it turns out to be permanent.

A different focus is needed here. In this discussion we only need to agree by pointing to what we mean by a tattoo and a piercing.

There is no necessity or urgency to create a legal definition or list criteria to determine a category tree inclusive of all body art. A definitive definition of tattoo or a body piercing is not necessary, other than appealing to and indicating by example what can be pointed to on subjects, who would exemplify what is meant, that most of us would agree is T&P. That is enough. This is not a legal document.

1.2.4th paragraph, Chalmers continues and defines tattooing.

The first definition should define what a tattoo is, not this process definition.

Chalmers defines tattooing

In general, tattooing is defined as “the insertion into the skin of any colouring (SIC) materials designed to leave a semi-permanent or permanent mark” and includes cosmetic tattooing (also referred to as dermapigmentation, micro-pigmentation, or permanent cosmetics/make-up, that being the use of tattooing as a means of creating permanent make-up)(Denton, 2001; Mason, 2004; Scottish Executive, 2006).

The definition of what a tattoo is should come first, which I would define as, without quibbling over inadvertent marks: a tattoo is a visible mark in the skin created and  permanent. Tattoo-ing then can have an open-ended definition as a process that creates a lasting visible mark, without getting bogged down considering the various processes. 

Notice also that by writing "and includes cosmetic tattooing" she further disqualifies her definition because much of permanent cosmetics is caused by the desire for "psycho-social" health and functioning within society (which is introduced later).

1.2.5th paragraph

Chalmers defines piercing as

“the perforation of the skin and underlying tissues in order to create a tunnel in the skin through which jewellery may be inserted” (p102)

Jumping ahead a little, it is instructive to see how she interprets Aztec and Mayan piercing, mutilation and bloodletting as within teh body art category. There seems to be no explanation other than she thinks that stingray spines and needles, the instruments of torture, were the functional jewelry. There is something disturbing about this passage.

Chalmers

Mayan priests used body piercing [sic] as a common method of sacrifice [of blood and of people] and self-mutilation, sticking needles and stingray spines through the ear, cheek, lip, tongue and penis. (Rush 2005) (Chalmers 1.3.10)

Chalmers stacks the deck by linking Mayan/Aztec sacrifice, Levitical injunctions, gold jewelry, and unruly sailors as sharing the same "less positive concept".

Chalmers

This less positive concept [Mayan/Aztec torture, punishment, blood sacrifice] is also found within biblical references to tattooing and piercing (indeed the general use and wearing of jewellery) and like the negative association of these activities with sailors of the 18th century, has been a significant contributor to the long prevailing belief and philosophy that such activities were and are associated with criminality and deviance. (Larkin, 2004)

Body art, in my opinion, does not share any essential defining characteristics with human sacrifice, mutilation, torture, punishment, and bloodletting as practiced by the Aztecs and Mayans because they both “pierce” the skin to do their work. This language error we will encounter several times: which treat words as the reality and reality made to fit the words. Her definitions do not make them equivalent to modern day body piercing.

Ripping out the heart after piercing the chest does not meet her definition: “…to create a tunnel in the skin through which jewellery may be inserted.” Modern piercing master Fakir Musafa may perform activities practiced in other cultures but they are not rituals. They are a  performance, a re-creation. By definition his re-creations are discontinuous, displaced from their contexts and experienced for personal, not society-shared rituals. Being stabbed with spiked spines to teach obedience or to offer flowing blood to the gods by being pierced through the penis is not “falling within the wider phenomenon of body art.Those are descriptions of rituals practiced over generations, efficacious to the cultures to ensure their safety or functioning.

Rush had a few things to say about this that Chalmers must have missed.

Religion and violence are not strangers. Judaism, Christianity (for the most part), and Islam can be characterized as patriarchal, monotheistic systems, and all three are covered in blood. ...all have "committed sins in the service of truth." All three engage, or have engaged in the dark side of tattooing, scarifying, piercing, branding, crucifying, burning at the stake, and mutilation in order to punish and purge. (Rush, p48)

How strange of Chalmers to think Rush is saying these activities fall within "body art."

The claim that Aztec and Mayan sacrifice and bloodletting is a "significant contributor" to the "long prevailing belief" that  body piercing is criminal and deviant - is fiction  pretending to be rational discourse. "Criminality and deviance" are not even in the discussion. Where did this conclusion come from, certainly not the premises. Furthermore, Aztec and Mayan ritual may seem inhuman from a cultural absolutist perspective or our modern views, but still would never be associated with criminality or deviance. These are obvious objections.

Aztec/Mayan blood sacrifice has not appeared in any historical literature as a contributor to T&P negativity.

Rush wrote that they pierced human flesh and she read the word pierced as though he were writing about body art because he used the word "pierced." This same linguistic misuse of language shows up when she incorrectly parses di Folco describing where ink is inserted into the skin.

Armando R. Favazza, in Bodies Under Seige, Self-mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry, 2nd Ed 1996 explains that pre-scientific cultures sought redemption and amelioration of a "god's" anger by just such actions (including the Jewish and Christian God). Mortification of the flesh has a culturally sanctioned history for many religions. Piercing your cheeks with a spike is not an example of "body art." Paul bears the stigma of Christ on his body. Body art is a cultural practice not a ritual. Christians drinking the blood of Christ are for Communion, and human sacrifice was to preserve and protect Aztec society, and as ritual, is neither criminal nor deviant in their culture. A cultural relativity concept is a core fundamental for sociology.

Chalmers is trying to get the reader to transfer the horror of human sacrifice, torture to T&P, to get the reader to associate the negativity one feels towards human sacrifice and torture as what is expressed in Levitcus forbidding tattooing; and the same degree of rejection the Christian God directs towards women wearing fancy hairstyles and fancy jewelry; and the same negative concept that is felt against unruly sailors of the 18th century. The feelings we have about human sacrifice and torture are from our 21st Century perspective.

Lars Krutak, PhD, Smithsonian Anthropolgist, in The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women, Edition. 2007, points out the spiritual source and meanings of T&P as necessary acts to the cultures which deemed T&P to assure the survival of the peoples practicing them and to keep their civilizations operational. Chalmers' concepts of culture and history stand in stark contrast to modern thought.

Notice well that Chalmers says, not only “were associated” but, that they “are [still] associated with criminality and deviance because of this.”

There is no suggestion, no implication, no scholarly research that associates criminality and deviance with sailors of the 18th century based on having tattoos. This fictional narrative was copied from Mason, one sentence from his children’s book, that Chalmers praises twice as a contribution to historical understanding of tattoo's reputation and the role that 18th Century sailors played to give tattoo that negative stereotype. I have a lot to say about this book and you will be shocked.

Historical documents mention not only sailors of the 18th Century getting tattooed, but  society's elite, such as Joseph Banks, adventurers, and gentlemen bringing that exoticism to Europe. This we will discuss in another section.

The attempt to associate tattoo empirically as a sign of criminality and deviance was discarded by criminologists and psychologists by World War I.

Associating criminality with tattoo is an abandoned historical concept. It was only first seriously entertained in continental Europe between the mid to late 19th Century and WWI. The early part of the 19th Century began the collecting of tattoo data in prisons as a means to identify recidivists but even then tattoo was not associated with criminality itself. It wasn’t until the 1880s that Italian Professor Lombroso introduced his heredity-genes causation theory and Professor Lacassagne, in France, establishing the French variation attributing tattoo to a less atavistic and more culturally derived degeneration of the human species. Lombroso believed that some were born less humanly evolved and Lacassagne argued that society caused some to become de-generated, devolved as it were. These concepts died. According to Jane Caplan, Great Britain remained relatively disassociated during this debate between atavism and degeneracy seeing tattoo as the result of idleness and some peculiar habits of the working class, the military, and sailors. (JC)

There is no scholarly support to associate tattoo with criminality or pathology.

Even academia does not support such a frontal assault as we see coming from a small number of contributors to "journals" some for decades hammering the same negative message that tattoos are a sign of pathological deviance. So the question is: what is it  that causes this prejudice, this inability, perhaps even refusal to accept the cultural, sociological, and psychological side of being human: marking the body, that causes such venom.

" Darwin, of course, observed that there is no people on this earth for whom the practice is totally unknown." di Folco