Forgive me for lapsing into something personal, but I was made aware of a situation that I found highly interesting and completely relevant to the "tattoo culture" discussion. First off, the book was deeply thorough—even in just the introduction—and left me at a loss for things to respond with. The story of James F. O'Connell was my first thought, because the reaction of the Europeans seems to pervade into our contemporary society, where we (meaning employers and the like) prefer them to be covered and out of sight. They're dirty and shameful, incomplete or otherwise.
However, when asking my friends what to write about, I was told of three siblings who speak to each other in an ongoing discourse regarding tattoos, both literally and figuratively. They are as follows:
Jenny (32) – Oldest sister, and has four tattoos. A fish-hook on her left wrist, symbolizing the “J” of her and siblings' names as well as her love of the beach; the name “Jackie Blue” with an anchor on her back, which is her mother's nickname for her in her mother's handwriting; a butterfly, which sounds common, but I was assured she's a true-blue hippie and owns it; and a wishbone under her left arm, signaling the time when she split one with her grandmother whom died two days later after winning the bigger half over her granddaughter.
Jason (24) – Youngest sibling and brother, sponsored skateboarder with a dab of ink on his foot to be explained later.
Jon (30) – Middle child and older brother. Clean cut, married with a daughter, and ex-varsity athlete (lacrosse).
The siblings have, on numerous occasions, gotten into arguments over the purpose and true meaning of tattoos. Jenny is the full advocate for tattoos. She says that if one feels more comfortable or more themselves with ink on their skin, there's no reason not too. It's an expression of oneself, a powerful one, and it should be accepted as just that. Jon in response will say that tattoos are nothing more than branding on a t-shirt, except permanent. Citing the common places for people to get tattoos, e.g. back, legs, biceps, he says that they are out of sight or obscured from the bearer, and thus the tattoo is not for themselves, but for everyone else. They're an extravagant, reckless and permanent marking that has the same effect as wearing a branded t-shirt. Looking at the profiles of the two, it's easy to see where the dissonance naturally lies.
The interesting case though is the youngest, Jason. Frequently hearing the banter between his two older siblings, he at first sided with Jon, saying tattoos are stupid and not as personal as everyone makes them out to be. Yet they grew on him. In a fashion typical for Jason, he decided that, while he found them pointless, he wanted to do it for the fun, for the experience. The tattoo he chose was a skateboard on his foot, placed in such a way that it would appear to be going up the ramp of his arch. He went to get the tattoo, and after a few pricks of his skin, realized that he could not bear the pain and left the parlor leaving three dots of incomplete ink on his foot.
Jason of course finds his story funny, but in combination with his other two siblings, he creates one end of a full spectrum of the tattoo dynamic that reveals and boils down the contemporary discussion and perception of tattoos. Jenny bears her tattoos as memories and proof of both herself and her life. They help to define “Jenny” and honor her as an individual and person. Jon scorns tattoos as adolescent and careless, defining nothing but the irresponsibility and lack of self-control of the tattoo bearer. His sympathies are shared by those I mentioned in the beginning: the remnants of those who feared O'Connell when he returned home. Jason is perpetually torn between the two, seeing both sides as valid but taking a middle road that accepts the tattoo—along with the body and to an extent, life itself—as something not to be taken all that seriously, perhaps even temporary or borrowed, echoing the idea that “'even though it is on my skin it doesn't necessarily belong to me'” (193).