Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Connotation of Tattoos

   In Tattooing the World the reader gets to travel in a different sense of the word. Ellis' work takes us, as readers, to another method of interpretation. Tattooing the World depicts that there are a multitude of ways to interpret the meaning of a tattoo. This is made present in the illustration of the life of James F. O'Connell in the Introduction of Tattooing the World. Based on where he was, his tattoos meant something different to the people around him.
   During his time in the Pacific, he received tattoos and markings all over his body that represent his place within that culture. In fact, Ellis mentions that "identity, power, and place are among the most important forms of belonging indicated by tattoo" (18). Through out our discussions on tattoos, we have learned from other stories that, in the islands, being able to sit through the pain of a tattoo made someone courageous and well respected; a man was able to be proud and seen as a true man. The same could be said about O'Connell during his time in the Pacific. He was able to travel from place to place and, because his tattoos showed his connection to a specific chief, he was respected everywhere he went.
  However, once O'Connell returned to New York, he was no longer respected but mocked because of his tattoos as well as feared. For example, pregnant women were told to avoid viewing his tattoos; "failure to do so, they warned women, would transmit the tattoo marks to their unborn" (9). It was not culturally acceptable to be covered in markings in the United States. Furthermore, while men and women were revered in the Pacific as courageous and respectable because of their tattoos, to the people of the United States, they were sexually promiscuous. On page 27, Ellis demonstrates how people were attempting to "define relation between tattoo and what they viewed as sexual deviancy." Men who received tattoos (in the eyes of the west) were latent homosexual looking for a form of homosexual experience through the penetration of a needle and tattooed women are deemed to be "sexually experienced" (27-28). In this light, people in the West interpret tattoos in a completely different way than the people of the Pacific do.
  I think Ellis describes this concept of different interpretations through the same markings elegantly through her inclusion of the word 'stigma' on page 13. In this context, 'stigma' means tattoo and its plural form 'stigmata' can be translated to marks or brands. However, in today's society, 'stigma' comes with a negative connotation. When something has a 'stigma,' we usually see it as a bad thing or a disgraceful mark. So what does that say about tattoos in the western world?
  Tattooing the World allows its readers to see that tattoos may look a like and be designed in similar ways but every single one is actually unique. Everyone from all walks of life define them and interpret them differently. Just like words have numerous connotations, tattoos do too. 

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