Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Invisible Ink

Tattooing the World: Pacific Designs in Print & Skin depicts a major theme of how tattoos are/can be interpreted. While describing the experiences of James F. O’Connell sporting tattoos in the Pacific (where he received them) and then in the United States, the impact that society and culture has on someone’s interpretations of tattoo is very evident. O’Connell explains that his tattoos were “‘better than letters of introduction’” when he was in Ahoundel-a-Nutt but then those same tattoos sent people running away and screaming in terror in the United States (Ellis, 5). This is linked to the idea that Dr. Ellis brings forward that regardless of where O’Connell was, his tattoos still speak by saying, “They mean what O’Connell says they mean. They also mean what his audience and other North Americans think they mean. So O’Connell’s story offers at least three interpretations of tattoo, which can overlap: the Pacific, the personal or performative, and the social” (Ellis, 3). Many people hold very different interpretation of the same concept which is limited or expanded by the place and/or society that formed their norms. In reading about the extremes by which O’Connell’s tattoos were looked at, I could not help but think of Invisible Cities. As readers, we grew more skeptical of Marco Polo’s accounts of each city he visited because Kublai Khan would not know better and Polo is so attached to his Venice. If Polo was actually traveling, his interpretations of each place well could have been seen through a biased lens, as he loved Venice so much. His limited scope of each place is linked to how the Americans were viewing O’Connell in that they were not curious about his appearance but rather scared of it. The Americans at that time had not yet been exposed to a look as bold as O’Connell’s that they were repulsed. Even when Dr. Ellis speaks about Netana Whakaari in the Epilogue who emphasized that no matter what material things and companions humans lose, death is the only thing that can “deprive a person of her or his moko” (Ellis, 193). It is almost like saying that someone will not lose their point of view, their constructed self until they lose themselves. People will always hold their own opinions, want to share their own interpretations, and even attempt to impose their beliefs on others, but O’Connell opened himself up to the pain, the customs, and the ridicule that went along with the designs he acquired. These designs wrote a story on his body, but it seems to only be until recently that people are willing to understand the stories of tattoos. 

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