Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tattoos as Travel

The concept of tattoos depicted in Tattooing the World encompass a multitude of of themes we have discussed in class throughout the semester. What struck me most was the idea of tattoos as yet another form of travel. Essentially, tattoos are a moment in time. The are all representations of something. Even if you do not know what they mean, as in the case of O'Connell, they represent the moment in time that they were permanently branded on to the person's skin, "O'Connell exemplifies tattoo's travels..." (Ellis 17). They are there for good as a constant reminder of the moment the person got them, where they were, what time of year or even what time of day it was, perhaps who they were with at this time in their lives. They are snapshots of the person's life at that very moment. They are a way of bringing people back to different points in their past. Besides remembering physical aspects of their lives, tattoos are a way to remember a feeling. People often get tattoos in remembrance of loved ones. We saw this in  Figiel's They who do not Grieve. The grandmother had a tattoo that brought humiliation upon her. However it brought her back to a time of love. Her tattoo is a permanent reminder of that time in her life, one that makes her think of it every day upon seeing the tattoo.

Being that tattoo is a form of travel, it is also linked to identity. Travel makes us who we are. Our connection to our past is a significant part of our identity. Tattoos, of course, have a private meaning to each individual, however, it is also important how society views these tattoos. This is along the same vein as the idea of the public versus private self. Society could see tattoos completely wrong from the way they are intended to be, and it is simply a reality that how society perceives you is part of your identity, or part of your "public self". In the book, O'Connell finds an identity in being "'the tattooed Irishman'" (Ellis 16). This idea is supported on the next page, "they mean what O'Connell says they mean. They also mean what his audience and other North Americans think they mean" (Ellis 17). How others perceive you and how you perceive yourself are all aspects of your identity. How people view your tattoos will perhaps influence how they view you, good or bad.

Out of all the forms of travel we have discussed thus far, this is perhaps the most interesting. Tattoos can be so personal, yet so public. They are a choice one makes to alter their physical appearance forever for all different purposes. Some sentimental, some comic perhaps, and some simply as adornment. Not only is it a way to travel through time but to travel to different places. O'Connell proudly wears tattoos from the Pacific's Caroline Islands, displaying quite a different culture than that of the United States. It is a way of experiencing cultural differences unlike any other. These cultural differences all tie back to the idea of tattoo as part of a person's identity, as tattoos can mean so many different things to each individual.

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