September 22, 2005

Emotional what?

I have to take a moment to comment on this Modblog entry. The link is directly to the entry, which contains two pictures of chest tattoos, one on a shirtless man and the other on a woman wearing a strapless top. I'd say it's pretty work-safe, but it depends on your workplace.

The subject of the entry is the tattoo pictured, which the second person (or his tattoo artist) copied pretty closely from the first person (or her tattoo artist). Quoth the author of the post, "If this was 1989, your shop would be burned to the ground. Lucky for you, it's 2005, and all you've lost is the respect of your peers. Seriously, taking someone's custom tattoo and copying it isn't a compliment. It's theft and abuse of something really personal, a kind of emotional rape that's utterly unacceptable."

I'm all for not copying people's tattoos without permission. Copying other people's things and claiming them as your own is unethical. Duh. But let's take a look at the tattoo in question.

Piratey skull
Crossed piratey sword/knife things
Banners reading "Dead Men Tell No Tales"

It looks, in fact, not unlike this, which I think is the same skull that says "Dead men tell no tales" in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. So while it's doubtless a skillful custom composition, it's a reference and not an original invention. Even if I'm wrong about it being based on the Pirates of the Caribbean skull, pirate skulls and the words "dead men tell no tales" have gone together like wenches and rum for longer than either of the tattoo owners have been alive.

Me, I take issue specifically with the assertion that copying someone else's design which is itself a copy of something already extant amounts to "emotional rape". It's a bit like saying that if I draw an elephant and hang the drawing on my wall, and someone else draws my drawing of the elephant and hangs it on their wall, they've not only stolen my elephant, they've stolen my soul. Please discuss.

Posted by dianna at September 22, 2005 01:52 PM

(a) Comparing something that isn't rape to rape cheapens the impact of rape. Like when a girl in my grad program described herself as having been raped at Stanford - by their unreasonable tuition. Hooo.
(b) Taking someone's custom tattoo art is crappy and dumb, if it was really custom and you really took it. This particular one's hard to call: the idea's a classic. I found a picture of the original admonishing Jolly Roger on the bottom of a webpage called, in fact, Dead Men Tell No Tales. But the two tattoos have the exact same composition.
(C) If you don't want to risk someone doing the same thing you did, maybe you shouldn't have a classic cultural icon inked on your body. But the guy could have picked up the idea and made some gesture toward making it his own.

Posted by: katie at September 22, 2005 02:34 PM

Clearly, the solution is to arm them both with cheese graters and lock them in a room. THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.

Posted by: Andrew at September 22, 2005 03:14 PM

You know, I agree with you both.

Posted by: Dianna at September 22, 2005 04:11 PM

Andrew, you should work for the UN: your solution is brilliant. I suspect the result would be that one of them would end up with a chest that says "D AD Me EL " and the other one's chest would say "NO A eS". And half a skull apiece. See? Now those would be unique.

Posted by: katie at September 22, 2005 04:41 PM

Here's a further discussion question that just occurred to me.

Does it make any difference whether there is, or isn't, some kind of deeply personal emotional meaning to the tattoo for either of the people wearing it?

I had assumed there wasn't, precisely because of it being a classic cultural icon, but a) I could be wrong and b) it could make a difference. Amina Muenster, the woman on the left with the original tattoo, came very very close to drowning as a very small child. The resulting oxygen deprivation caused her to lose a leg, some fingers, and part of a lung. Pirates, watery graves, drowning, dead men tell no tales. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine a connection, so let's assume for the sake of argument that there is one.

I still don't know about "emotional rape", but I could perhaps see how strong language could be called for.

Posted by: Dianna at September 22, 2005 05:00 PM

OK. So I was kidnapped and sold into child slavery at a McDonald's when I was a mere tot. Thankfully, I kept myself alive by cramming frozen hamburger buns into my mouth when no one was looking, and was able to purchase my freedom by talking 10,000 customers into ordering fries with that. So to memorialize my experience I got a tattoo of the golden arches and the "I'm lovin' it" slogan. It's a cultural icon, though, and just because I have a sob story associated with it doesn't mean I think strong language should be used against someone else who got the same tattoo. Isn't that like saying I trump anyone else who wants that tattoo because it's connected in some way to my victimage? Like it's a Personal Significance Pissing Contest?

Posted by: katie at September 22, 2005 05:20 PM

Sorry, I think my point wasn't entirely clear. So let's say that some guy gets my same golden arches/I'm lovin' it tattoo. And let's say that his reason for doing so is unknown - maybe he saw mine and thought, "Hey, I like Big Macs, that'd be a great tattoo." Maybe it's got "real" significance, maybe not. But either way, how does that hurt me? He hasn't pirated my experience or anything.

Hah, although, if you're going to plunder someone's tattoo, I guess the jolly roger one might be the most appropriate.

Posted by: katie at September 22, 2005 05:28 PM

Have I ever told you how delightful you are?

To that I say: it's a custom design OF a cultural icon, and the custom design was specifically what was stolen. The stolen version is devoid of whatever story and personal significance the original possessed. If you wrote a love note to someone, and a stranger found it and posted copies of it on telephone poles all over town, would that feel kind of creepy? I'd think it would, even though love notes aren't exactly a new thing either. Your take on them is still being displayed in a way you hadn't really meant to happen.

'Course, if you get the tattoo, you're posting the first telephone pole copy yourself.

Posted by: Dianna at September 22, 2005 05:28 PM

And here I thought you couldn't emotionally rape a social automaton.

Posted by: poot at September 26, 2005 05:24 AM

Please excuse poot; he's talking about things he doesn't understand again.

There's another, slightly defensive, modblog entry on this subject here -- evidently I wasn't the only one to express some skepticism about the first entry. There's an argument in the new entry affirming the un-sanctity of pop culture while insisting that pop-culture-based art is fully sacrosanct. Ergo, it's okay to get a tattoo of an image from the Pirates of the Caribbean but not okay to get a tattoo of someone else's Pirates of the Caribbean tattoo.

Personally I think I still stand in the same place as I did before: a) copying other people's tattoos is unsavory, b) this is not a clear-cut case of copying original art, and c) "emotional rape" is a vague term that cashes in on the emotional impact of a much more specific term without having any legitimate claim to similar meaning, and therefore constitutes extremely shady rhetoric.

Posted by: Dianna at September 26, 2005 09:02 AM