Interesting news stories this week include jail time for certain tattoos in Myanmar, the impact of US Army tattoo rules, tattoo-related infections in Japan, a Brooklyn tattoo studio profile, and a beautiful new tattoo for quarterback Colin Kaeprnick.If you find a cool tattoo news item, let me know via Facebook, Twitter, or hit me up at marisa at needlesandsins.com.
First up, tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman pointed out, in the Needles & Sins Facebook group, this article: "Below-the-Belt Burma Map Could Earn Jail Time for the Tattooed." It's an fascinating quick piece about how a provision of Myanmar's State Seal law, which prohibits anyone from "disgracefully using or destroying anything that represents the country's symbol (including the map outline of the country)," can be used to impose a 3-year prison term on anyone who gets a tattoo of the map of Burma on the lower part of their body. The article quotes one lawmaker citing a chief justice who declared:
"It is acceptable if they tattoo the map on the upper part of body to show their love for the country. But if it is in the lower part of the body, it's inappropriate." [...] Thein Lwin [a district representative] said he had noticed the growing popularity of tattoos among young people to express themselves, and felt the map should be protected from inappropriate use."Also interesting is the impact of the new revisions to the US Army's grooming & appearance standards, as noted in AZ Central's "300 prospective Phoenix Army recruits rejected over tattoos." [Note: The news video automatically loads when you click the link, including sound.] According to the article, "Nearly 30 prospective enlistees on average are being turned away each week from Army recruiting stations in Phoenix" because of the new regulations. It's also noted, "The Army is allowing soldiers to keep older tattoos as long as their content isn't forbidden and they were documented before the new rules took effect." Naturally, that means that a lot of enlisted men and women had hit the tattoo studios to finish up or get new work before the rules went into effect. For more on the regs, check our "Military Tattoo Battles" post.
Tattoo-linked infections sent a handful of American troops to the US Naval Hospital in Okinawa Japan, as noted in this Stars & Stripes piece last month. The follow-up to that story this week is the Military.com article, "Military Won't Name Tattoo Shops in Infection Case." It's reported that Naval Hospital officials stated that they would not identify the three possible studios where the servicemembers contracted infections (which were "easily treatable") for the following reason: "If we posted a list of tattoo parlors that were linked to infections, it would imply that establishments not on the list were safe and tacitly endorsed by the hospital." The article also notes that Japanese health officials weighed in:
"There is no license or permission for tattoo businesses in Japan," said Hiroaki Arakaki, spokesman for the Health Care Policy Division of the Medial Department of the Okinawa Prefectural Government. "If we can confirm that the subject shops engage in tattooing, the government will instruct the shops to stop the illegal conduct," he said.In more artful news, we can rejoice that the movement of sports stars getting really great tattoos (instead of the impulse-driven scratches we often see) continues! Here's quarterback Colin Kaeprnick's new work (shown above) tattooed by the excellent Carlos Torres. The tattoo design is reportedly based on the "money is the root of all evil" biblical reference. According to TMZ, Colin first reached out to Carlos through Instagram to ask about getting an appointment. Carlos told TMZ"
"[Colin] sent me a drawing of his idea ... There was a lot going on so I simplified it. Not every piece of art makes a great tattoo, so I refined it so it'd be a great tattoo. But Colin came up with the concept." He added, "We did three sittings. They were each eight, nine hours long. The side of the ribs are a painful area, but Colin laid there like a rock."Finally, I highly recommend checking this Complex Magazine profile on East River Tattoo in Brooklyn. Our friend Nick Schonberger, Complex Deputy Editor, offers his thoughts on what makes the studio a stand-out in a sea of stellar shops in Brooklyn, and there are also cool photos of East River that capture its vibe by Liz Barclay, such as this one below.
Tattoos of Staff Sgt. Adam Thorogood above.
On Friday, I wrote about one of the most popular tattoo images on those who serve and have served in the military: the Fallen Soldier / Battlefield Cross tattoo, a tribute to those lost to war. In fact, most of my friends in the military have some form of memorial tattoo -- some citing their tattoos as personally cathartic or a way to share stories about those honored in their artwork. Considering the ancient practice of marking warriors with tattoos, it is hard to break that act of expression.
On April 30th, the newest revision to the US Army's regulation on grooming and appearance standards, AR 670-1, took effect, and it has provisions that are causing some controversy -- and even prompted a law suit. As noted in Army Times, the rules ban tattoos below the knee or elbow, although soldiers who already have such tattoos are "grandfathered" in. A big issue, however, is that the new regulations bar any soldier with tattoos from seeking a promotion to warrant officer or commissioning as an officer.
One guardsman who served 10 years on active duty, Staff Sgt. Adam Thorogood, has filed a $100 million lawsuit in response to the ban, which has stopped him from "fulfilling a dream of joining 'The Nightstalkers,' the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky."
According to this Army Times article:
The lawsuit acknowledges that troops have an abridged right to free speech, but only insofar as it hinders their mission, discipline morale or loyalty. The lawsuit argues in effect that the ban itself is hindering the Army's mission, since it is preventing the most qualified candidates from applying to become officers or warrant officers because they have certain tattoos.The lawsuit has gotten a lot of media attention, and it should be interesting to see how this plays out in federal court.
Also, at issue with the new revisions to AR 670-1 is whether the new grooming standards discriminate against African-American women serving in the Army, as regards to a section called "female twists and dreadlocks," which bans "any unkempt or matted braids or cornrows."
While the military has a long-standing tradition of conservative appearance regulations, many argue that they must be brought up to today's norms of appearance and reflect the diversity of its soldiers. Thorogood's lawsuit should have an impact on this debate.
Beyond the rules and regs, today is a day to reflect on those who have given their lives in service and to honor them in our own ways.
Tattoo by Tim Kern.
Stricter new rules governing tattoos and other appearance issues in the US Army have been approved, and once signed, will take effect in a matter of weeks. According to Stars & Stripes, the Army will soon ban tattoos visible below the elbows and knees, and above the neck; however, existing tattoos may be "grandfathered" in.
The new rules also continue the prohibition on racist, sexist or extremist tattoos, but go even further and make removal of such tattoos mandatory. Here's more from Stars & Stripes:
Once the rules are implemented, soldiers will sit down with their unit leaders and "self identify" each tattoo. Soldiers will be required to pay for the removal of any tattoo that violates the policy, [Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond] Chandler said.I understand the ban against tattoos that are racist, sexist, and the like -- although, these tattoos do offer an upfront insight into the person you're dealing with (and whether he/she may have your back in combat). But does the prohibition on artful tattoos take things too far? There is such a historic tattoo tradition in the military; tattoos are used to express loyalty & commitment to one's division; to memorialize fellow soldiers who died; and to mark personal achievements and milestones.
I asked a friend who spent a long time serving in Iraq & Afghanistan what he thought about the rules, and he said that there are more important reasons than simply maintaining a "uniform look," and he shared instances where being tattooed actually affected a soldier's performance of his/her duties. Leaving aside that those in covert ops need to stay, well, covert, a big problem my friend witnessed was that tattooed soldiers faced issues when dealing with Iraqi military as well as civilians because of the negative stigma attached to tattoos. He said that he witnessed an Iraqi officer refuse to deal with a tattooed US military officer because he did not believe that someone with a tattoo could hold any rank. My friend added that it's hard to "win the hearts of minds of the people" when their minds are clearly occupied with cultural bias, and even fear, of tattoos.
However, you look at it, with this grandfather clause in effect, I'm guessing tattoo studios, especially those near military bases, are going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks as soldiers either get new work or finish sleeves and other major work in progress.
Taking a quick beach break to post this interesting article from The NY Times today entitled "Booking Criminals and Comparing Ink." It's a report on the new policy by the Phoenix Police Department to ban visible tattoos that are larger than a 3-by-5 index card and tattoos on the face, neck or hands. Of course, racist tattoos and others deemed offensive are banned as well.
In the past, when I've discussed tattoos and employment discrimination, I've taken a conservative approach saying that one shouldn't be so outraged if Starbucks doesn't hire you because of your neck tattoo. I believe there is the responsibility of owning your tattoos, and if you chose to work in a field that has certain dress codes, then abide or chose another workplace, just like so many abide by hem lines and tie requirements.
For me, it's not just covering up in the courtroom. At this very moment, I am on a Greek island with my family wearing long sleeves in the heat out of respect for them because tattoos still have a stigma here that my family finds upsetting.
That said, I'm beginning to mellow on my original position re: covering up at work, and this Phoenix Police Department ban is a good example why. In Arizona, covering up is fairly impractical for cops because, well, it's really hot. As stated by Mark Spencer, the president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association: "Imagine having to wear long sleeves along with body armor, a gun belt and having to get in and out of a police car 50 times every day."
But this also has to be weighed against the goals of the department, one of which is establishing a sense of trust and security between the public and the department. And this is the tricky part. In the article, two cops offer differing opinions. One 11-year veteran says that he gets more negative than positive reactions from the public and has no problems with the new policy. Another officer, who has been on the force for three years, said that she believes it helps connect her to the community: "It gives us a sense of humanity [...] We're normal people just like everyone else."
Another big issue is the stigma itself. While clearly present on this small Greek island, is it still seen as a mark of criminality and deviance in big cities in the States? This is discussed in the article as well:
Questions like these on the practical issues surrounding tattoo bans in dress codes do sway my thoughts on the issue. I've also been thinking on Professor William Peace's guest post yesterday in which he says that "every disabled and tattooed person has obligation to rebel against ignorance, prejudice and any attempt to socially isolate people who are different."
I'll continue to ponder it today over a cold cocktail by the sea. Meanwhile, you can weigh in on the Needles & Sins FB group page.
Tattoo by Tim Kern
The branches of the US military regularly clarify and update their dress and personal appearance policies, but it seems that in the last five years they've been extra busy doing so...98 times since 2006 according to Time's article on Air Force dress codes.
While I personally prefer my soldiers suffer a 30-hour backpiece than bullets, the Air Force seems to get its regulation panties in a bunch over the diameter of visible tattoos. So much so, they've come up with a mathematical equation to figure out what is and what is not acceptable body art. There are even charts!
Get your calculators ready. Here goes:
Use the following calculation: (all measurements are to be done in inches; partial inches should be rounded up to the nearest inch). Member will be measured standing at the position of attention. If member has multiple tattoos/brands (T/B) that are clearly separate TBs, each will be measured separately and the cumulative size of the TBs cannot exceed one-fourth or 25% of the exposed body part.Huh?
Ok, so what happens if you're bad at math and your tattoos violate policy? Well, you can get a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand. Or they can order full tattoo removal. They'll even pay for removal if there's a budget! Read more here for details. [The article also provides links to PDFs of the full dress code policies for the Army, Marines, and Navy.]
At a time when the Legislature is looking to cap government spending, perhaps we shouldn't be budgeting for tattoo removal or even wasting so much time on the colors in military skin.
According to NBC Dallas, 30-year-old Texas mom, Samantha Osborn, went to Six Flags Amusement Park with her husband to celebrate his birthday but was denied entrance because an employee said her guns and roses tattoo was violent and offensive. As you can see from above, the tattoo is a chest piece of six shooters and some flowers--not an homage to Axl's Chinese Democracy album so it clearly could've been worse.
The employee said the tattoo was as offensive as a swastika and those with swastikas are banned from the park by policy. While park managers do have discretion in denying customers access if they feel their clothing is "inappropriate or vulgar," the code does not mention tattoos. Oh, but she was offered the option to buy a $5 t-shirt to cover up. Customer service!
I like that Osborn didn't just let the incident go. She complained and got an email apology from the park, which means little really, but perhaps she motivated the company to draft better policies where employees can't discriminate at will. And with the press she's getting, maybe other companies will do the same. Meanwhile, she'll be taking her funnel cake cravings elsewhere.
Today is President's Day in the US, a day to honor Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, and most of us do so by spending bills emblazoned with their portraits in the big sales going on. And then there are those like DeShawn Stevenson of the NBA's Wizards who just take it a little too far. [I'd prefer the Benjamins.]
But despite the large image I stole above, today's news review ain't about bad baller tattoos. It's largely about insanity like tattooing babies, magic Buddhist ink, augmented reality tattoos and more. Let's get to it...
The most horrific is the news about an Ohio man who tattooed a one-year-old baby. Yes, a baby. The mother was visiting his home, and in some inexplicable moment, he tattooed a dime-sized letter "A" on the baby's buttocks.
We've all heard of shops getting shut down for tattooing minors, most recently in South Dakota, and facing fines like new regs proposed in Maryland -- but never something as mind-blowing as this.
I have no more words here on this -- I can't even wrap my head around it -- so let's cleanse that image with more positive headlines...
Tattmandu Tattoo Studios in Colorado has raised over $5,000 in their "Ink for Haiti" charity as clients lined up around the block yesterday for the studio's heart tattoo special.
Finally, a positive spin on tattoos in the workplace: The Portland Tribune reports that tattoos are becoming more acceptable at work, even in corporate offices. The article goes on to say that Portland maybe be ousting San Francisco as the nation's tattoo mecca. Here are the stats:
"A city-by-city survey of tattoo shop listings bears out Portland's standing. San Francisco has a population of about 808,000 and 70 tattoo shops listed in its Yellow Pages. Portland's population is 580,000 and it has 73 shops. Seattle has only 40 shops and Phoenix 36. Los Angeles lists 167 shops, but its population of 9.8 million is more than 10 times that of Portland. On a per-capita basis, Portland has far and away more tattoo shops than any major city in the country."
Even USA Today is getting in on the art's popularity with their new Tattoo Tuesday column where readers share their tattoo stories.
That's not to say that visible tattoo bans at work will all go away any time soon. We've talked at length about dress codes and tattoos for military, police, firemen, and other public workers in the US but it's an issue discussed around the world. Recently, in Denmark, prison guards were told that "visible 'biker gang type' tattoos on the hands, arms, neck and head are in this way not desirable." The problem is that officials have not defined what exactly is a "biker tattoo" and how new tattoo guidelines would be implemented.
And in Australia, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard decried the country's "raunch culture," saying that many heavily tattooed women were "making a mistake." She added: "I worry for them. How they're going to feel about it in the future." Well, Gillard should worry about her own political future in underestimating tattooed women as active voters. In many countries, politicians feel they can get away with such statements because they assume our anarchic lifestyles and rampant drug use keep us from the polls. We'll continue to prove them wrong.
In the magical and "augmented reality" front of tattooing ...
Buddhist tattoos are gaining popularity in Singapore, not just for their beauty, but for what some believe are their mystical powers. At least that's what a sales rep from a company specializing in Sak Yant tattooing says. Speaking to the press at the Singapore Tattoo Convention, he added: "Sak yant is now widely embraced by the general population because of people's need for a form of spiritual support, aided by the social acceptance of tattoos."
Finally, the magic of having animated characters come to life on your skin has been created by Think an App in Buenos Aires. Geeky Gadgets explains: "The software technology recognizes AR bar codes on curved surfaces, the tattoo looks like a very simple and boring square until viewed through a camera." Here's video of it below:
And with that I'll leave you to enjoy your own wild reality.
Wing tattoos by Vincent Hocquet (featured in Black Tattoo Art).
Last Friday, the US Air Force rescinded a new ban on tattoos visible on a recruit's right "saluting arm." The ban had come into effect November 25th and met with a great deal of scrutiny in the press as 26 recruits were soon turned away from basic training because of their tattoos, tattoos that were acceptable under the original standard.
According to the Air Force Times, that old standard is the following: "Official Air Force policy bans only tattoos that are obscene or do not fit a 'military image,' that cover more than one-fourth of a body part, or are above the collarbone."
This Air Force policy has renewed interest in the debate over tattoo policies -- not just in the military -- but in the workplace. I wrote a great deal about it for Needled.com but those posts did not survive its demise so I'll break down some big issues for ya here.
The first time I wrote about discrimination and body art was for BMEzine in 2004 called "Employment Discrimination: Be Careful What You Sue For" [yes, my bio info for the article has surely changed!] Since that article, there have been new developments, but start there for a more detailed primer on federal job discrimination laws.
Here are some basic points on tattoos and workplace appearance policies:
Companies have a great deal of discretion in enforcing their workplace appearance policies as long as they don't discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, race, color, or national origin under Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act.
Even if you claim your tattoos are protected for reasons such as religion or national origin, that doesn't mean you can wear a swastika on your neck and serve customers with abandon. Courts will often look to see if an employer offered you "reasonable accommodation" -- that is, whether they found a way to eliminate the conflict between your tattoo and their work requirements without undue hardship to the business.
Perfect example is in Cloutier v Costco [mentioned in my 2004 article but had not yet been decided]. In this case, a cashier at the mega-wholesale chain sued because she was not allowed to have visible facial piercings. She claimed that her eyebrow piercing was part of her religion as a member of the "Church of Body Modification" (CoBM). After a lengthy court battle, the US Court of Appeals in Boston did not rule on whether CoBM is a bona fide religion but found that Costco met its burden of showing that it had offered Cloutier a reasonable accommodation of her religious practice: a clear plastic retainer that took the place of the eyebrow jewelry. Therefore, no conflict.
When an employee has been outright fired for visible religious tattoos and offered no accommodation, it has not gone so well. The Red Robin restaurant chain paid out $150,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when it dismissed a waiter for not covering up a verse from an Egyptian scripture tattooed on his wrists, a noted practice of his Kermetic faith. As part of the settlement, Red Robin also had to change its policies to accommodate religious beliefs.
Workplace dress codes should be clear and reasonable, but again, employers can often mandate cover-ups or not hire someone because they are tattooed. Granted, in the US where over a third of the population is tattooed, it doesn't make much business sense to keep a large portion of the work pool away, but companies are allowed to make bad decisions and get away with them. Hell, if they can plunge nations into mass recessions, they can certainly tell you to hide your tattoos (most of the time).
But also think of the flip side: Should businesses like tattoo studios or punk clubs be forced to hire chino-wearing preppies without an ounce of ink? Shouldn't businesses who cater to a certain group be able to freely create an image to attract that group (if they do so within the law)?
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Photo of tribal tattoo masters Leo Zulueta and Rory Keating by Diane Mansfield
It's been tough getting to the media's tattoo news when I'm focused on my own, the upcoming release of my book Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal on September 10th.
I'll be doing a shameless post soon with more info on the book and how to buy it, but you can actually get a preview of what's in store by picking up this month's Inked Mag and checking out my interview with the godfather of modern tribal tattooing, Leo Zuluetta of Spiral Tattoo (shown above with Rory Keating who is also featured in my book). Here's a taste from that interview:
"I think there's always going to be a stigma to tattooing. Even as accepted as it is today, there's always a stigma, which goes back to deeply rooted church morals in society (although I have tattooed a Catholic priest twice at Bob Roberts' shop). Modern society will never accept something too primitive."I agree with Leo. Just look at some of this week's headlines and see how true it is:
The Dallas Police Department's "no visible tattoos" policy went into effect yesterday. Officers argued that the tattoos actually helped their job when undercover by giving them "street cred" but the Department still said that tattoos can be considered "offensive" when the cops go back on patrol. [As a tattoo snob, I raise my pointy nose at many a bad work, but if I'm in trouble and need a cop, no amount of inexplicable Kanji will ever offend me.]
In Pennsylvania, a State Police recruit is suing the Department because he was told that he had to remove his tattoo in order to be hired. Wow. The government telling candidates to undergo painful laser removal? He's suing under First Amendment arguments and claiming that the Department's tattoo policy is vague and overbroad. This one might win.
Across America, tattoo studio owners still have a hard time opening up shop.
In Malmo, Sweden, the nightclub The Swing Inn has a "no tattooed women" policy because they think "tattoos look distasteful." Thankfully, nightclub popularity doesn't even have the trendy staying power of the Kanji tattoo. Look forward to eating at the McDonald's that replaces it soon.
In Canada, a teardrop tattoo may land a Toronto man behind bars for life. The man was acquitted in the shooting death of a rival gang member but now that has been reversed because the Ontario Court of Appeal said that the lower court should not have excluded testimony from a gang expert that the teardrop tattoo signifies that the wearer has killed. This is a bad call. Tattoos symbolism is not a science. Yes, a teardrop could mean the guy killed a rival but it could also mean that he lost a loved one or fellow member. It could even be a dumb attempt to gain street cred. Leave it out of evidence.
[But a visible tattoo did help one Chicago man accused of robbery go free.]
Of course, there are the dumbasses that justify the stigma, like these people:
Maria Erika Vasquez of Brownsville allegedly tattooed her 6 and 10-year-old sons -- with three dots on the hand for "Mi Vida Loca" no less. Mother of the Year.
Or cage fighter Toni Valtonen who sports a large Nazi Swastika tattoo -- not the "gentle" kind we talked about last week -- along with a ton of other bad work. While he noted his tattoo regret in a statement, the best way to do so is with cover-ups and laser removal. Toni, here's more info on laser removal. A donation to a Holocaust museum would also be nice.
In shiny, happy tattoo news ...
The tattooed hotness of the above Sean Risley, model and former bodmod blogger, is gracing numerous mags this month -- notably Purple's Fall 2009 Fashion issue -- in Alexander McQueen's latest ads. See a close up of the add and Sean's tattoo work here.
The Hindu also talks about how hot tattoos are in India right now. Here's a taste of that interesting article on a growing tattoo culture:
While the old favourites -- angels on shoulders, tribal art on the lower back and Yin-Yang across biceps -- are still popular, people also design their own art now. Tattoo artists are constantly asked to come up with unusual concepts. Most people rarely stop at one tattoo - the city average is, in fact, is about five per person. And, 'conservative' Chennai is reportedly studded with seemingly regular people with unprintable tattoos across unprintable parts of their bodies.Check the slideshow illustrating the article, which includes this photo below.
In Australia, tattoo culture is equally thriving. According to the Herald Sun, "Popularity of tattoos among young Melburnians continues to grow, with a survey finding 70 per cent of people aged 16-30 are considering getting one in the next five years." Interestingly, tattoo removal is also on the rise -- "500% in the past two years."
And across the Internet, tattoos rank in the top 5 of the most common image or videos shared on Twitter, according to Mashable.com.
Case in point: the Twittered Tattoo Ode to John Stamos and his brilliant portrayal of "Uncle Jesse" in the classic must-see TV show Full House. Here's the Twit pic.
Have Mercy, indeed!