Branded

by Henry on August 20, 2009

Felix Salmon yesterday on the economics of tattoos:

Drewbie left me a comment this morning talking about people interviewing for jobs and not getting them, just because they had visible tattoos. I can well believe it. But at the same time, precisely because of this discrimination, I tend to both expect and receive much better service from people with visible tattoos. … Businesses with tattooed employees are signalling to me that they have better service, and as a result I’m more likely to try them out.

By coincidence, I’m reading Diego Gambetta’s new book, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate (Powells, Amazon, B&N), which has a lot to say about signalling via tattoos and other forms of visible self-mutilation. Gambetta argues that criminals often cover themselves with tattoos precisely because they ruin the criminals’ prospects to go straight; they allow the criminals to signal “that defection would be not so much unprofitable as impossible.”

Self-binding can also take the form of self-branding as found, for instance, in South African prisons:

Erefaan’s face is covered in tattoos. “Spit on my grave” is tattooed across his forehead; “I hate you, Mum” etched on his left cheek. The tattoos are an expression of loyalty. The men cut the emblems of their allegiance into their skin. The Number [the name of the hierarchical system in Pollsmoor prison] demands not only that you pledge your oath verbally, but that you are marked, indelibly, for life. Facial tattoos are the ultimate abandonment of all hope for a life outside.

Neal Stephenson, in Snow Crash, proposed an America in which the collapse of government led communities to brand criminals faces’ with brief descriptions of their criminal tendencies, so that others in different communities would know to give them wide berth. Gambetta’s logic suggests that branding, whether voluntary or involuntary, could sometimes be in the criminal’s self interest – it serves as a costly signal of type. More generally, I’m enjoying the book a lot – the best bit so far is Gambetta’s lovely theory of incompetence as a signalling mechanism in Italian academia. Recommended.

{ 78 comments }

1

lemmy caution 08.20.09 at 10:00 pm

Geoffry miller in “spent” proposes that people voluntarily tattoo their big 5 personality scores and IQ on their body in order to avoid any pressure to display these features through consumption:

http://www.amazon.com/Spent-Sex-Evolution-Consumer-Behavior/dp/0670020621

Good luck with that geoffry miller.

2

jonathan 08.20.09 at 10:10 pm

I have examined a considerable number of tattoos and would divide them into two categories.
Those done by the owner him/herself are, I think, associated with individuals who have had experience with prison or who consider themselves at odds with society.
Those done by artists, some of whom are extremely talented, are proudly worn by their owners as works of art.

3

Dave Maier 08.20.09 at 10:10 pm

the best bit so far is Gambetta’s lovely theory of incompetence as a signalling mechanism in Italian academia

Can you tell us a bit about that?

4

Ben Saunders 08.20.09 at 10:15 pm

I once heard Gambetta explain in a lecture why British restaurants are awful compared to French and Italian ones. (I’m not affirming or denying the claim.)

The theory is that continentals start restaurants because they love food. Good restaurants stay in business while bad ones shut (survival of the fittest). Brits start restaurants to make money. Successful restaurant owners soon retire, while poor ones struggle on because they can’t make enough to retire (survival of the lousiest).

5

chris 08.20.09 at 10:18 pm

I second Dave’s request for more on incompetence as a signal. (Of what? Why? I have a couple of colleagues whose … patterns .. might be explicable in these terms. )

6

Neel Krishnaswami 08.20.09 at 10:21 pm

Geoffry miller in “spent” proposes that people voluntarily tattoo their big 5 personality scores and IQ on their body in order to avoid any pressure to display these features through consumption […]

The big 5 personality model fails confirmatory factor analyses — IOW, it’s likely evidence of data mining, not of actual causal structure. That it represents some of the most robust results in psychology should therefore give one pause.

7

Jacob Christensen 08.20.09 at 10:24 pm

I would like to second Dave’s and Chris’s request here, if only because the combination of Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate and incompetence as a signalling mechanism in Italian academia is … interesting.

8

chris 08.20.09 at 10:31 pm

Jacob: LOL (as much as I hate that thingy). I had to check to be sure the author of the book on criminals was the same as the one noting incompetence as a signal among academics.

9

coyotelibrarian 08.20.09 at 10:56 pm

In “Nine Lives,” Lynn Snowden wrote about taking nine different jobs over the course of a year, one of them being a roadie for Skid Row. A fellow roadie told her that one of the reasons he had gotten his tattoos was that it guaranteed that he “would never work at McDonalds.”

10

mcd 08.20.09 at 11:12 pm

If tattoos demonstrate loyalty to the gang (by burning all the bridges to the straight world), do they also enhance one’s position in a gang? Or facilitate entry into a new gang? Are there levels of tattoos?

11

Shawn Crowley 08.20.09 at 11:17 pm

On the topic of prison tattoos, both voluntary and forcibly applied, for social communication, I strongly recommend any of the three volumes of “Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia” 2003-2008, Fuel, London. Drawings by Danzig Baldaev, photos by Sergei Vasiliev. Volume 1 is out of print and has become an expensive collectible but is being reprinted this year.

The idea of “warning tattoos” in Snow Crash was an established custom in the Soviet prisons. Non-payment of a gambling debt could result in forcible application of a humiliating, and often pornographic, tattoo.

12

Timothy 08.20.09 at 11:30 pm

I also want to know about Italian academics signalling through incompetence.

13

Jacob T. Levy 08.21.09 at 12:01 am

Maybe the specifically Italian story is very different, but the general story is painfully intuitively obvious to me. “I am such a shambling wreck of a man [almost always], so manifestly unfit to dress myself or conduct civil human conversation or operate basic machinery or chew with my mouth closed, that the fact that I am nonetheless employed as a high-status professional and socially entrusted with the care of young minds rather than being involuntarily institutionalized means that I must be goddamned brilliant, indeed.” It’s the ur-academic affectation, isn’t it?

14

Henry 08.21.09 at 12:31 am

I will forgo saying anything more about the academic bit of it, because there is a good chance that a CTer who I imagine has better and more interesting things to say about that part of the book will be saying them in the reasonably near future. I will say both (a) that it is more subtle than Jacob’s proposal, and (b) that it is one of those explanations that will strike anyone familiar with the phenomenon under question as being blindingly, obviously spot-on in ways that were completely non-obvious before Gambetta came along and articulated it.

15

Witt 08.21.09 at 12:35 am

Huh, the original post really does not reflect my experience at all. It sounds perfectly descriptive of the 1980s, but these days (visible) tattoos are IME common among bank employees, medical professionals, teachers, law enforcement officers…a very large swath of professional-level jobs.

It’s true that I haven’t seen tattoos on a lawyer or a professor, but I only see those people wearing suits or the equivalent, so there’s not much to see.

Style, size, placement, etc. of tattoos vary dramatically, of course, and are very linked to social class, cultural subgroup, etc. But the fact of being visibly tattooed? Such that it would substantially affect one’s chances of getting a job, in 85% of the job market? Really sounds like a my-parents’-generation phenomenon to me.

16

Witt 08.21.09 at 12:46 am

Two more thoughts:

1. The exception to the above is tattoos on the hands. IME those still signal “prison” pretty unequivocally.

2. Salmon’s contention that “Businesses with tattooed employees are signalling to me that they have better service,” seems unsupported to me. Why isn’t it just as likely the businesses are signaling “We pay poorly and offer bad working conditions, so only the bottom of the barrel will agree to work for us?”*

*This is granting the idea that people with tattoos are considered socially undesirable, which as noted above, I mostly don’t buy.

17

Jim 08.21.09 at 12:50 am

I have a couple of tattoos, and a doctorate perchance, and I found this post and discussion interesting, and a little disconcerting. Tattoos have been used across the centuries for a variety of social and cultural reasons, a couple of which have been discussed here. This conversation narrows the huge range of possible human motivations (conscious and unconscious) for tattooing into a very small frame of reference and does a fairly good job of ‘Othering’ ( a term I don’t normally use) a swathe of the human population for something that has been a fairly ubiquitous human practice for Ages. I’ve noticed a back-lash against tattooing just this past year or so, interestingly, especially on http://www.digg.com, and am drawn to view it as evidence of a return to conservatism, and an attempt to delimit ‘acceptable’ behaviour. It smacks of middle-class angst bourne of, perhaps?, economic and cultural uncertainty. Surfaces are important to everyone, no doubt, but criminality and rebellion are more than skin-deep. I guess I should go out and read the book.

18

nickhayw 08.21.09 at 1:42 am

I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned the extraordinary outgrowth of sleeve and half-sleeve tattoos on young men in particular. I would wager that having such a tattoo would make one more employable in contexts where hipness = the job description (bartending, modelling, graphic design)

19

Shawn Crowley 08.21.09 at 2:56 am

The idea that tattoos signify a higher level of competence sounds very much like Amotz Zahavi’s “handicap” hypothesis of male display in sexual selection. I’ve been out of the field for too long to have any idea about the current status of the theory. It was considered interesting but marginal 30 years ago.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handicap_principle

20

Jacob T. Levy 08.21.09 at 3:21 am

Right– costly signaling mechanisms a la the peacock story are the basic mechanism under discussion. And (as in the discussion about tattoos) they can easily make a hash out of attempts to predict directions of effects.

21

P.D. 08.21.09 at 3:42 am

I am not sure how widespread anti-tattoo dogma is presently in the US. I know both lawyers and professors of my generation who have tattoos. (I was born in the 1970s.)

22

Ray 08.21.09 at 7:41 am

Re. Witt @ 15
(visible) tattoos are IME common among bank employees, medical professionals, teachers, law enforcement officers… It’s true that I haven’t seen tattoos on a lawyer or a professor, but I only see those people wearing suits or the equivalent

I thought a visible tattoo was, by definition, something that would be visible on someone wearing a suit – something on the hands, neck, or face. I have tattoos myself, but they’re not visible when I wear a long-sleeved shirt, which means they’re not visible at interviews… so I don’t have a problem going straight.

23

bad Jim 08.21.09 at 8:19 am

One night, back in the 80’s, my brother and I attempted to follow our co-workers into a dance club but were turned away because of our attire; I was in jeans, bearded and obviously a hippie, he was in shorts, tousled, and obviously a surfer. He was frustrated and I tried to console him by asking “Don’t we dress this way to keep ourselves out of these situations?” He wouldn’t have any of it then, but we haven’t changed our comparatively dysfunctional styles in the decades since.

24

Chris Bertram 08.21.09 at 8:41 am

_It’s true that I haven’t seen tattoos on a lawyer or a professor, but I only see those people wearing suits or the equivalent, so there’s not much to see._

You’ve seen a professor wearing a suit? Well maybe in the US …. certainly not in the UK unless they were deliberately signalling respectabilty to senior management or similar.

25

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.21.09 at 8:59 am

Tattoo is so permanent. You can sell the Corvette, shave the beard, stop signaling incompetence (as in Peter’s principle); a peacock can fold his tail – but tattoos are forever. Intuitively, tattoo just has to be a manifestation of bad judgment. Or, at least, of a period of bad judgment at some point in your life.

26

ajay 08.21.09 at 9:00 am

23: well, maybe not a suit very often, but jacket and tie is fairly common at British universities, certainly among more senior members of the faculty (who are the only ones who would be called professors anyway).

Non-visible tattoos used to be very popular in upper-class England about a century and a half ago. I think it’s Robert Massie (“Dreadnought”) who noted that Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, CinC Channel Fleet, had a tattoo of a fox hunt in full cry running down his back, and the fox’s tail disappearing up his bottom. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) had several tattoos, as did his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V). I have no knowledge of the body art applied to subsequent monarchs. There is a report that “Field Marshal Lord Roberts, who himself was tattooed, directed that “every officer in the British Army should be tattooed with his regimental crest. Not only does this encourage esprit de corps but also assists in the identification of casualties”.”
Of course, it was more popular among men, especially men with a connection to the navy or the sea, but it wasn’t exclusive to them – Winston Churchill’s mother had a small snake tattooed on her wrist (where it would have been quite visible and would, theoretically, have marked her out today as too low-class to work at McDonald’s).

27

Richard J 08.21.09 at 10:42 am

ajay> One of the footnotes in Andrew Gordon’s excellent
The Rules of the Game,
IIRC.

(What is it about naval historians and amusing footnotes? NAM Rodger is fond of them as well…)

28

JoB 08.21.09 at 11:29 am

Don’t know about the US but for Europe this discussion is bewildering. The average tattoo has the form of a winged animal, vaguely aligned with something mythical, placed with its wings on top of two respective female bottom halves and its …

The only thing it signals is the risk of children growing up in a marginalized environment with a lack of education and critical attitude.

(Well, maybe only the North West of Europe)

29

Bunbury 08.21.09 at 11:33 am

Is the criminal’s tattoo a signal or a brand. That is the tattoo is a form of capture as well as being a signal. When my college room mate started work at an investment bank he was told to spend more on his suits and they gave him a bottle of champagne when he got a mortgage. Since he only met people outside the firm on the phone I imagined this to be aimed at locking him in although clearly his acceptance of the same was indeed a signal (a misleading one it turned out).

Skinheads are or were a good example. ‘Skins 4 ever’ on the forehead or side of the neck is not ambiguous.

30

derek 08.21.09 at 11:44 am

The Peter principle has nothing to do with signalling incompetence. It has to do with thrusting the visibly competent into situations that require more and more competence, until they can’t handle any more.

31

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.21.09 at 12:00 pm

Derek (30), it’s been a while since I read it, but IIRC there is a whole chapter there on how to avoid being promoted. He recommends doing it by simulating incompetence: sloppy clothes, messy desk, offensive jokes, etc.

32

Tom T. 08.21.09 at 12:16 pm

Re: 16 2. Salmon’s contention that “Businesses with tattooed employees are signalling to me that they have better service,” seems unsupported to me. Why isn’t it just as likely the businesses are signaling “We pay poorly and offer bad working conditions, so only the bottom of the barrel will agree to work for us?”*

Witt has obviously shopped at the old Tower Records.

33

Barry 08.21.09 at 12:34 pm

“Brits start restaurants to make money. Successful restaurant owners soon retire, while poor ones struggle on because they can’t make enough to retire (survival of the lousiest).”

This doesn’t stand up, IMHO. The way that a successful restaurant owner would retire is to sell the restaurant to somebody else.

34

Mrs Tilton 08.21.09 at 12:47 pm

Witt @15,

It’s true that I haven’t seen tattoos on a lawyer

A former colleague of mine, a lawyer and member of the German aristocracy, has a medium-to-largish Donald Duck on the upper right quadrant of his back. Of course, it’s not visible when he is suited up.

I have long toyed with the idea of having Price’s equation tattooed across my nape. That should make sure I never work for the Discovery Institute. However, my idea is to have it done in UV ink so that it would be visible only under disco blacklights. I’m not sure the Disco has that sort of disco, so it might not be a fully effective signal.

35

Phil 08.21.09 at 12:52 pm

jacket and tie is fairly common at British universities, certainly among more senior members of the faculty

Only for chronological values of ‘senior’, and fairly high ones at that. The Law School where I work only has a few tie-wearers left, and retirement is going to come round for all of them before too long.

36

Richard J 08.21.09 at 1:03 pm

It’s surprising how many professionals, pace Mrs Tilton’s comments, do have discreet tattoos somewhere round their body these days – I was surprised when a usually immacuately-dressed former manager turned out to have an enormous eagle tattooed across his upper back.

Bunbury> Suits don’t just signal to outside clients – they’re also good at signalling to your bosses a studious, professional etc. etc. attititude.

As a fresh-faced graduate trainee at a large accountancy firm, we were given a fascinating training session by a style consultant who started off dressed up as the most extremely-posh woman you’ve ever seen, but by shedding one accessory each time down to the plain dress, managed to completely modulate our impressions of her in a very impressive way.

37

ajay 08.21.09 at 1:27 pm

I’m interested to see how many people have apparently seen their line managers and colleagues in a state of semi-nudity. Other people’s offices clearly have a much more relaxed dress code than mine.

38

Richard J 08.21.09 at 1:29 pm

It was down the gym…

Had I been unlucky, I might have seen Ken Livingstone in a similar state of undress.

39

JoB 08.21.09 at 1:42 pm

Henri, do you have a link to that? I once started writing along those lines – would be good to see if it was already all done, one thing less to dream of once finishing.

40

Peter 08.21.09 at 1:54 pm

Got a problem with my tattoos?

Peter

41

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.21.09 at 2:09 pm

42

NPCurmudgeon 08.21.09 at 2:18 pm

Henri @ 25,

I have often wondered whether tatoo removal might become a highly profitable business in about 20-30 years, when the youthful canvasses upon which most tatoos were originally rendered no longer have the same texture, shape, or size.

43

alex 08.21.09 at 2:24 pm

Mmm, nothing like the fading blob of what used to be an image, sliding inexorably downwards as the years take their toll… What gets me is how many tattoos are simply badly done, and often seem, even on relatively young people, already to be losing any definition they might once have had – or is that simply what all tattoos have always done, and everyone is misled by the crisp artwork in the salon, and their own sense of invincible youth?

44

Witt 08.21.09 at 2:28 pm

You’ve seen a professor wearing a suit?

Actually, I think the very most recent time I saw a professor, she was wearing a suit. But yeah, it’s pretty common depending on context. That is, I can’t speak to how often they wear them in the classroom, but I mostly deal with academics when they’re making a presentation or when I am being interviewed by one. So they’re often in suits.

I thought a visible tattoo was, by definition, something that would be visible on someone wearing a suit – something on the hands, neck, or face.

Fair enough. I think I was interpreting “visible” a little more loosely — thinking about getting my blood drawn by a phlebotomist who had a wrist tattoo, or seeing a bank teller on casual Friday with something showing on a shoulder blade or ankle. Or police — they wear short-sleeved uniforms and you can see a LOT of forearm-art.

(And to Tom T. — well, I am a Philadelphian! Although I did not have Tower in mind when I wrote that.)

45

Peter 08.21.09 at 2:47 pm

The newest trend is tattoos is something pretty much guaranteed to be visible. Not to mention extremely cringe-inducing.

46

Chris 08.21.09 at 2:50 pm

I have long toyed with the idea of having Price’s equation tattooed across my nape. That should make sure I never work for the Discovery Institute. However, my idea is to have it done in UV ink so that it would be visible only under disco blacklights. I’m not sure the Disco has that sort of disco, so it might not be a fully effective signal.

Isn’t the even bigger problem that they would have to recognize it and understand its significance in order to use it as a basis for not hiring you?

And, of course, you could still defeat your earlier self’s strategy by wearing a high collar to the job interview.

47

Richard J 08.21.09 at 3:05 pm

Peter> There’s a story (probably apocryphal) about a WW2 conscript deciding to liven up the compulsory short arm inspection for VD by having ‘Hello Doc!’ tattooed on the inside of his foreskin…

48

Shawn Crowley 08.21.09 at 3:09 pm

Here in Seattle, tattoos have become so common as to have lost much of their transgressive quality. You can get a tattoo at the mall from a franchised tattoo shop. Bank tellers with tattoos and visible piercing are common. Rather than signaling increased competence, the commonality of tattoos has reduced the cost of the signal to insignificance.

Few trial lawyers are likely to have visible tattoos for fear of alienating jurors. I do know of several lawyers with visible tattoos, applied long before a law career was contemplated. One brings up his tattoos in voir dire to determine whether prospective jurors have attitudes inimical to his criminal defendants.

My paranoia has precluded tattoos. I prefer the box on “tattoos, scars, and other identifying marks” on police reports to remain blank. One never knows. Also, physicians deplore large tattoos for their interference with some kinds of medical imaging.

49

watson aname 08.21.09 at 3:23 pm

The way that a successful restaurant owner would retire is to sell the restaurant to somebody else.

Which is a common enough source of decline in restaurants.

50

Witt 08.21.09 at 4:31 pm

Coda: Just interviewed a job candidate with a large back-of-hand tattoo. Quite sure no prison background. Candidate also disclosed status as an extremely observant Jew.

This is a first on a number of fronts. Mental paradigm, shift!

51

Barry 08.21.09 at 4:39 pm

Instead of swastikas on the knuckles, did he have Stars of David? :)

52

montag 08.21.09 at 4:54 pm

Gambetta’s lovely theory of incompetence as a signalling mechanism in Italian academia

There’s got to be a joke about Michael Ledeen in there somewhere….

53

Katherine 08.21.09 at 6:21 pm

Try having a tattoo on your lower abdomen, then getting pregnant. That’s going to take some repair when the spawning has ceased.

And I was a lawyer, but the tattoo was never visible outside the suit. I do recall more than one conversation with contemporaries where we had the who’s-got-a-tattoo-and/or-piercing conversation, and quite a few did. My tongue piercing was considered more trangressive than the tattoo, mostly because once you know it’s there you can see it, even when I have removed the stud (which I used to for work).

54

JoB 08.21.09 at 8:37 pm

Henri, thanks – next trip to Amazon it’ll be in the cart! But – judging from the contents page – there might still be a future for my “How to remain underpromoted (& still earn a shitload of money)”.

55

Mrs Tilton 08.21.09 at 10:30 pm

Witt @50,

job candidate with a large back-of-hand tattoo… an extremely observant Jew

Ba’al teshuva? IANAR but I am pretty certain tattooing is viewed as unkosher by traditional Judaism.

56

John Emerson 08.21.09 at 11:29 pm

50: Was he named Sobchak? Probably not a good hire.

57

Martin James 08.22.09 at 12:42 am

Tatoos didn’t make sense to me until I figured out they were signaling that it meant they didn’t like people like me. I feel like I went to sleep and woke up in one of the 1970’s National Geographic articles of my youth. Que… The horror, the horror!

58

Dr. Obvious (banned commmenter) 08.22.09 at 1:11 am

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/science-tattoo-emporium/
It’s called post-humanism.

What Salmon is referring to is the boy at Starbucks with a coffee bean tattooed on his forearm. He’s a member of the Barista tribe.
Public proclamations of loyalty to a subculture; the need to belong; atomization and the rise of the social esthetics of over-determined community etc.
etc. ETC!

59

minneapolitan 08.22.09 at 1:45 am

Since when are McDonald’s employees not allowed to have visible tattoos? I’ve met several who had the small hand and face tattoos associated with gang backgrounds. (Frankly, I think people put far too much store by this in the US. I’ve met lots of people who have the teardrop, the cross or the dots who are clearly not current gang members, and who, I believe most likely got them in bursts of youthful enthusiasm due to peer pressure, and not because they were actually “connected” in any significant way.)
Also, as far as young professionals go, in my former employment at a large, conservative brokerage house, a significant plurality of people under 40 (myself included) had tattoos. Usually these were ankle/midriff/small of the back, but some people had neck or forearm tattoos as well.
Right now, working at an exceedingly bohemian non-profit, it’s more unusual for my coworkers NOT to have tattoos. Many of them have facial piercings or facial tattoos as well. Any smugness on the part of the un-tattooed is, at this point, unwarranted. The threshhold of ubiquity has already been crossed. I often muse about what it will be like 50 years from now in the nursing homes, when those of my generation who yet survive will be shuffling around with lots of visible tattoos, under the steady drone of Muzak versions of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry tunes. (No doubt it will actually be No Doubt, and maybe Nelly, but a fellow can dream, can’t he?).

60

J.Otto Pohl 08.22.09 at 5:40 am

I second the book recommendation at number 11. Also I would say that most people with tattoos in the US and UK now have them for artistic purposes. This is particularly true of people under the age of forty. For people of older generations most of them seem to have been acquired during military service and do serve some signaling purpose. But, this is diluted somewhat by the fact that most of them got these tattoos under the influence of large amounts of ethanol.

61

Kirk 08.22.09 at 12:54 pm

We have the impression tattoos are prison standard-fare because of the seedy nature of tattoos, but I think its different. Prisons co-opted tattoos because they needed order in a systemless, violent anarchy. You know what I mean? Prisons have tattoos because they don’t have bedazzlers and epaulets.

62

glenn 08.23.09 at 11:54 am

I’ve always considered getting a tattoo in the shape and color of a mole. Then, no complaints, I’d fit in with every crowd…all except for the albino clique, that is.

63

Jay Conner 08.23.09 at 5:54 pm

The wife of a fraternity brother of mine got a small rose tattoo on her shoulder when she reached 40, because of a saying “When you’re 40, you have to either have an affair, or get a tattoo” For her, it was a sentimental gesture of affection for her husband.

I don’t recall whether or not he got one, but the symbology might not work reciprocally. He might, for example, get a tattoo of a bee. Yul Brunner did a song about that…

64

Laleh 08.23.09 at 10:58 pm

This whole conversation is so strange. Where do you people live? And those of you who teach at universities, who are your students?

I have three tattoos, one very visible (it is a ring around my middle finger on my right hand), I teach at a university, and never once has the tattoo been an object of astonishment or some such. I would wager that nearly half my students have visible tattoos.

When I did my fieldwork in a refugee camp in the Middle East, the tattoo (plus my supposedly Muslim background – I am an atheist) were fantastic ice-breakers with the women I interviewed. They all tut-tutted about “Islam not allowing tattoos” and then proceeded to give me rich and wonderful descriptions of Bedouin tattoos. There must be some sort of a parallel here.

65

George W 08.24.09 at 4:38 pm

I work at a Bretton Woods institution (not particularly high on the food chain but not a delivery boy either), and I have extensive tattoos, which believe me are not visible in street clothes. My ink is (imho) beautiful, but it’s not for public consumption; I was well aware when I got them that they could be career-limiting.

Incidentally, it’s not the tattoo itself that poses the professional problem, it’s the decision to display it that causes colleagues to downgrade your judgment. George Shultz, for instance, was widely reputed to have a Princeton tiger, but in a place the sun don’t shine; if anything, he rather benefitted from the mystique.

Incidentally, I know nothing of the academic literature here, but the films Eastern Promises and Sin Nombre provide excellent cultural markers of the importance of tattoos in the underworld. The differences are as intriguing as the similarities; while the Salvatrucha guys ink their whole bodies (faces and all) as a kind of uniform, Russian gangsters use tattoos to record secret histories, visible only in privileged community or private interaction.

66

engels 08.24.09 at 4:59 pm

Anybody who has their university logo tattooed on any part of their body should be ostracised from civilised society in my opinion.

67

Oskar Shapley 08.24.09 at 9:03 pm

Can I tatoo a big “PhD” on my chest?

68

Danielle Day 08.25.09 at 4:30 pm

I volunteer at a small museum. One of the interns is a pretty nice guy. He is, however, covered with tattoos. After the latest (ugly) one, I asked why. He replied “I want to be noticed”. Well, pal, mission accomplished. I just don’t know what to do with that. So, you’re noticed. Now what? Are you happier? Smarter? Richer? What’s the point?

69

belle le triste 08.25.09 at 4:35 pm

The point is much the same as that of small museums: to spit in the eye of transience.

70

Danielle Day 08.25.09 at 4:36 pm

@ No. 65. Yes, George Schultz had a tiger tattoo. On his ass. Barry Goldwater was a member of an American Indian society and had their mark, three dots arranged in a triangle tattooed on the heel of his foot. (The location of his tattoo, as well as its color and configuration, is disputed— at least on the internet. My description is on good authority from an ex-State Department employee contemporary with his time in congress.)

71

Substance McGravitas 08.25.09 at 4:56 pm

So, you’re noticed. Now what?

You ask the person who noticed if they want a drink.

72

Barry 08.25.09 at 5:21 pm

Oskar Shapley : “Can I tatoo a big “PhD” on my chest?”

A ‘Ph.D.’ tattoo obviously goes on one’s big, bulging forehead :)

Substance McGravitas : “You ask the person who noticed if they want a drink.”

And if they want to come back to your apartment, to see *all* of your tattoos :)

73

engels 08.25.09 at 6:00 pm

Are you happier? Smarter? Richer? What’s the point?

Words to live by.

74

engels 08.26.09 at 12:51 am

Are you happier? Smarter? Richer? What’s the point?

Rational choice theory in a nutshell…

75

Tangurena 08.26.09 at 4:12 am

Successful restaurant owners soon retire, while poor ones struggle on

When I lived in South Florida, one of the interesting folks I met was a guy who made a living starting restaurants, getting them established, and selling the businesses to other folks. Not everyone knows what to do to start a restaurant (what licenses does one need, where can one buy a commercial stove, or even what sort to get), or what sort of places would make a decent location, and not everyone knows how to retire. This guy was in his mid 70s and to him, the idea of retirement was like being buried alive.

76

John Holbo 08.26.09 at 10:15 am

Singapore has an extensive media campaign that mostly involves images of ex-offenders (or actors playing them) with full-sleeve tats. The campaign urges you to ‘help unlock the second prison’ by being willing to hire ex-offenders. So there are ads where you see a muscular arm, full sleeve tattoos, wielding a knife. And then you see it belongs to a smiling fellow carving a melon to look like a flower. Or two tattooed arms are reaching out to clutch .. but it turns out it’s the guy’s cute kid he is about to swing up in the air. At the following link you can see an image of a full-tat figuring trying to take a post-it off his own back. The post-it reads: ‘ex-offender’. That one is on every other bus stop around town at the moment.

http://www.yellowribbon.org.sg/

77

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.26.09 at 4:23 pm

How come you guys have ex-offenders, don’t you execute anybody who spits on a sidewalk?

78

dahuletam 08.29.09 at 3:57 pm

What are costs for scoring state tests? Do schools bear them?

Comments on this entry are closed.