Bibliographic Essay sample
Media and Tattooing
Sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists have long inquired about the culture of tattooing in American society and have written about their observations and conclusions in various publications. Beginning with Margo DeMello‟s 1996 essay entitled “„Not Just For
Biker‟s Anymore‟: Popular Representations of American Tattooing,” authors began to write
about how tattooing has been integrated into mainstream culture. Ten years after DeMello‟s
article was published, Sociology and Media Professor Mary Kosut published her article, “An
Ironic Fad: The Commodification and Consumption of Tattoos” which begins where DeMello‟s
article leaves off, approaching the role of the media in popularizing tattooing from a slightly different angle and viewing the tattooing culture as a more unified group than DeMello observed.
In her essay, DeMello examines how tattooing in our culture has shifted from a practice associated with members of the lower class—groups like bikers, sailors, and criminals—to the
middle and upper class members American society. At the time the essay was written, DeMello observes that there had recently been a growing claim that the tattooing culture of the lower class had ceased to exist, as tattooing as a fine art had erupted in the realm of the educated, the professional, and the entertainment and sports star. In opposition of this claim, DeMello says that tattooing still exists as strongly as ever for bikers, convicts and sailors, but the growing population of the tattooed upper class has been the focus of the media. The old tattoo culture has thus been silenced by mainstream media reports of tattooing, by academic works on tattooing and by “what tattooed people say about themselves…and to each other” (DeMello 39). DeMello
explains that by looking at how these three elements have affected American tattoo culture, we
can see that tattooing has shifted from the “symbol of the outcast to that of the rock star, model and postmodern youth” and has taken a connotation of status that tattooing once fought against.
Published ten years later, Kosut‟s article explains that since the late 1990s, tattooing has
erupted in popularity among all classes of society. Currently, 20% of all Americans are “inked,”
and Kosut questions how media outlets have attributed to the popularity of tattooing in our culture (Kosut 1036). Kosut‟s main argument is that the popularity of tattooing has become
mainstream as a result of both mediation and commoditifation as interrelated processes. Tattooing is prevalent in popular culture, from movie characters to actors, singers, and professional athletes. Even children‟s toys and books have embraced the fashion, as many popular characters such as Elmo, the Power Puff Girls, and Barbie have products tied to tattooing. Kosut explains that while these products signify some sort of fad or terminal fashion, tattoos, which are permanent in nature, are not going to die out in popularity: “tattooing can be conceptualized as an ironic fad—a popular cultural trend that, due to its permanent nature cannot be as easily discarded as a pair of jeans” (1040). The stability of tattoo culture can be attributed to our mass media‟s use of tattoo art in advertisements and pop culture. Tattoos are not only
being used to sell goods, but are also being sold at the same time when they portrayed in various media forms. The interrelationship of tattoos both selling goods and being sold, has been one of the driving force behind their popularity and tie to mainstream culture.
Kosut‟s article, which actually cites DeMello‟s work, begins where DeMello‟s article left off. Kosut agrees with DeMello that the induction of tattooing into mainstream culture has been driven by the media‟s portrayal of tattoos as fine art, and she also acknowledges that DeMello
was correct in her claim that the old culture of tattooing, that of the lower class, has been ignored by the media but still exists. However, Kosut focuses only on the media‟s role in the
mainstreaming of tattoos and does not examine the role of academia and more personal accounts of tattoo culture as DeMello does. Kosut takes the work that DeMello has done on tattooing in the media and approaches it from a different angle. She looks specifically at how tattoos are both sold and used to sell products while DeMello examines media events and reports of tattooing.
While DeMello‟s article portrays a disparity between two separate tattooing cultures,
Kosut sees the culture of tattooing as unified. In 1996, tattooing as a fine art form was just beginning to rise in popularity, but over ten years time, it appears as though the tension between the lower-class sailors, bikers and convicts and the upper-class has vanished. DeMello claims that the segregation cited by DeMello has been eliminated due to mediation and
commodification of tattooing.
DeMello, Margo. “ „Not Just For Bikers Anymore‟: Popular Representations of American
Tattooing.” Journal of Popular Culture 29.1 (1996): 37-52. Web. Academic Search
Premier. 12 September 2011.
Kosut, Mary. “An Ironic Fad: The Commodification and Consumption of Tattoos.” Journal of
Popular Culture 39.6 (2006): 1035-1048. Web. Academic Search Premier. 12 September