On icons as body art

There’s a really great blog called I Live Here: PDX that has people email in their answers to a set of questions and then photographs them and publishes their answers. It’s a fun blog that really shows the diversity of Portland and always reminds me of the idiosyncrasies of this place I call home.

I was catching up on it just now and I was struck by one of the answers given. The question was “Name your favorite tattoo”, to which the answer was “Mao’s face, which will one day adorn my person.”

Portlanders love their tattoos. When I was working as a barista, my coworkers used to tease me about being the only barista in town that didn’t have any tattoos. I’ve thought about it, but I just can’t commit to adding something permanently to my body. Maybe some day–I’m certainly not opposed to tattoos, I’m just uncommitted for myself.

When I read this answer, I thought, Whoa. Really?! This man completely changed the face of his country in part through the imprisonment, brainwashing, torturing, and murdering of millions of his people and you want his face on your body? It seems rather insensitive. In a world where people think nothing of naming their cats “Chairman Meow” (I’ve known one myself) and where people get tattoos in languages they don’t understand on a regular basis (I once owned a shirt that said, in Japanese, “Dirty American devil”–but at least I knew what it said), I guess it’s just another way for people to show their ignorance.

Yes, Mao was a revolutionary. Yes, he believed that what he was doing was in the best interest of his country. Yes, he set in motion reforms and changes that brought millions a better standard of living. But he also did a lot of really bad things.

I’m not saying don’t get a tattoo of Mao if that’s what you really want to do, but please consider the weight of doing so before you do it. Don’t get the tattoo because you think he’s a pop culture revolutionary icon. Get the tattoo because you believe in what he accomplished and can honestly argue that his methods were just and reasonable. There are enough people out there doing things to damage our collective culture and intelligence (e.g. Kim Kardashian and her strong defense of opposite-sex-only marriage); please don’t contribute by getting a tattoo of a dictator who tortured and murdered millions just because you think it’ll look cool.


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