Think! - 220: Into the Great Wide Open

Published: 03 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

We don’t get many letters around these parts anymore, but when we do, at least they’re well thought out. This issue, I thought it would be neat to take one, open some boxes full of frogs and see what opinions you guys have to offer on the rebound. Visuals throughout are from the guys at Monki Do, for no other reason than we don’t publish their work often enough for my liking, and it all arrived at the same time. Can I do that? Last time I looked, I was driving. All opinions here are by my hand, but not necessarily mine. I want to open some discourse with you guys, so let’s play…

First out of the bag is this… for ease of recognising who’s thinking what, Claire’s in italics and I’m not…

My name is Claire Jackson. I am a female tattoo apprentice, learning in Exeter, Devon, with Dris Donnelly at Artium Ink. This email may take me a while for me to type as I am dyslexic. Being dyslexic and female, are things I legally cannot be discriminated against for… it is illegal. But I can be discriminated against for being tattooed. I am writing to see if there is anything more substantial we can do as a community to stop the discrimination that is forced on us.

The news that the Metropolitan police and HMV are both banning visible tattoos is distressing. I felt that the social acceptance of tattoos was getting better, but after these two stories, I am scared that the general public perception is worsening.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, said: “employees must register details of any body art with line managers, or risk being thrown out of the force” which is extreme! I understand that the police have to stick to a conduct, but I fail to understand how tattoos affect the efficiency of the officer him/herself. Also, if this radical change is to do with the image of the officer then I would like to point out that the police hire men, women, people of all races, and people of all shapes and sizes, so why does decorated skin make such a huge impact?

I’d not really thought this through before now – and I’m still not sure of how I feel, but what I do know is this: much like when a tattooed surgeon plucks you from the jaws of death; much like when a tattooed soldier goes to war in defence of your freedom; much like when a team of tattooed firefighters show up to cut you out of a car wreck, you won’t give a rat’s ass about a policeman’s tattoos (or lack of) when he shows up with your kid that went missing (and all of the other things that you can throw into that arena).

To take the argument the other way though, what if there was an ‘almighty power’ in the UK that stood up and announced that tattoos were acceptable and we should all just get along with what we were doing regardless? For some, taking it that mainstream would be awful; some like the ‘act’ of rebellion, some of us are very private, some of us want to show the world. Tattoo is complex, and for my money, maybe how it is now is just fine. It walks a thin line and that’s kind of cool. Police with full back pieces could potentially go undiscovered for their whole career. Police with a small tattoo on the wrist will be very obvious. This is an open invite for the forces of the country to tell their stories… bring ’em on. Anonymously if you wish.

Claire continues:

I have worked for HMV twice in the past. Both times I was hired by staff who embraced my piercings and tattoos as well as my knowledge of music, games and DVDs. From working for HMV last year I know the financial difficulty the company is having and whether they stay open depends on each Christmas’ intake. The new rules, set by new boss, Trevor Moore, are an obvious last attempt to draw customers in to save the business but discriminating against his staff is not the way to do this. Moore said: “It goes without saying that we want our work colleagues to feel valued as individuals who can express their personalities, but it’s also important that we balance this against the needs and expectations of our customers, who ultimately, have to be at the heart of everything we do.”

From working at HMV I can say that I had not one complaint made against me and my co-workers for being heavily tattooed or pierced. My ex-Supervisor from the Taunton store, Jon, has been told he has to wear blue jeans and any extreme piercings/ tattoos have to covered. Jon’s reaction to this was, “looks like I’m screwed!” How they can discriminate against existing employees is surely illegal?

On this subject, I’ve already said too much online. HMV need to concentrate on the important issues, and this would be that their staff, tattooed or not, should know what they are talking about – and when your survival depends on a 'good Christmas', that’s surely not great place to be for anybody. The needs and expectations that he talks about here are wrong. If a customer needs or expects to be able to buy the first (random example) Jane’s Addiction album, they are unlikely to find it, and the way things have been going, it’s unlikely that this will ever get better. So far as I can see, HMV now sells digital devices, a smattering of albums that are likely to sell, and a truckload of DVDs which is what will propel them straight out of business in the next 12 months because the majority of people who love TV that much will be streaming online if they aren’t already. Tattooed staff should be so far down their list of priorities right now surely? Back to Claire…

I was also personally horrified by the Channel 4 ‘documentary’ called ‘Tattoo Addiction’. I was disappointed that Channel 4 didn’t research into the history of tattooing, how it was brought over to the western world, or why it has become so popular, and instead focused on a minority of cowboy artists who doodle on drunk holiday makers’ skin. I found myself having to ring friends and family to assure them that that is not what the tattoo industry is like. I felt that their programme has completely undermined what we do as artists and made our careers and lifestyles look like a joke.

I think we all watched this and shook our heads. Fact of the matter is, this is how shows get commissioned right now. Any pitch that said “let’s take a serious look at tattooing and show some great art” is something that is not on the agenda of a (sweeping statement follows) nation of TV companies whose idea of creativity is The Only Way Is Essex. As a nation, we always seem to cater to the lowest common denominator in order to get the best viewing figures. Take a look at the (frankly awesomely brilliant) crime drama, The Killing. Imported from Denmark, stuffed at the dark end of a BBC4 schedule with little hope of being seen by the masses, it was the best thing to happen to TV since Lost. It was only word of mouth that made it a success, but with the third season upon us, it’s still languishing in the same spot on BBC4.

This has always been the way and will always be the way – and this is because absolutely everything that happens in the world, depends on where you’re standing at the time. Fact.

I know that it is not just me who is discriminated against; my best friend is a mental health nurse who cannot display her tattoos; my twin sister is a tutor and cannot show hers from the fear of prejudiced parents; and like the rest of you, I am bombarded with online Facebook campaigns and posters highlighting the discrimination we are all shown for being tattooed. But none of these Facebook pages are making a difference to the amount of persecution that is happening all over the UK. So I was wondering if there is any other legal campaign for equality for tattooed workers in the UK or if one could be set up!

My feelings on Facebook are well-known. A lot of people do good business on there, but for the most part (yep, I’ll say it again), it’s like being at a party with 20 million people. Facebook is the ultimate in ‘I only care about myself’ media. I despise it totally. Ultimately though, we’re going through changes as a human race right now. Nobody has a clue what’s good for business, where is the best place to put your money, how people will react… and at any given moment, people are likely to change their minds. Major crime to be solved? 12 months on, still unsolved? Sherlock Holmes has tattoos? We’ll get him in anyway… sure, that’s a dumb example, but having these stances is fine until you need something, and then the rules change at the drop of a hat.

I know that this persecution has been happening for generations, and I have been called naïve for wanting to campaign for equality in the workplace for tattooed people, but my response was that I am sure Oscar Wilde was called naïve when campaigning for gay rights; or Rosa Parks for protesting that black people should be able to sit with white people on buses; or Emily Pankhurst for demanding that women should have the vote and not just men. This is something I feel strongly about. You may think I’m pathetic, but if there is any campaign for equality of tattooed people please could you give me any details, or if you and any other publication in the industry would like the get behind and start up an official campaign, please let me know, and I will put my all into standing up for the tattooing community.

I don’t think there’s anything pathetic about this – especially with the dyslexia; all I did was capitalise a few words. Good work! Claire puts forward some interesting points. I’m just bandying things around. Do you care enough to comment? Make it easy on me and make the subject of your email ‘CLAIRE’ – she will like that. Bring it.


Text: Sion; Photography: Monki Do