17 March 2015
O’Connor & Ellis
In reading O’Connor’s “Parker’s Back,” it was interesting to consider the process by which Parker comes to get all of his tattoos. Though he is moved to begin getting tattoos at first by a man at a fair that seems to inspire some sort of inspiration in him, the rest do not come about in the same way. In the story, it is described, “a huge dissatisfaction would come over him and he would go off and find another tattooist and have another space filled up” (O’Connor 428). For Parker, it seems that he is using tattooing as a way to fill some part of him that is missing. He has plenty of tattoos that were acquired abroad in a variety of fashions, and yet they do not seem to symbolize much to him beyond filling a blank space. It is only when he is once again moved to get a tattoo, after a traumatic experience, that we see any sort of emotion brought out of him by his tattoos. It appears as though the tattoo he gets on his back means something very important to him, and he is frustrated when his wife does not understand what he sees.
This idea can be translated into the tradition of Pacific tatau as well. O’Connell received a tattoo in the Pacific that “gave him his life and made him fully human” (Ellis 1). However, upon returning to New York, he was seen completely as an outsider for the marks on his body. Though O’Connell’s tattoos were more extreme, this experience pretty much sums up the way in which Western culture judges tattoos. American culture generally dictates that anyone who has a tattoo is a bit rough around the edges; either that, or they decided to get the tattoo in a moment of drunkenness or acted too rashly. We are told that going into a job interview with a visible tattoo could potentially hurt our chances of getting hired. These sorts of perceptions are in place mainly because many people do get tattoos for no real reason. They are willing to mark their skins permanently without giving much thought to what they are actually doing. This is the prevailing attitude towards tattoos in our culture. Where tattoo aims to create a sense of community in Pacific culture, tattoos in American culture tend to alienate individuals.
Pacific tatau is meant to serve as a reminder of culture and history, as well as a reminder that the recipient has survived a pretty intense amount of pain in order to receive the tattoo. My uncle is guilty of having some pretty silly tattoos; most noticeably, he has a tattoo of Tigger on his right arm. My mother was absolutely furious with him when he finally showed it to her. However, on his left arm is a much more interesting tattoo. It is one that he got late September of 2001; it depicts both an American flag and an Irish flag, with 9/11/2001 written underneath them. My uncle is a former NYPD officer, and was working in Manhattan on September 11th when the Twin Towers came down. He lost a lot of buddies that day, and though he rarely likes to talk about his experience, he was quick to get a tattoo to commemorate his friends. It’s a painful reminder to him, but even my mother can understand that it’s an important reminder that he needed in the years before his retirement to continue doing the work that he loved despite all the destruction he had seen. The Irish flag is there to symbolize our family’s heritage as well as his friends’, and as he described it to me once, it’s a way to symbolize the deeper connection they all had with one another. Tattoos get dismissed very easily in our society, but I think it’s important to remember that some have a very important story behind them. In this way, there seem to be more links between Western and Pacific tattoo than one might initially think.