Tuesday 1 December 2015

The modern boom in skin-mutilation - the revelatory power of a synonym

The following is adapted from a cheery piece of propaganda for skin-mutilations in the 'Arts and Culture' section of the Huffington Post on 27 October 2015 - It was prepared simply by searching and replacing one well-known word with a synonymous phrase, and editing-out some of the proper names. Think of it as an exercise in re-framing...

What's in a name? - quite a lot, it seems.

How skin-mutilation went from sub-culture to pop culture

Let's face it, skin-mutilations have burst onto pop culture and have taken over the current media scenery. TV shows based on the skin-mutilation industry are springing up on major networks, social media pages for skin-mutilation culture are numbering in the millions of followers, and you would be hard pressed to take a walk on the street and not see several people sporting leg skin-mutilations or full arm skin-mutilations. Not to mention all the skin-mutilations you see on the beach! Skin-mutilations have become a mainstream part of society.

Today, 36 percent of Americans aged 18-25 have at least one skin-mutilation, according to recent report. That's more than one third of America's young adults! It comes as no surprise that the skin-mutilation industry is the sixth fastest-growing retail business in America, as determined by the U.S. News & World Report. This has obviously translated to online interest as well, as there are more than 147 million skin-mutilation related searches each month on Google.

How did this industry achieve this status though? Skin-mutilations have certainly been scrutinized in the past and a visible feature that was once taboo has now become... normal?

Twenty five years ago, skin-mutilations were actually quite common... on sailors, prison inmates, and members of tough motorcycle gangs. If you looked at accountants, pro ping-pong players, or shoe salesmen though, it would have been pretty rare to find a skin-mutilation. So what happened?

Ironically, skin-mutilations have been around since the beginning of human history… So when and where did skin skin-mutilation originate? The answer to this question may remain a mystery, but scientific evidence proves that skin-mutilations have been a part of human culture for thousands of years.

In 1991, German hikers on the Oztal Alps (near the border between Italy and Austria) discovered the mummified remains of a prehistoric human. Carbon dating would prove that the human, named Ötzi, had been mummified more than 5,300 years ago. While Ötzi was discovered with primitive tools and arrows, his most unique feature was that his body was adorned with no less than 57 skin-mutilations, all the way from his upper neck to his ankles.

Findings like this continuously have proven that skin-mutilations have been a part of human societies since their inception, as parts of rituals and cultures throughout history and across the globe.

Fast-forward to 2005. Our society still held prejudices against skin-mutilations and, while some people were getting them on their own, no one would say skin-mutilations were a part of pop culture. What changed this? The moment skin-mutilations stepped into society's limelight can be pinpointed to a very specific event: the launching of the first popular skin-mutilation TV show. A legendary shop on South Beach housed a unique mix of talented and charismatic skin-mutilation artists. Before this show, only the minority of people with skin-mutilations knew what the inside of a skin-mutilation studio was like. People weren't privy to the amazing work being done there or to the dynamic personalities and various styles of different artists. It made for good TV though... It was a huge success and it changed everything.

The shows opened the channels for the average Joe to look into this "underworld" of skin-mutilations. To realize that the art is impressive, beautiful, and attainable. Every person can have an amazing skin-mutilation. Every person can have their own unique skin-mutilation. Having a skin-mutilation can be an expression of who you are. Or what you believe in. Or something you cherish. Or just something you thought was fun. The prejudice, not having disappeared completely, is certainly greatly diminished.

Skin-mutilation artists became celebrities. Rihanna, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, and Adam Levine, are several examples of mainstream media icons that have skin-mutilations and openly display them. It's a part of who they are now. And fans of these and many other celebrities are now getting their skin mutilated just like their idols.

Enter social media. Another game-changer for the skin-mutilation industry. The same artists that gained celebrity status on the skin-mutilation TV shows are now followed by millions of people on these platforms (and some of these followers don't even have any skin-mutilations of their own!). These same popular artists, or the individual users themselves, can identify new artists -- the up-and-comers -- that impress all with their unique and groundbreaking designs. Skin-mutilation conventions are exploding in popularity, as everyone wants the chance to meet their favorite artists, post a picture with them on their profiles, and maybe even get a skin-mutilation! And skin-mutilation shops are now the place of legend -- the home of major skin-mutilation artists and a site to see in and of itself.

So what's next? The internet will naturally allow the skin-mutilation industry to continue evolving in ground-breaking ways in order to deliver the best possible content and services for the millions of skin-mutilation-culture followers out there. The gap between the skin-mutilation fan and the artist will get smaller and smaller with these new internet-based platforms and we can already see this trend in sites that offer crowd-sourcing for skin-mutilation designs, where people are linked to artists from all over the world in order to obtain customized skin-mutilation designs. Together with the growing mainstream skin-mutilation community, we anxiously await to see the crazy ways this industry will continue to develop and take over pop culture.


Roger W said...

I actually read a significant portion of this post without really realizing what you had changed, while vaguely wondering where the changed term could be. I suppose this marks me out as one of those benighted persons (shortly to be redefined in legislation as Unpersons?) who still remains "prejudiced" on the issue? Perhaps I ought to expect a home visit from the Re-Education corps shortly?

I think in any case that the current fad for skin-mutilation (among the segments of society who previously did not mutilate - ie those who considered themselves "respectable", particularly the middle classes) has been going on for longer than they claim and has little to do with whatever TV programme they are harping on about (are they trying to advertise this programme too?). I remember first noticing around 20 years ago that some of the seedier members of my then-teenaged peer group seemed to regard the infliction of permanent designs on one's carapace as something rebellious and original, therefore desirable - a bit like smoking behind the bike sheds at school - although unlike the latter, few actually took the plunge and got a "tat" done at the time - it was perhaps closer to 15 years ago that the activity really started to become mainstream in practice. This was when I began to notice just how common it was for the young ladies (I use the term purely for want of a better) of around my own age, those same young females in whom I was meant to be developing an interest as potential wi- sorry "partners", to pull gaily aside various parts of their clothing in the midst of conversation with their equally air-headed friends in order to put on public display the silly little butterfly, or flower, or whatever, which they had oh-so-originally just had affixed to themselves. Display of the same delightful feature (by the female sex) in order to evoke interest from potential mates also seemed to be something that began at about the same time, in the same age group (it's possible that this may have also involved an element of providing an excuse for disrobing the alluring patch of flesh upon which the mutilation festered and stuffing it into said potential mate's face).

Nathaniel said...

I've been fortunate enough to have always found skin-multations to be nausea-inducing and so not tempted by this strange trend.

Bill said...

I was briefly tempted in the late 90s but I never found an image that I cared enough about to have it added to my flesh for life. Remember tatoos make a statement, "I once had $80.00!"

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bill - Mutilation is a bad thing, and the nature of the image does not make a difference to that.

In some societies mutilation was imposed, indeed sometimes forcibly -


But the trend for self-mutilation is a marker of inversion of the transcendental Good, and thus part of our pervasive and increasing cultural nihilism.