In 1961, New York City banned tattoos because
officials claimed that the city’s uptick in hepatitis B was related to unclean tattoo
parlors … although some say it was more of an attempt to clean up the streets in advance
of the world’s fair). Surprisingly, New York didn’t strike down
the ban until 1997. But the late ‘90s brought more to the tattoo
world than the end of NYC’s official ban. That’s right, I’m talking about culturally
insensitive tattoos, like Chinese symbols you don’t know the meaning of, dreamcatchers,
and the vaguely named “tribal armbands” made popular by notable celebs and fashion
trends. And by 2006, a Pew survey found that a whopping
40% of Americans had a tattoo. So when did tattoos emerge? And when did they go from counterculture,
to mainstream? And … are they … Okay? I mean, when does an exotic tattoo veer into
the territory of cultural appropriation? The answers — as always! — lie in history. Because when it comes to answering the question
of where tattoos come from, who has them and who gets them, cultural context is key. And tattooing has a lot of context and backstory. The earliest evidence of human remains that
show signs of tattooing are traced back to Otzi the iceman. Discovered on the Italian-Austrian border
in 1991, Otzi has over 50 tattooed marks all over his body. Carbon dating shows that Otzi’s remains
are about 3,300 years old. But there’s other, older evidence of body
art, like Egyptian figurines and pottery dating to circa 4000-3500 BC that show suspected
signs of women sporting tattoos. But Otzi’s markings weren’t purely ornamental,
like many of the tattoos we see today are. His 61 tattoos are located all over his body
and often in areas that aren’t ideal for showing off the ink. Like, near his worn out joints and spine,
giving new significance to lower back tattoos. So these tattoos are now thought to be evidence
of early acupuncture or attempted healing practices. Other evidence of early tattooing pivots us
away from archaeology and towards art history. There’s a portrait from 1710 called Four
Indian Kings that shows the King of the Maquas (a Mohawk tribe) with tattoos that cover the
lower half of his face and his chest. And anthropologists Aaron Deter-Wolf and Carol
Diaz-Granados note that Native Americans in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains practiced
tattooing for a variety of purposes. They were used to demonstrate a person’s
lineage, their place within society or the broader universe, and also as a rite of passage. And the practice of using tattoos to show
ancestral lineage also stretches back around 2000 years in Samoa, Hawai’i and New Zealand. But outside of their more sacred uses, tattoos
have also served purely functional, secular roles in other parts of the world. Greeks have recorded instances of tattooing
dating back to the 5th century BC. Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall had military tatts, and
European Crusaders tattooed crosses on their chests to guarantee a Christian burial if
they died in battle. Ancient Romans and Greeks also had a history
of tattooing enslaved people. In Japan, as far back as the 7th century,
criminals were tattooed. And later, Yakuza gang members were known
for their elaborate (and often quite beautifully done) ink that symbolized their life of crime
and their gang affiliations. So: tattoos can be a sign of cultural pride,
the mark of an outlaw, a healing practice, and a mark of a traveling soldier. And most of these tattoos were made by either
pricking, burning, or staining the skin with a manual tools. But if you’re like me and have 4 tattoos
of various shapes and sizes that were done with an electric tattoo machine, then you’re
probably curious about where and when contemporary tattooing came into play. Well that brings our timeline forward to 1769. The word “tattoo” is a anglicized version
of the word “tatua” which is a Polynesian word of Tahitian origin. The first recorded instance of the phrase
in English came from colonist Captain James Cook and naturalist Joseph Banks. When Cook landed in Tahiti in 1769 he observed
the practice, both he and Banks wrote about it in their diaries as “tattowing” with
a “w.” And Cook’s contact with Native Pacific Islanders
marked the beginning of colonization of these regions by European nations. With the arrival of European Christian missionaries
to place like Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Samoa in the 19th century, the practice of
tattooing in Native populations was discouraged. Missionaries wanted to eradicate the practice
altogether in order to promote Western European culture, but the art of tattooing didn’t
fade away. In fact, tattooing began to spread. The first Europeans to pick up tattooing regularly
after Cook’s expedition were sailors and navy men, whose marks signified the various
voyages that they’d taken. By the 19th century, when missionaries were
busy demonizing tattoos abroad, Victorians back in England were actually turning this
into a newfound fad. Because, despite the fact that tattoos had
circumnavigated the globe more accurately than any explorer ever could, by the 19th
century they were relatively unknown in England. And this made the reintroduction of the art
form “edgy” “novel” and “daring” to upper crust folks. It’s even reported that members of the Queen
Victoria’s royal family were sporting some permanent body work under their tightly buttoned
up exteriors. Then in 1891, tattooing underwent a pretty
big revolution, on account of American inventor and tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly who introduced
the first patented electric tattooing machine. O’Reilly modeled his machine off of Thomas
Edison’s electric pens, which weren’t as useful for recreating drawings and documents
as Edison had hoped, but were pretty great at tattooing human skin. That meant that instead of methods that favored
scarring or tapping with sharp instruments, we now had a standardized method by which
most people were getting inked. But tattoos in the US didn’t suddenly become
mainstream just because a guy from Connecticut patented a tool for it. In fact it remained a bit of an “outsider”
art form through much of the 19th and 20th century. The people most likely to receive tattoos
were still military men who had served overseas, criminals, rebels with dubious causes, and
sideshow performers who would tattoo their whole bodies and put themselves on display
in shows. But tattoos also served, in one instance,
a very practical function. After the passage of the 1936 social security
act, many Americans started getting their social security numbers tattooed on their
bodies so they could remember them! Tattoo parlors even advertised this service! Today this would be more of an invitation
for identity theft than a helpful reminder. Whatever happened to just tying a string around your finger? Tattoos continued to gain popularity throughout
the 20th century. Janis Joplin is often credited as the first
big star with visible ink, and she and other celebrities helped popularize tattoos. In time, this led to an eventual switch from
counterculture to mainstream by the dawn of the new millenium. But there has been a renewed effort by some
to restore tattoos their often sacred origins. For example, Alaska Native tattoo artist Marjorie
Kunaq Tahbone is helping to spread knowledge about face tattoos as a form of cultural pride
and to save this artwork and this practice from the eradication that was encouraged by
missionaries in the 19th century. And this brings us back to the topic of cultural
appropriation. When it comes to whether a tattoo is a marker
of individuality or a sign of disrespect, the answer (like all good history) lies in
cultural context as well as content. In 2011 Thai Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat
called for a ban on tourists getting spiritual or sacred tattoos that would be offensive
to Thai cultural sensibilities. One example is getting Buddhist symbols tattooed
below the waistline, which can be considered disrespectful. And despite the popularity of Japanese inspired
tattoos, some owners of public spas and pools in Japan still refuse access to people with
tattoos because the markings are still heavily associated with Yakuza gang members. So when divorced from their original context,
and taken up as part of a tourist market that centers on capturing a piece of another culture,
these tattoos actually have radically different meanings in different places. So it’s something to think about for a long
time before you put yourself under the needle. Because remember folks: when it comes to tattoos
and crossword puzzles, ink is forever. So what do you think? Anything to add to the history of the tattoo? Have any truly nerdy ink-spirations you want
to share in honor of Origin Season 2? Drop them below, be sure to follow us on Facebook
and Subscribe on Youtube and I’ll see you guys here next week!

100 thoughts on “Can Tattoos Be Taboo?”

  1. I'd really appreciate a video about culture appropriation. I've had debates with people on whether or not it exist. I did some research but these videos are so well organized I'd love to see how the topic would be tackled

  2. Missionaries were trying to stop natives from tattooing because of the Bibiical prohibition of marking your skin. The Jews were told not to imitate the people of the land they were entering (the Cannanites) of these and other practices. To this day, most Jews won't get a tattoo.

  3. How can it be cultural appropriation if it's all over the world and people are getting them for altogether different reasons? Stop being so PC. When I was growing up the only folks with tattoos were sailors, hookers, and bikers. If it's cultural appropriation why not blame it on the Cannanites (who no longer exist) who were mentioned in the Bible.

  4. 4:46
    "Despite the fact that tattoos had circumnavigated the globe (more accurately than any explorer ever could) …"
    What is this word salad supposed to imply?
    White-bashing, for the sake of white-bashing, diminishes this channel's authority (if it ever had any) to talk about history.

  5. I never got my swallow (5k NM) when I was in the navy, and I have that planned as my next tattoo. I have a pulsar map tattooed on my arm if you really wanna talk nerdy tattoos lol.

  6. It would be very nice if you did a video on the origin of language translation. I've always been interested in how this happened especially when learning Spanish. I would love your take on this.

  7. Ancient Romans commented on the Picts (from Scotland) whose name means "the painted ones" going to war nacked bar their tattoos. I think this bust be the earliest written evidence of tattoos.

  8. Ink is the one thing you take with you. I have my first son's name(who passed away), my daughter's rose she drew, the words I love you Mom in my other son's handwriting. Ink should have meaning to you. Not be frivolous, I think. 😊

  9. 0:49 "cultural appropriation" thumbed down and turned it off right there… what i put on my body is whatever i desire, just like what other people put on their bodies is their choice.

  10. My next tattoo (I have 4 others) is going to be my mantra, out along the underside of my left forearm: All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. it comes from The fellowship of the ring, and for me it means that even though I suffer from mental illness and I cant always see my value in life, its there just under the surface, and even though I cant always see see where my life is leading, it doesn't mean that I am on the wrong path

  11. In pre-colonial Philippines, tattooing was common place. When the Spanish explorers arrived, they called the locals “pintados” meaning the painted ones.

  12. In the disability community, many of us get tattoos as a way to both take ownership of our bodies and as a form of disability Pride. Many friends of mine have tattoos of awareness ribbons for their illnesses, mobility aids, or sayings and symbols specifically related to disability culture.

  13. Please make a part 2 to this episode. I feel like there’s SO much more we could dig into on tattooing. Tattoo removal, cover up, more on cultural significance, etc.

  14. I say you have to research what culture tattoo you are getting. You should find it’s context in culture and ask how would they feel you getting it.

  15. The mention of the social security number tattoos made me think of the other kind of tattoo numbers in the 1930s. Maybe you could have mentioned how forced tattoos were a form of dominance not only for slaves in ancient Europe, but also for Jews in the concentration camps.

  16. How can my tattoo be culturally insensitive if I got the kanji for family tattooed? I even made sure to research the correct kanji :/

  17. My friend wrote a book on how to get a Scottish Gaelic tattoo (Google the Scottish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook, if you're looking) specifically because of so many bad translations in tattoos out there! And then her friend wrote an Irish version, and there's a Welsh one in the works. Its in hot demand!

  18. Not to mention that a lot of native communities in mexico don't like to be friendly to people with tattoos since tattoos are associated with drug cartels.

  19. My mom thinks tattoos are disgusting (probably part of her Christian background). She'll be in for a surprise if I ever get the courage to walk into a parlour.

  20. One of my art history classmates did a project on how tattooing was banned and for many years in the 20th century in Milwaukee because not only were tattoos associated with criminals, but also the queer community.

  21. So will there be another video bout slavery history, since there's alot of contreversy on it like race wise and country

  22. People who in 21st century complain about some random tourist's tattoo being offensive to their culture are reminiscent of the middle ages branding a woman as an evil witch because she has black hair and cat. Kind of pisses me off to be honest. We did advance as a society since then, but not as much as I'd perhaps like.

  23. I love watching videos like these, I love how she explains the topic. She breaks it down and gives alot of info. Also, she's beautiful ❤

  24. Please I’ll really appreciate a video about “ what if Huey long beat FDR to become president” and western Europe settlement in southern African , also the development of the language Afrikaans in the region” . Please if you can , I really enjoy your videos.

  25. Well, I wonder who stole from who and if all these cultures knew they were stealing from others – shame on them all if they did…
    Once we find out who originated we should ban everyone else….cause that's how it all goes now a days? I mean at least that's how it seems at this point.
    Then, those people allowed to get tattoos must do it the old fashioned way…cause then they'd be taking/appropriating the creation of an American.

  26. I love your channel. Your enthusiasm is infectious and the excitement of facts in your voice and demeanor makes me feel very happy each time I hear you speak.

  27. I'm continuously surprised at how much I enjoy this channel. Thanks for all the hard work you put into researching and creating these videos!

  28. My grandmother has a wonderful sepia photo from her work among the Inuit, a beautiful image of an old Inua woman with striking facial tattoos.

  29. I just need to say something, to all people who want to have Arabic words as tattoos: please run those words on a translation app first or even better find a native Arabic speaker to help you, there are so many incidents of Arabic tattoos gone wrong , you can google it, so please be careful.
    also tattoos are prohibited in Islam and a big taboo in Islamic culture, and Christian minorities in Islamic majority countries like Egypt use them to distinguish themselves.

  30. Cultural appropriation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means taking traditions out of context. It’s Not good or bad, it just is.

  31. There is a big push in Japan at the moment to be accepting of tattooed foreigners as the tourism industry really wants it to be as welcoming as possible for the Olympics – actually on my trip some Japanese people said they always wanted tattoos but were scared because the older generation still associate them with Yakuza and they didn't want to be discriminated against. (I have a number of visible tattoos)

  32. The iceman was actually 5,000 years old, and although there are rumors of native Americans with tattoos, there is no actual evidence that nor reliable documents stating Native Americans were tattooed.

    Source- Tattoo History: A Source Book. Introduced and edited by Steve Gilbert

  33. Someone should do a series on the cultural history of sport in the U.S. What functional cultural role does it play (regulating violence and decreasing war, celebrating one's national patriotism, giving us a set of heroes who can do amazing things with their bodies)? What's the relationship between American sport and race, how about gender, what about sexual orientation and gender identity?

  34. Came here from Eons, was going to subscribe, but as soon as I heard the phrase "Cultural Appropriation" I said no thanks!

  35. I've never understood cultural appropriation. I mean I guess it's like stealing another culture ? We're all humans and so many try to view others as different.

  36. I have a tattoo of a Japanese style rose, but that's because my name is Rozanne and many people call me Rose (including my parents), so I've always felt connected with roses. I chose a Japanese style rose for my tattoo because I saw it in a tattoo magazine and it looked really powerful to me. Like it could overcome anything. And the text of my tattoo is 'never give up' so that for me was very fitting. I think a lot of this has to do with intent. If you intend to be offensive that is wrong, but if you just like something a lot I don't see why it would be offensive.

  37. You completely forgot about the use of tattoos in Berber, Germanic, viking, Celtic and other per-christian northerly European cultures (although the Celts mainly used body paint and not permanent tattoos) these tattoos were eliminated during the spread of Christianity of the middle ages due to their pagan associations. The point of this video is more trying to show Europeans appropriating culture an not more of the ancient practice coming back in vogue through other cultures in a way.

  38. I love the PBS Spacetime and Eons. They are clearly presented by highly intelligent natators. Because of that, I gave this link a look. It started out with the ever ubiquitous SJW whining and never got any better. Have we really stooped to bitching about tattoos? In my opinion, if you paid for it and are willing to wear it for the rest of your life, who am I to say something. My grandmother used to tell me when I was a boy, an old Cree saying. Shut your mouth and open your ears, and it will serve you better in life.

  39. I really wanted to like ths channel but phrase Cultural Appropriation puts me off. Sorry PBS but social justice vigilantes have rendered the topic Cultural Appropriation too toxic and loaded to bother with.

  40. yes! King George V and his big brother, Eddy (prince Albert Victor) got tattoos while at a stop in Japan back in the late 19th century.

  41. this is actually very interesting. thing is i do think it is a mainstream thing i think the issue is right now so much stuff is mainstream. and its like my thoughts are just because something is mainstream does not mean it should be accepted or people should do it. i just think we live in world right now where we are getting so much out of our system as we are no longer feeling nearly as limited as we did 30 years ago for just "being ourselfs" or "expressing ourselves" but i feel like many people use those statements to basically mean i can do whatever i want and you have no right to judge me even if what i do is really stupid.

  42. Yes, linguistically, the tattoo IS taboo. Both words come from the Pacific Islands. "Taboo" means "sacred, holy." And in the context of the language from which we derive our modern word for permanent skin ink, it is indeed sacred.

    I have one tattoo: The Arabic letter 'N,' which stands for Nazarene, the Middle Eastern alternate title for Christians. If you recall the "I am N" movement,* that's why I got it. I put it on my right wrist, the same location Coptic Christians in Egypt traditionally get tattoos of small crosses to identify themselves. Mine's about three times the size of said cross, but that's so it's easier to see what it is. I'm not Coptic, Syrian or Iraqi, but I don't have to be. My tattoo is not considered cultural appropriation, because the Coptic, Syrian and Iraqi Christians ARE my people, even if we come from different lineages.

    *For the uninitiated, the "I am N" movement began in response to a Krystallnacht event that happened (and is still happening) across Iraq and Syria. Christian homes, churches and businesses are spray painted with a red Arabic 'N,' which is the expression of an ultimatum: Any occupants left in that building must convert to Islam, pay a high tax, leave the area or be killed. The Arabic 'N' is the modern equivalent of the star of David as it was used by the Nazi regime prior to and during WWII. But this time, we claimed the symbol as our own and began wearing it with pride, in solidarity with our brethren in chains, and to raise awareness of the human rights violations going on in the Middle East, of which suppression of freedom of religion is but one issue.

  43. In the excellent 70’s cop sitcom Barney Miller (season 5, episode 8), you see someone arrested for having an still-illegal tattoo parlour (when they arrested another guy who tried to beat up the tattoo artist because he wouldn’t erase it! 😆)

  44. Do a video on orgin of declawing ( toe amputation and claw amputation )?

    Also the orgin of dog fighting?

    I heard dogfighters would use cats for training dog to fight for dog fighting by taking a hatchet to chop the feline s' toes off.

  45. The association between tattoos and hepatitis goes back to 1 or 2 extremely flawed 'studies' that were published in the early '70s. Thre cohorts were not from the general population but the findings were applied as if they were. The cohorts were men in prison and without equipment or sterilization techniques available, the spread of hepatitis was easy.

    They are still banned in some institutions – at least visible ones are banned from all students in the nursing program in which I taught – the stated reason being that visible tattoos create a negative impression in patients and are less likely to be hired. There is no evidence to support their position and, considering that 40% of the population has tattoos, the college is definitely out-of-date and may actually be enforcing an illegal policy.

  46. My ink is something I found while doing my genealogy. It was on a family crest that dates back centuries, but helped me get through a rough time in my life: si fractus fortis (if broken, yet strong) and it is down my back (after 2 spine surgeries)

  47. She's wearing a Selena Shirt! I already love this channel along with the channel, Two Cents! Y'all share great content! 🙂

  48. Still kinda lost. I'm a white dude who loves Japanese tattooing, I know the history and meaning behind most Japanese tattoos. That being said, would I still be stepping on toes if I were to get a tattoo in that style?

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