[FOUNTAIN]Macho needling“The first mark that is needled into the skin: I love the moment the most. Gathering my breath and beginning to work, a drop of blood wells up. We call it the first dewdrop. As soon as the first dewdrop forms, a drop of ink, which runs from a spool of thread soaked with ink, flows down along the needle. Red ink quickly permeates into the holes in the skin as it reaches the end of the needle. After wiping out ink and blood, a tattoo appears clearly. A giant spider.”
In the short novel “Needle” by Cheon Un-yeong, a tattoo is part of a code of sensualism and aestheticism. Sadistic and basic instincts, mingled with the smell of blood and sweat, are sensed in the story. That’s the very attribute of a tattoo.
Tattoos were found on a 5,000-year-old corpse found in the Alps and on a 4,000-year-old mummy in Egypt. Tattoos at the time held an incantatory meaning. Ancient people tried to obtain the power of their gods through carving those emblems. Anthropology says tattoos symbolize the identities of tribes.
Tattoos were used as means of punishment by early governments. The stigma Romans marked on slaves; engraving criminal charges on foreheads and cheeks of criminals with Chinese ink in the early Joseon Dynasty: These are types of punishments using tattoos.
The properties of tattoos seem to conflict with Christian culture that teaches “do not ... put tattoo marks on yourselves” (Leviticus 19:28) and the Confucian admonition that says “not to damage your body, hair and skin is the start of filial piety.” European imperialism in the 18th century made tattoos symbols of worldly, sensual love of beauty. Captain James Cook, a British explorer (1728~1779), introduced “tattoo,” a Tahitian word, to European countries. Macho sailors who explored the oceans at the risk of their lives returned home with tattoos of geometric patterns with ancient incantation meanings as symbols of adventure, courage and masculine strength.
Two world wars spurred the spread of tattoos because military culture cherishes a machismo that exaggerates strength and courage. Now people from organized gangsters to young artists are using tattoos. Ahn Jung-hwan, a soccer star, carved his love for his wife on his body. Young men who used tattoos as to dodge the draft were arrested en masse. But blood and sweat belongs to a low culture.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.