Once used in Indigenous cultures as a sign of membership, tattooing has become more of a trend these days in Western society. For a long time, tattooing used to be stigmatised as people who wore inked marks were considered to be mostly bikers, sailors, or criminals, gang and mafia members. Nowadays, “14 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo,” as it is reported by Alexander Ankirskiy in his essay Perception of Tattoos Now and Then taken from the Statistic Brain Research Institute in 2013. Tattooing is now seen as mainstream, fashion, and part of popular culture -especially since many celebrities have some. This tendency tends to grow as many celebrities display their own tattoos on their social media followed by millions of people. This trend also increases with young people who often have tattoos of their favourite film or TV series to show their membership commitment to a community. Here are three examples of tattoos from some of the most famous films and TV series.
Since its release in 2001, the Harry Potter franchise grossed over $7.7 billion until its last film The Deathly Hallows Part 2, released in 2011, making it one of the most successful franchise of the 21st century. After the last adaptation of the saga, tattooing became very fashionable among Harry Potter fans who decided to ink their body. The Deathly Hallows motif is particularly popular in this community. It is made of a triangle, a circle and a vertical line. Each of them having a meaning taken from the original story:
-the triangle represents the invisibility cloak
-the circle encloses the triangle and represents the resurrection stone (the philosopher’s stone in the film).
-the vertical line in the middle of the triangle represents the elder “unbeatable” wand.
This tattoo is a way to show the dedication of the fans to the franchise. It was a major part of their childhood and teenage years. Harry Potter fans can recognise each other thanks to the Deathly Hallows tattoo and understand its meaning, which make them belong to a community.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
After filming the first episode of The Lord of the Rings, the cast decided to have matching tattoos:
“We felt the experience was both wonderful enough and profound enough to have ourselves branded, so we went ahead and did that about a week before we finished,” said Elijah Wood (Frodo) in 2001.
The tattoo represents the number “nine” in Elvish in reference to the nine companions of the Fellowship. It shows how much this project meant to them and how involved they were in it. It involves: Sir Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Bill Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic Monaghan, Elijah Wood, Sean Bean, and the stunt double of actor John Rhys-Davies.
The tattoo was initiated by actor Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) who suggested this idea and asked the crew. He then contacted the tattoo artist and gave him the design.
“We all got the same one – the word ‘nine’ in Elvish – because that’s what we are, nine. I visited the tattooist a couple of times, showed him the drawing and stuff […] We did all meet one morning and it was an interesting event, I enjoyed it […]” (source: Tattoodo)
As Orlando Bloom revealed during the premiere in 2001, it was more of a secret to the crew. Therefore, it means something personal for the actors who were all involved in this journey. The fact that they did not necessarily want to share it with people and remain a secret makes their tattoo unique which is only shared by those who made the films. The tattoo creates a special bound between each of the actors, making them the members of a unique community (since it is only shared by a very few numbers of people involved in the films and not by fans). This is a community of actors whose tattoo refers to the work they played in. And at the same time, these matching tattoos define them as a community within a community of Tolkien fans.
GAME OF THRONES
The last example is the currently biggest TV series in the world, Game of Thrones. With “more than 30 million viewers per episode across all platforms by season seven” (source the New Yok Times, August 2017), the show counts a lot of fans. Many fans are tattooed but interestingly enough, the actors themselves also bear tattoos celebrating their characters in the show.
One of the most recurrent tattoos made by people is the dire wolf from the house of Stark. The actress Sophie Turner whose character is from the Stark family, has a similar tattoo on her left arm. Her tattoo shows the dire wolf sigil with a quote below it that writes “The pack survives.” The quote is a reference to a speech given by the father in the show, Ned Stark, to his youngest daughter Arya: “In the winter, we must protect ourselves – look after one another. Sansa is your sister. When the snow falls and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
This is not the only GOT tattoo the actress has. She shares with her co-star who plays her sister Arya (Maisie Williams) a matching tattoo: the date “07.08.09” which represents “the exact day they were both cast on ‘Game of Thrones’” (source: Insider).
Other actors had a tattoo to celebrate the end of the show when filming the very last season:
-Emilia Clark has a dragon tattoo on her right wrist as a reference to her role as the Mother of Dragons.
-Maisie Williams has a matching tattoo with Sophie Turner and another quote from her character’s story: “no one.”
The show and tattoos are so popular that an illustrator and artist, Hilary Heffron, created a series of posters representing the characters of the show with matching tattoos. Therefore, people who know and watch the show can easily understand the references.
Today, tattooing is not associated with people on the margins anymore. When the motif is implicit and does not state directly the tattoo’s reference, inked marks can be seen as a game where people try to guess the tastes of the bearers.
Tattoos can bring together people who are passionate by the same project and create a community of fans. They have special meanings for their owners. In such cases, tattoos represent a part of people’s lives at a certain period. It can bring people together just by glancing at a tattoo symbol that will only be understood by people from the same fanbase. Having a tattoo of your favourite TV show or film, or what has been part of your life for years, is also a sign of loyalty.