Two Tattoos: One a Brand, One ‘Unique’

In the news recently were several articles about two tattoos, each relating in someway to the Olympic Games that began last week in London. The first was about a branding tattoo being worn by a U.S. Olympic runner; the second about a “unique” misspelled tattoo on an American woman who participated in the Olympic torch relay.

Earlier this year, Nick Symmonds, the runner, auctioned for $11,100 the right to put a temporary tattoo of a twitter handle on his shoulder.  An advertising and design agency in Milwaukee won the e-Bay auction and has its branding message potentially seen by everyone who watches Symmonds during the 2012 track and field season, including his qualifying events for the Summer Games. He will compete in the games but must keep the tattoo covered, to comply with rules against displaying logos and branding during the games.

While promoting the brand of the Milwaukee agency, Symmonds also has been busy establishing his own brand, that of an outspoken opponent to these particular Olympic rules. “I’ve never had a problem speaking out about something that bothers me,” he is quoted as saying. “The biggest thing that rubs me the wrong way is that governing bodies want to control the space I feel I should control.”

In this case, his own skin and shoulder.

I, personally, don’t have any tattoos. Skin never seemed like a good writing surface to me. I prefer clean, 60-pound, slightly textured paper on which to write longhand, or white copy paper on which to pound out poorly typed words on the antique Corona typewriter that sits on a shelf near my desk, or a clean screen that readily pixelates the text I type on my Mac.

But skin doesn’t seem the right place for letters, words, and images—not because I mind the clutter it would cause. After all, my skin is covered with all kinds of marks and lines, including a half-inch scar caused by a piece of metal rocketed many years ago from an old pipe in our yard. My mother used put flowers in the pipe until my father and uncle decided to see what would happen if they set off a Cherry Bomb in it on the Fourth of July when I was five. The bomb destroyed the pipe, as we all stood around watching the fun. Then my mother, seeing the damage, said, “See what you did to my pipe?” and I, looking down, said, “See what you did to me?”

Not only do I not have tattoos, but I don’t know many people who have any, either; although, my father had one, a two-inch “R” on his left shoulder, a rendering of his first initial that he tattooed himself with a long pin tied to a wooden matchstick with a fishing line. One day when he was a teenager, he sat down, dipped the pin in India ink and began tapping away at his shoulder, wiping the blood as he went along, until he had an ill-shaped and definitely one-of-a-kind tattoo—his own brand. I always thought it was a good idea that he didn’t decide to tattoo his entire name, Raymond.  The tattoo remained intact and clearly visible until he died at 80, a few years ago.

But some tattoos should never become visible, even to friends and family.

Which is more embarrassing for the United States in the eyes of the whole world: for a U.S. Olympic torchbearer to have a misspelled word on an Olympic tattoo on her arm or for her not to have the spelling corrected when the error was pointed out to her?

I’ll vote for not having it corrected.

After all, once in a while, all of us make typos, try as we may to catch them before our work is published or, in this case (I’m not sure what word to use) posted, inked, printed, displayed. One mistake of mine that pops up often, but is usually caught by my proofreader, is using the word “do” when I mean “to,” as in a sentence such as “ I want do go.”

Nevertheless, one has to wonder how Olympics got misspelled as Oylmpics on the arm of Terri Peterson, an Atlanta resident who got the tattoo to celebrate being one of her company’s 70 employees to participate in the international Olympic torch relay. She recently carried the flame through Derby (in England) as part of the event.

Was she asleep when the artist started work? Was it misspelled on the design she chose, but neither she, nor her friend, nor the artist noticed the misspelling?

When the artist offered to correct the tattoo after the mistake was discovered, Peterson refused, saying she thought it was fine because it was unique like her.

One is right to question, though, how unique she is in the United States to not care if she spelled something wrong and then just sloughs off the mistake as being nothing important, like dead skin. I would think that flaunting our misspellings for the whole world to see is taking our brainlessness a step too far.

Equally, I would think we should be careful where we place our brand. Perhaps the shoulder of a rule-defying Olympian is the right place if your company is known as being on the edge. But I wouldn’t want to see the logo of my bank, my dentist, or my lawyer there. Nor would I think my father would have been pleased to see his personally crafted “R” anywhere but on his own shoulder.


Note: Unlike me, many writers—as shown in this piece on—consider skin to be a perfect medium on which to write words and draw art. Check out these writers’ tattoos: .

3 responses

  1. Pingback: culpwrit » Think Before You Ink: Not Everybody Thinks It’s Cool

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