"The physical body symbolically reproduces the
anxieties of the social body."
 The tattooed seaman. The image is so deeply embedded in the collective American psyche that the men can hardly be separated from the ink. The habitual naturalization of this connection intrigues me. Today the linkage is wrapped around nostalgic musings, but during the first half of the 20th century those ubiquitously visible tattoos–eagles and anchors, shields and ships, flags, daggers, and dancing hula girls–carried their own specific set of conflictual connotations. American culture at the time cathected the sailor's tattoo to national militaristic fantasies, desires for the exotic, and the penultimate masculinity of rugged bravery. When disembodied from the prideful flush of militarism, the tattoo became grotesque, that is, repulsive and provocative. The seeming irreconcilability of these attached meanings leads to several questions: What were all those tattoos DOING on all those bodies?1 Why did eagles, ships, flags and other icons to the civil religion of American nationalism take the form of tattoos? How did tattoos function to authenticate the military man? In what ways did tattoos become artifacts of consent for civilian men to be transformed into the physical protectors of democracy? These questions lead to the one I will close on: what's queer about military tattoos?
 The pages that follow propose answers to these questions by specifically focusing on American seamen during the first half of this century, young men who were learning to negotiate themselves within a macro context of national and international relations as they manifested on individual bodily levels. Seamen (merchant and military) acted as the primary hosts for the tattoo's immigration from East to West. Concurrently, they altered the symbolic valence of tattoos in America from carnival freak show exoticism to an ambivalent marginal signifier of militarism and national fantasy. In tracing these shifts, I will argue that the tattoo's meaning was fluid across and within the various groups who utilized the form and thus erased stable readings while marking unstable possibilities. I will therefore contend that for the military itself, the tattoo functioned to simultaneously transgress and maintain militaristic interpellation. For the seamen, the tattoo fetishistically marked a desire to perform a phallic masculinity and the anxiety of what such a performance might mean. As an object which is not an object and hence always and never really "there," the tattoo destabilized the military's heterosexuality, functioning to both access an experiential homosexual eroticism and refuse acknowledgment of that access by symbolically representing a stable heterosexual "manhood." For the American public, the tattoo spoke of exoticism and eroticism that was "troubling," but could be subsumed under the banner of a positive national symbolic. The tattoo functioned as a fetish object for national anxiety which affects, and is affected by, the individual military body's various relational positions, but especially by those Others outside the borders. While plotting this argument through the above questions, I will draw on Lauren Berlant's concept of national fantasy, M.M. Bakhtin's discussion of carnival, Teresa de Lauretis's version of the fetish, Judith Butler's arguments on masquerade, and Slavoj Zizek on the symbolic and the symptom for support.
Setting the Stage/Shaving the Skin: Historical Context
 Many efforts to discuss tattoos outside archeological or anthropological circles begin with Captain Cook and the stir he created when he returned to London from his second Pacific voyage in 1774 with Omai, a tattooed Raiatean "prince." Until this time, the tattoo had effectively disappeared from Western consciousness; though stories of strangely marked American Indians and Pacific Islanders were widely circulated, standard English had lost a word for the practice. In offering the curious vision of Omai, Cook also submitted the Polynesian word "tatau" and the effect produced, particularly within the sailing community, was an enthusiastic mimicry. Almost as soon as Western eyes saw tattoos, Western bodies began wearing them. From the time Captain Cook introduced the word tattoo in 1764 to the time his first mate, William Bligh, was captaining his own ship, The Bounty,tattoos were already figuring in common seafarer regalia. In fact, Bligh's hope of apprehending his ill-famed mutineers led him to compile a list of his crewmen's tattoos to aid in the identification of those who participated in the mutiny aboard The Bounty.2
 While this brief history offers its own intrigue, our time line fast forwards 120 years, to a period when tattoos had already gained a fixed, if unsteady, position within Western contexts on military and seafaring bodies. At the turn of this century, to be a sailor was primarily a trade occupation, but to protect those trade routes, and flex its imperialist muscles, American military forces were being built up. During the time of the Spanish-American war, America found itself in possession of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii and in a position to become involved in subsequent foreign wars. "Sailor" was thus becoming a duplicitous term signifying involvement in merchant and/or military activities aboard steam-powered vessels. Of these two exclusive groups, military sailors and merchant mariners, our focus is primarily directed to the military, but it will become important to separate the different viscosities between the fluid maneuvers of traveling for trade versus traveling for battle as each define a particular relationship with the Other. To maintain the centrality of this occupational doubling, I will typically use the term seamen, inflected with its homophonic other, semen, to conjure questions concerning what is carried, transmitted and transferred by fluidly moving bodies permanently stained by the Other of their military encounters.
 The rapidity with which America became engaged in military conflicts during the first half of the 20thcentury and the concurrent development of a tattoo discourse around military bodies creates a particularly rich period for interrogating tattoos. This was a hyper-realized moment of national fantasy. The discourse of the various war efforts so saturated America's sense of national sovereignty on the individual level that one could hardly slip quietly into some sublimated sense of national identity. Military advertising campaigns urged the purchase of war bonds, the conservation of resources, the planting of victory gardens; recruitment posters portrayed men of awe-inspiring virility. From presidents Wilson to Roosevelt to Truman, a public political language of "redemptive violence" and the purity of democracy was heard.
Also across this time, America's nineteenth century coding of tattoos was resolving itself with a curious amalgam of savagery, freakish inassimilable otherness, and military pride.
 Even prior to the invention of the electric tattoo machine in 1890, tattoos held an appeal among military populations primarily for identification purposes. When the Civil War broke out, for instance, a German immigrant, Martin Hildebrandt, packed up his Boston shop and headed south so he could be available to tattoo troops from both the North and the South. That soldiers and sailors should quickly recognize the tattoo as a useful form for identification is hardly surprising, given their transient lifestyles that sometimes made proof of citizenship or identity claims crucial to avoid imprisonment or impressment.3 Similarly, their choices in adopting familiar images-and frequently their own names-seems equally unproblematic. However, as electric tattoo machines became prevalent around 1900, and military and sailor bodies began to act as hosts for the immigration of this art form from the East to the West, the ability of the seaman-or the tattoo artist, for that matter-to translate the significance of the tattoo from the East to the West was not so sophisticated. Orientalist fantasies created an ambivalent bifurcation in the adoption, and co-option of the form; these bodies were becoming suspended in a conflictual space of a simultaneously assimilated and distilled representation of America and American masculinity-the strong arm of the collective body politic-and the unassailable Other, emblazoned with India ink.
 This tangle of perceptions surrounding tattoos in general and the bodies who bore these tattoos, in particular seamen's bodies, presents a peculiar critical difficulty noted by anthropologist Alfred Gell:
It is . . . impossible to make any clear distinctions between western ideas about tattooing which derive from educated perceptions of the practice as a characteristic of the 'ethnic other'-the tattooed native-versus perceptions of tattooing as a stigma of the 'class other'-i.e. the tattooed sailor or the tattooed criminal.4
If we relinquish Gell's desire for absolute clarity, what he sees as an impossibility may be seen more intriguingly as a Borromean knot: it may not be untangled or cut, but the threads potentially can be traced.
There was an ancient mariner...
 To produce a seasoned military seaman from a raw citizen is a complex process requiring a radical identifactory shift. The citizen's body and subjectivity are "already sutured to the public sphere," but from the moment his uniform is accepted, his body must add an additional layer of public performance, becoming a site of national identity that abandons the seemingly covert practice of being a member of the nation.5 Now, he must manifest an overt performance of and for that nation, assume a role that addresses both his country and Others. Further, his raison d'être is obedience: to act as his nation wishes through the mediation of the superiors who know. At the same time, the man does not simply become a machine. However interpellated into the military mechanism he may become, the fantasy of individual subjectivity so carefully instilled through the long process of becoming an American "citizen"-valuing individualism in its myriad guises-is an original move that cannot easily be erased. His relationship to the public consciousness, rooted in the schizophrenic space of belonging to a community of individuals, must shift to access a new political identity.
 In the first half of this century (though little has changed), American nationalist strength existed in a stereotyped embodiment of a white, heterosexual, male body. The idealized sense in which this body was metonymous with triumph and conquest did not erase the material experiential sense of being that body. To exist as what Berlant calls a "symbolized subject" for the public imagination has a profound impact on how one accesses national identity. What many feminist theorists have interrogated as an impersonation of the real in terms of women's material relationship to an idealized feminine form, was no less potent for the young men expected to transcend their identities in order to epitomize their nation. Thus, the "mnemotechnique-a form of collective identity that harnesses individual and popular fantasy"-resonated strongly for bodies that could directly access this fantasy space vis-à-vis their positions as screens for national projections. While the nation looked on admiringly, these men were unwittingly marched into the realm of the symbolic.6
 I have begun to argue that these military bodies were always already in a position of representation: they represented the fierceness of the nation in the context of wartime as well as the Others who exist, but fail as national representatives-specifically women, but also those who were otherwise "unfit" for military service. Within this space military bodies possess a kind of boundless identity capable of absorbing other identities while remaining stable on the pedestal of white male privilege. This representational system established by the military body operates therefore in three transferential relationships: to itself, to the world outside offered by America, and to America itself. Here I may re-frame a question I asked at the outset, "What were tattoos doing on all those bodies?" in terms of timing: Why was the tattoo's first widespread emergence on the bodies of those most beholden to the "national symbolic," those most firmly enmeshed in these tangled modes of representation?
 On a simple level, we may turn to Govenar's thesis delineating four basic reasons military men were drawn to tattoos: 1) To establish a camaraderie in a way "unauthorized" by the official military; 2) To "express devotion to wives, children, family, and country and ease the separation from home"; 3) To solidify a masculine ego in the face of the anxieties of war; and 4) To succumb to peer pressure.7 Rather than dispute these claims, each element can be unraveled in terms of the role it plays concerning the military body's staging within the national symbolic.
 Govenar's first reason, camaraderie building, is of course crucial for the military. Every military branch attempts to foster unity in its personnel through ritualized dressage: uniform clothing, hair, and physical training function together to bind the body not only to acquiescence but pride in the agendas such bonding serves. Coupled with the rigors of mental training, it may appear that no other efforts are necessary to create the military man. A wrinkle, however, is added by Zizek, who echoes Bataille when he argues that collective identity can be solidified through transgression of the law. One aspect of the military's need to restructure the man's relationship to the national symbolic is to create a creature who will adhere to all the taboos he had previously learned to live by, save one: he must learn to transgress the taboo against killing. The delicate task of re-negotiating social conditioning required something that could embody this impossible resolution, that could "triangulate contradictions": it required a fetish.8
 One should remember that before Freud the fetish was associated with an "excess of illicit agency"; it marked too much, not the "lack" that Freud thought he had discovered. Freud's notion of the fetish as a disavowal of the mother's castration and subsequent defense against one's own castration has become far more compelling and coherent in the work of sexuality theorists who hearken back to this more complicated meaning, so I will continue to speak in their terms rather than his. Teresa de Lauretis, for instance, argues that the fetish signifies desire as "a sign which both elides and remarks that separation in describingboth the object and its absence" (italics in original). In this configuration, the fetish is a narcissistic wound, a "lost object" that signifies "something that never existed in perception, or for which there is no perceptual memory." Here we may correlate the military tattoo with the taboo against killing, a "lost object" that has no existence of its own. Further, a contingency is established through the tattoo's form between the seaman's former civilian identity that is symbolically erased, then replaced, with a fantasized national identity.9
 For the military as a whole the tattoo functioned as a cultural fetish object. If we accept Heather Findlay's suggestion that a fetish can be produced through cultural rather than exclusively individual pains, then the functionalist effects of the tattoo explain the efforts by which tattoos were simultaneously encouraged and discouraged by the military. The military's access to the language of the national symbolic left their officials, clearly, in a conflicted position: on the one hand the tattoo was an icon of acquiescence, the popular images all spoke of military interpellation. Additionally, the tattooist's ink seemed to carry a libidinally charged infusion of masculinity. But as with any fetish, there was a catch to the military tattoo that required this acceptability to couple in complex contortions with disavowal. So on the other hand, tattoos disrupted the official story of a scrupulous and well-ordered fighting machine. While they increased a kind of bond, like graffiti on a wall, the tattoo marred the national body, spoke of "other" influences, and committed a kind of violence to the military's image of itself. The value of the tattoo left the military with an uncomfortable public/private split. To negotiate this space, the military performed its ambivalence on public and semi-private stages, shaping the situation into the simple issues Govenar describes above. For example, in its official capacity the Navy made gestures of disapproval against tattoos. One official line offered in 1919 argued that "modern" seamen were "more educated" and not as superstitious as their forerunners. Stories that stressed a decline in military tattooing circulated widely on personal and public levels. And by the beginning of World War I military authorities were actively attempting to discourage tattoos. One form of the Navy's active discouragement was to privately demand men get cover-up work for "distasteful" tattoos, a reproach that could later circulate as gossip.10 Or so the story goes . . . .
 Unofficially, the Navy had an intricate system for marking bodily history. Here's tattooist Stoney St. Clair to explain:
Sailors [i.e. those in the U.S. Navy] used to have names of every port tattooed on them, but you don't see that anymore. The old sailors, the old salts, used to get a rooster tattooed on one foot, pig on the other, so that they would never die by drowning, always swim to shore. Yeah, some used to get twin propellers, called twin screws, tattooed on their buttocks to propel them through the water.11
Various records also indicate the acquisition of anchor tattoos to signify time in the Atlantic and dragons to pronounce voyages in the Pacific. Though arguments would appear in official journals that tattooed men were "disciplinary problems," the most disciplined branch, the Marines, apparently recognized the degree to which tattoos served their interests; no official provisions against tattoos were made in the Marine Corps Personnel Procurement Manual despite the "expert advice."12
 On public levels, the same conflicted discourse was brewing as factually questionable information circulated in the popular media. Witness, for example, the contradiction between a 1935 article in the New York Times and a 1936 Life magazine article. The Times article reports an interview of "several hundred [sea]men who scoff at tattoos." Those interviewed who were tattooed "reluctantly admitted that they had subjected themselves to the tattooer's needle on their very first voyage so as to prove they were not sissies and could take it and also to impress the boys back home on their first return trip." Passed off on peer pressure, tattoos become unfortunate but understandable marks. However, one year later a Life magazine headlines proclaims "One in Ten Americans is Tattooed"-an excessive statistic, perhaps, but one the article links to "religion, sentiment, and patriotism." Four years later this story is followed by another celebratory photospread of a tattooed seaman's multiple tattoos: He smiles in the photo of an eagle spread on his chest, flexes the dragon raging across his back, and hold his hands together in a close-up displaying the traditional "H-O-L-D F-A-S-T" tattooed across his knuckles. Six years later, in 1946, the New York Times again offers a contradictory story reporting an informal poll that shows a decline in interest in tattoos: "those under 26 had successfully laughed down the picturesque tradition." In that same year, though, Boston's Mayor Curly was met with no laughter when he proudly displayed his tattooed back in public.13
 For the military to raise a tattooed arm against these practices is thus a purposefully self-contradictory move. The national symbolic caught up in tattoos managed to regulate desires with hegemonic enforcement that functioned almost perfectly even if each individual actor was not aware of his complicity. I have made similar arguments in other work that this transgression-that-maintains-interpellation functions in a like manner for the criminal populations that later also take on the tattoo as an identifying form for themselves. The criminal's tattoo may also be fetishistic, but unlike the criminal, the military's relationship to its social position is not one of negative, threatening marginalization, but a positively valenced marginalization that guards the social system's "vulnerable" margins/borders. The criminal and the military each support the other within this thin space of the fantasized edge. Gell succinctly articulates this phenomenon when he describes tattooing:
Tattooing is . . . a bodily code for registering social forces as part of the person on whom these social forces impinge, thereby creating a conceptual closure, a unity, out of what is, in fact, a relation of marginality and exclusion. Thus soldiers and sailors . . . tended to cover themselves with national flags, regimental badges, [etc.].14
 Though briefly stated, these media and military moments illustrate the cultural pulls in reading the public face of tattoos: tattoos mean tough, tattoos mean manly, tattoos mean worldly. They also signify the exotic, the other, the vain, and, most disturbingly, the one who passes for tough, manly and worldly without really being any of those. So, who is passing for what? What configuration of elements did tattoos represent in the national imagination as they became the exotic element of the military uniform?
 As tattooist Phil Sparrow (a.k.a. retired English professor Samuel Steward) noted when he first began tattooing, the "old salt" image of sailors he held, and expected to see in his tattoo parlor, was a far cry from the young boys who walked through his door. The recruits Sparrow tattooed in Milwaukee and Chicago in the 1950s were often enjoying their first liberty, their first pass from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. This clientele wanted to pass for seamen, to draw the symbolism of their uniforms into themselves and become the brave, cunning, rugged creatures their new-found status implied. To be a seaman certainly required the sea, but for these newcomers "a sailor wasn't a sailor until he'd been tattooed." Sparrow explains this notion was common among his clientele, though it tended to dissipate once a seaman was a "real" seaman; if one were in fear of accessing the reality of being a seaman, accessing the masquerade of being a seaman demonstrated a commitment. Like the masquerade of the transvestite, the uniform and the tattoo no more make a seaman that pumps and falsies make a woman: each problematizes the imaginary, in this case the "real" women and seamen that exists only within the realm of words and dreams. Whatever kinds of seamen those tattooed boys became one cannot say, but their attempt to iconically access their desires, to masquerade not with clothes, but skin, suggests a curious form of absorption into a symbolic order. Unlike Butler's transvestite who may engage in performance with variable levels of seriousness and commitment, the young men in Sparrow's tattoo parlor, like thousands of others in the first half of this century, were imaginatively facing what would become-in Korea, the Solomon Islands, Japan, the Philippine Islands-the real threat of war.15
National Masquerade: I See by Your Outfit that You are a(n American) Seaman
 If we correlate the tattoo with fashion, as Berlant suggests nationalism can be correlated with fashion, one premise widely accepted by the fashion industry becomes intriguing. The idea is that when international relations are friendly, the styles of one locale will be adopted by another; conversely, when relations are strained the Other's styles will become unpopular. When tattoos first found their way onto white bodies, relations seemed to radiate a heady excitement-at least as far as those native to the practice were willing to decontextualize their ritual images to include their new guests. The diversity of Tahitian tattooing, probably the first experienced by Westerners, made it possible for them to quickly adopt Westernized images. For most communities in which tattooing took place, however, Western relations were not so simple.16
 During the Japanese restoration of 1868, for instance, one of the concerns of the new central government was with Western perceptions of Japan. Fearing that tattoos would be seen as "barbaric," the practice-a 300-year-old tradition-was outlawed. Westerners, however, were intrigued by tattooing and though it was illegal for the Japanese to be tattooed, the ports of Yokohama and Kobe enjoyed a booming business tattooing foreign seamen. It should be noted that, as in America during the modern period, tattoos did not disappear from Japanese bodies, but were still obtained by members of marginal social groups, such as the infamous yakuza. By 1952, with the full force of the American occupation, tattooing was again legalized in Japan for Japanese citizens.17
 On one level, the exoticism of the tattoo became a potent signifier for the absorption and conquest of the Other during periods of conflict with the cultures for whom the practice was indigenous. The tattoo itself embodies the tension between what was a practice "of the Other" and the assimilative American's desire to prove having been to the Other and survived. The American fantasy of assimilation, of course, allows for both absorption AND conquest. How the other is conceived becomes an important element here, but I doubt any single attribute ascribed to otherness could account for military or national relations. Instead, we are most likely dealing with some combination of the factors theorists have used to discuss otherness: The Other is itself a "fetish" (Homi Bhabha), different (Trinh T. Minh-ha), a projection (Edward Said), an "embarrassed etc." (Judith Butler).18 As a projection/fetish/difference/etc., otherness can mean anything excessive. Consider the safe but exotic space of Hawaii, which was an American territory across these years. Ironically, a fact such as the disappearance of tattooing in indigenous Hawaiian cultures by the mid 1800s had little bearing on the other fact that for many military seamen in the Pacific a few short decades later, Hawaii was "the first strange place" and often marked the locale for one's first tattoo. Writing of the tattoo parlors clustered in Honolulu's Chinatown in the 1930s, Hardy comments: "The tattoo parlors were an integral part of this tropical, nautical scene, flush with an aura of the exotic, mysterious, forbidden." By World War II Hawaii offered young seamen the opportunity to fulfill the "old shore leave fantasy of getting 'Stewed, Screwed, and Tattooed'" to almost one million servicemen.19
 In this configuration, Hawaii figures as a crucial initiating space where one is mustering whatever elements of courage, skill, and moxie seem necessary for his forthcoming journey. In Hawaii one could don a mask of these "manly" characteristics and their attendant-specifically male-Orientalist politics without risk of reprisal or of being unmasked. Hawaii is home, Hawaii is Other. Said argues that the strength of othering arises from the ability to elide difference with weakness: "As a cultural apparatus Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, and knowledge." To become interpellated into this ideology through the authority of the military and its "strategic formation" of Orientalism, to use Said's term, was to absorb these elements for oneself.20
 To learn an Orientalist attitude in a racist society is hardly difficult, the mnemotechniques are already in place. I don't mean to suggest that Orientalist attitudes didn't or couldn't exist in a military formula without Hawaii as a testing ground. Instead, what is important here is that Hawaii was a space to learn to bodily negotiate national identity and Orientalist constructs. Specifically, the praxis is one of assimilating what seems to be the other's mark of strength and unity, the tattoo, and co-opting it as one's own mark for these attributes. The other's strength is thereby symbolically made one's own. Remember that during the first half of this century regionalism was a potent source for identity construction. Hawaii's rich mix of ethnic others, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Puerto Rican, meant that no one group was a majority. In Hawaii one could learn to fuse regional differences (North and South provide the broadest examples) through a common whiteness in the face of so many indistinct others who could simultaneously be and not be American. Racial and national otherness are imbricated in Hawaii, presenting a space where one must tangle with the implicit message embedded in the fantasy of a cohesive national identity: "Every nationalism is already a species of racism."21
 At the same time, whatever is distinctively meant by the tattoo for any other culture becomes irrelevant, subsumed under a vague understanding of tribal unity to which one now also has direct access. The military, as is well known, conceives itself as a kind of tribe, a harmonious community that functions with mechanistic precision. Like the numerous tribal cultures that have engaged in various body modifications in adherence to social strictures, "[t]hese outward, 'tribal' signs of loyalty to a young, provincial nation were worn with special awareness during and immediately following periods of war."22
To return to the fashion correlation in terms of tribal unity and Orientalism, we may note that across the span of the 20th century Western male fashions fluctuated only within a narrow margin that legitimized a strict conformity. Social psychologists read this masking of physical difference as a manifestation of a desire for security and a fear of alienation. While this masking of difference is visible on any city street, with the permanence of tattoo we might take this idea a step further. Butler argues that masquerade is "an appearing that makes itself convincing as a being."23 If masquerade is about masking, what happens when the mask lives within the skin and can never be removed? One's investment in the game cannot be shucked off in any effort to expose "the real"; the real and the symbolic become fused in the imaginary. That is, what is ostensibly real or what a symbol specifically refers to are both lost in the vagaries of imagination. As it would appear, one is no longer masquerading as a member of the tribe, one indeed is a member.
 During WW2 between 300 and 500 men declared their tribal affinity each day via the 33 tattooists in Hawaii. To take one example, "Sailor" Jerry Collins, one of the first American tattooists who thought of his work as an art form, tattooed across several decades in Hawaii. Collins' vision of tattooing was to "synthesize the best aspects of East and West into a dynamic and spectacular new form": the Eastern tattooist Other was a source with whom to share artistry.24 For most tattooists, however, the tattoo's liquid position within the East/West relationship suggested one more way to make a buck. Here we find the tattooed other of Orientalism smudged with another residue-that of the freak at the carnival.
Step Right Up, Don't be Shy...
"Everyone wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them."
– Ray Bradbury, "The Illustrated Man"
 The carnival origins in which so many tattoos were seen and acquired demands scrutiny for what it may tell us about America's compulsions and revulsions toward tattoos. In the mid 1800s traveling carnivals were gaining popularity in America and began to expand their repertoire, which included featuring tattooed "freaks." Typically, the patter offered by these tattooed performers revolved around being captured by some "heathen" tribe who allowed them to live on the condition that they submit to being tattooed.25 Of course, the "real" story more likely resembled that of Omi, the retired soldier who adopted the name of Cook's "prince" and had his face and body tattooed with Maori designs so that he could make a living despite his limited skills.
 With the advent and subsequent easy access to the electric tattoo machine, by 1900 it became additionally possible to acquire tattoos at carnivals. The see-the-freak=be-the-freak correlation offered an entrance into the exotic closer to home, and people lined up to submit their skin to the curious combination of electricity and ink that produced art. In the single action of getting a tattoo people could access the cyborg thrill of a direct bodily experience with electricity, along with a pseudo-empathy with the exoticism of the otherness of the tattoo, and a display of bravery where the only immediate stake seemed to be a bit of bright color in the skin. The phenomenon of the carnival bound tattoos to the fantasized spaces of bravery and exoticism in a way that was partially responsible for the ambivalent reception of the tattooed body.
 The carnival, as Bakhtin or carni tattooist Stoney St. Clair will tell us, offers a participatory adventure. For Bakhtin, whose discussion of the medieval carnival scene has taught us so much about the modern one, carnival "belongs to the borderline between art and life." One does not simply observe at a carnival, one becomes caught up in the play, lost in amusements and terrors, suspended in the incongruity of horror and thrill. Similarly, the modern carnival used every trick possible to encourage participation, not spectacle. Barkers called out to passerbys from carousels, funhouses, and rigged games, the scents of caramel and popcorn hung heavy in the air. Even the canvas of show tents remained suspended high enough to reveal the feet of those "inside" the show to beckon others in. For the brief moments spent inside the alluring mix of the carnival one had access to "a second world outside officialdom," a hegemonically sanctioned "outlet for repressed social jouissance."26
 Bakhtin's chronicling of the changing face of carnival ends in the 20th century with a sense of the grotesque not unlike that of the medieval folk carnival. The grotesque binds together senses of death and birth, it "seeks to grasp in its imagery the very act of becoming and growth, the eternal incomplete unfinished nature of being."27 This relationship between the grotesque and carnival informs the carnival tattoos in two ways. On one level, the tattoo-as-form is grotesque. One cannot, for instance, focus too long on the process: a needle enters the skin thousands and thousands of times relentlessly, depositing inks that can never be erased, inks that will fade and blur with age; the image will be with you until the day you die and will then die with you. By the nature of its permanence, the tattoo is an icon of transition: we change, we die. As such, it provides a powerful fetish object for military bodies to negotiate the possibility of killing and the possibility of dying. The needle arrives like a koan, with some inexplicable riddle that asks for acknowledgment of one's own mortality. Such a demand, posed to the body in the swirl of lights and laughter, the shrieks and spectacle that is the carnival, creates an experiential grotesque. In part, perhaps, this explains why tattooists frequently note that the common occurrence of fainting occurs not because of the pain from tattooing but before the process begins, because of the customer's thoughts.
 On another level, the atmosphere of the carnival that suspends the exterior world forms the suggestion that one is, at least temporarily, suspended from the ramifications of the real world. One can indulge fantasies at a carnival, fantasies of transcendence of the real. This aspect plays back into the seafarer's desire to claim mastery over the enemy others and his circumstances. For these men we might imagine the tattoo as artifactual: they have consented to be seamen, a bodily investment, and in so doing turn their bodies into artifacts of that consent. Here, as in Hawaii, there is no risk. One can imaginatively access a performance and sew that performance into the skin so that even when the show is over, a trace of participatory grotesque remains. After leaving the carnival, or war, the tattoo speaks of having "really" been there.
Masculine Masquerade: When I Woke Up There was this Tattoo on My Arm...
 The carnival atmosphere arguably permeated tattoo experiences outside its heady domain. Within the carnival one had the safety of play to mask, or indeed repress, the seriousness of one's actions. One could emerge from the carnival with a tattoo and any censure directed toward the tattoo could be redirected toward the saturnalia of the carnival in the classic, or clichéd, excuse "I was drunk." But in fact, tattooists, regardless of their moral character, typically refuse to tattoo drunks for the simple fact that one does not have full muscular control when drunk. To say, "I lost control of my body" in the context of a tattoo is therefore absurd; one cannot lose control while simultaneously retaining enough control to sit still under a needle. The defensive words, however, remain. One may not have been drunk, but the implications of bodily relinquishment and of an altered state are valid. The fearful problem occurs in reconciling one's own bodily control with the absolution of control in the hands of the tattooist.
 The military masquerade is already laden with comfortably "out" fetishes like shiny boots and belt buckles. When we consider the erotic valence surrounding the acquisition of a tattoo, their unofficially sanctioned tattoo fetish explains its own disavowal. To illustrate, during the 1950s Sam Steward/Phil Sparrow conducted a haphazard but intriguing study for the Kinsey Institute. Return clients were posed the question: "People generally do four things after a first tattoo . . . They either get drunk or get in a fight, or get a piece of ass, or go home and stand in front of a mirror and jack off. What did you do?" Within the often gruff world of tattoo parlors the audacity required to ask such a question is commonplace, and it isn't surprising that many people did not deign to answer. Over the years, however, 3,500 did. Over 1,700 said they went out and "fucked a girl," over 600 "got into a fight," 1,000 "got drunk," and 900 "masturbated while admiring their new tattoo."28
 These responses indicate that the carnival atmosphere is not a prerequisite for a sense of it to occur: indeed, the "carnival principle is indestructible. Though narrowed and weakened, it still continues to fertilize various areas of life and culture." Sparrow seems to suggest that the process of tattooing simulates this atmosphere: "For a little while one can almost notice a lingering incense as the dingy shop becomes a sort of shadowed confessional." The religious language of the parlor-turned-confessional I read here as a close relative of the carnival, particularly since it occurs within the discussion of visceral responses proceeding from the tattoo act. No less, the suspensions of time and injunction occur both in the confessional, where one is absolved, and in the carnival, where one is immune.29
 Returning to Sparrow's "statistics," his reading of them is as interesting as the numbers. He suggests that each of these responses "reflected the feeling of manliness that accompanies the new tattoo." All of these responses-drinking, fucking, fighting, masturbating-result almost universally, however, from an experience with another man (I find records of only two female tattoo artists working at this time). Within the confines of conventional thinking at the time, these activities would be read as homoerotic-and thus they were not read at all. Of the three references I find to homosexuality and tattooing written during the time period of this discussion, the homoerotic element is only briefly mentioned, not analyzed. Albert Parry's 1933 landmark study of American tattoo practices merely notes that the "very process of tattooing is essentially sexual" citing the "long needles" eliciting "pleasure and pain" between "active and passive participants." How could vast numbers of the military machine be flagrantly engaging in activities with such a clear element of homoeroticism?30
 We may, but only as a one approximation, view the tattoo as a literal and figurative "stain," the "leftover" of which Zizek speaks. He argues:
[T]his leftover, far from hindering the full submission of the subject to the ideological command, is the very condition of it: it is precisely this non-integrated surplus of senseless traumatism that confers on the Law its unconditional authority. (italics in original)31
The tattoo creates a safety valve for expressing physical bonds of intimacy toward a community of men in a (homo)erotic but communally sanctioned, and distinctly unofficial form. Additionally, these men either had experienced, or-more likely-were expecting to experience, the carnival-with-consequences that is battle. Their self-definition as normative soldiers or seamen was caught up in the indeterminacy of how they would act in crisis, not only for themselves, but also for their compatriots who will be relying on them. Their hopes are illustrated in the words of one solider who managed to "perform" during battle:
It was as if I myself could feel every jolt that shook the metal parts of the gun as a bullet slicing into warm, living human bodies. A wicked pleasure; was I now perhaps one with the weapon? Was I not a machine-cold metal?
In reality, however, the danger that one will fall apart is as ever present as the danger of enemy attack. During World War II, for instance, Jean Bethke Elshtain explains, "the fear of killing, rather than the fear of being killed was the most common cause of battle failure." An argument of Kaja Silverman's also becomes valuable in this context. In discussing Freud's concept of war trauma, Silverman argues for a distinction between "those neuroses that are motored by a repressed desire, and are hence obedient to the pleasure principle, and those which are produced in response to an external event . . . ." Here, of course, we are focused on both forms of neurosis: a repressed desire for erotic bonding and a response to the external reality of warfare. If the information I've pieced together is accurate, the military tattoo experiences proliferated primarily during the beginning of one's service history. This time frame suggests that the tattoo can be read as a symbolic representation of a shared fear/desire to meet the demands made by constructions of phallic masculinity. When these demands are experienced bodily with kill-or-be-killed stakes, one might imagine that the pain/pleasure of the tattoo enacts the excited expectation of a fight-or-flight liminality. The ostensibly stable binaries of fear/desire, kill/die, pain/pleasure, fight/flight range freely among and between their opposites.32
What Does the Military Man Want?
 Reading the seaman's tattoo as a slippery signifier, Zizek's "stain" and Silverman's "neurosis," one more layer needs to be unfolded, the tattoo as military fetish object. I tie these three conceptual fields together despite the rough edges created because the tattoo is at once an object and not an object, a thing and nothing. Due to the tattoo's liminality, a clearer expression may be to define the tattoo within a matrix of neurosis, fetish, and stain. The neurosis is what the fetish rests upon and the interplay, or gap, between them is marked by the stain, which is the tattoo. More concretely stated, the fear and exhilaration over invading the other's territory, the male body and the foreign country, becomes fetishized-acknowledged and sublimated-in the ink invading the skin. The following two scenes should illustrate this connection.
 Particularly for the men about to encounter battle, the "lost object" of the military precisely demands access to phallic masculinity that is caught up in the desire "to be" versus "to have." Since Freud, this be-the-phallus/have-the-phallus dichotomy has been constructed around issues of male and female desire in which only the male's neurosis can lead to a fetish. For the communities under discussion where there were few (and if shipboard no) women, these two positions of desire collapse in on each other. Not only is the difference doubled and erased, it is done so publicly, in full view of the "Law." This suggestion returns us to Findlay's culturally produced fetish in which neurosis can be experienced by a group and maintained through a hegemonically enforced need. New York tattooist Sam O'Reilly, captures an exemplary scene with robust sentimentality:
The glory of a man-o'-war in Santiago or elsewhere was to be stripped to his waist, his trousers rolled up to his knees, his white skin profusely decorated with tattoos, begrimed with powder, they were the men to do or die. Brave Fellows! Little fear had they of shot and shell, amid the smoke of battle and after the scrub down they gloried in their tattoos.33
This glory, with its intense public and private dimensions of fighting together and alone, basking together and alone, casts these men as their own fetish (non)objects.
 Combine this scene with a return to the tattoo parlor where Sparrow writes unabashedly about "the love affair between artist and customer" with a tone reminiscent of some aging prostitute. He describes the "quiet if rather intense" relationship established through "the double meaning of sexual talk": "I tried to make every one of them feel that for the moment at least he was the most important person in the world." With first time customers he quipped, "A virgin! I'm gonna get your cherry!" And just like the prostitute, he would listen to their stories: "This freedom in talking, this unhindered revelation and trust was perhaps the single most astonishing thing noted during all the long years of tattooing." Assuming that Sparrow's experiences are typical, as I do, we witness here a moment that for some may well be the birth of a fetish. The pristine skin: lack, lost object, lost innocence; the neurosis: confession, male hysteria, the Other, participation in the national fantasy; the tattoo: the stain, the militarily formed national symbolic.34
 Not only are tattoos erotic and potentially fetishistic from an experiential level, they also visually mark a conflation of nationalism and sexuality. I'd like to return to a partial quote I offered from Gell earlier on seamen's choices of tattoo imagery and complete it:
Thus soldiers and sailors . . . tended to cover themselves with national flags, regimental badges, plus sundry female figures, identified as mothers, girlfriends, wives, etc. so as to create an enveloping social matrix as a symbolic surrogate for the domestic envelope which their circumstances in life made it impossible for them to develop satisfactorily.
What Gell's brief reading illustrates is a "heterofamilial fetish of national culture" that encourages tattoos to be seen as marks of familial desire-even though that clashes with the images of the actual tattoos. Certainly, the idea of the specific "symbolic surrogate" is intriguing, but no evidence exists in Gell's text or elsewhere that the women displayed on sailor's arms were typically identified as "mothers, girlfriends, and wives." Some seamen may have found skilled tattooists who could render the face of a loved one on the skin, but typically these images were chosen from flash off the tattooist's wall and could therefore more accurately be said to represent a kind of amorphous desire, not a specific person. Flash designers, like "Sailor" Jerry Collins and C. H. Fellowes, along with other tattooists who designed their own flash, rarely ever considered their work to suggest specific people. Their images ran toward naked women, women draped in flags or other patriotic regalia, dancing girls, and the popular "Lady Luck" or "Man's Ruin" images in which a female form was surrounded by booze bottles, dice and cards.35
 If any woman may be recognized in tattoos, she would be the American woman-as-icon with the greatest cultural currency-on and off skin-the creation of Peruvian painter, Alberto Vargas. Vargas, who came to fame in America as the exclusive painter for the Ziegfeld Follies, regularly produced images of film starts and models (his favorite was his wife), for Esquire magazine in the 1930s and 40s, then for Playboyfrom 1960-1975. During World War II American GIs carried-again, on paper and skin-those images fromEsquire. Elizabeth Broun, who directs the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, writes of Americans bonding around the Vargas girls. Even as she notes American diversity, she writes: "A generation of Americans recognized in his work their own image of the American Dream." A Vargas Girl was everybody's girl.36
 Still, Gell, Govenar, and Burg all offer separate readings of women tattoo images as familial or loving. Burg even goes so far as to categorize tattoos of naked women bound in chains as images of "love."37 Here we have another example of how official language can sublimate the otherwise overtly erotic. It is perhaps significant that my examples here are drawn from "scholarly" texts: even scholars can unreflexively cast these tattoos in terms which maintain the status quo of a protective military guarding an innocent citizenry. The absence of women within the ranks of the military allows the military to construct home, the country, as female. Seamen with these particular tattoos turned into carriers for "endangered national identity" through both form-the Other's art-and content-the image of woman.
Show You Care: Tattoo (W)Home(n) on Your Arms.
 On another level, however innocuous or wild each of these tattooed female figures may have been, their existence was cast in the light of the lonely and virile seaman denied the "company of women" for the greater good of his country. These images spoke of his absence from his country in terms which defined that country as a place of "sexual citizenship."38 Because he was officially denied a sex life as a seaman, his sex life, as I mentioned earlier, became public, not private. His lack was for the country; his heterosexual yearnings could be marked proudly. What would have been an improper display on the average citizen became a national symbol conflating masculine heterosexual eroticism with military pride.
 In light of these various factors, what may be considered a heterosexual or homosexual eroticism seems almost a moot point-except that such points are culturally defined with grave seriousness. If the military appreciated the irony behind their erotic elements, they certainly kept straight faces. Consider, for example, the 1955 study conducted at a VA hospital and an unrelated 1965 follow-up that both concluded that tattooed men have "greater difficulties in heterosexual adjustment" than their non-tattooed counterparts. No one associated with these studies, or the military journal from which I draw this information, seemed to appreciate the information appearing on the same page: an estimated 65% of Navy personnel were tattooed during World War II.39 Are we to conclude that 65% of the Navy had "difficulty in heterosexual adjustment"? Though this phrase is used twice within the essay, "adjustment" is never defined. Compare this official stance with the more recent "don't ask, don't tell" policy the military has adopted. Steven Zeeland argues provocatively, "the secret motivation for Pentagon remonstrations against the presence of 'avowed' homosexuals might be a desire to protect homoerotic military rituals, homosexual lifestyles, and covert military male-male sex from the taint of sexual suspicion."40 I offer this duplicitous token to suggest that the conditioning, official and unofficial, that creates a military body is a performance to the same extent that the body being conditioned responds. If the veracity of the Navy's studies is to be believed, then the borders played with in times of war are not only on soil, but also those culturally inscribed on the body. While the military body could access a covert gaming with the cultural borders between homosexual and heterosexual, self and other, carnival and war, and elide women with the nation, their play kept the fantasized sovereignty intact at home in a mist of strong, straight, masculine (read heterosexual) bodies protecting the body politic.
In the scopic gaze of the people back home, even when the tattoo images weren't obviously erotic, the tattoos eroticized the military body. The uniformed military body was already alluring in its suspension of danger and control. We may note, for instance, the cliché about "men in uniform" for which there is no apparent referent apart from an unarticulated lust. This lust, however, is sanctioned by the uniform-the tattoo says such impressions go farther, tying the body more securely to the seduction of the position it holds. As such, this is different from the staid eroticism of the uniform; the tattoo spoke of the primal bodily experience of military demands and pleasures, the unquestionably masculine travel-to-exotic-locals-and-kill-people reality. The tattoo is again suspended in the fetish/neurosis/stain matrix. War and its attendant possibilities become the neurosis, the military body is the fetish, and the stain is again the tattoo that marks the body with the disturbances of military experience.
- A study by Hamburger et al published in Military Medicine(1959) estimates 65 per cent of U.S. Navy personnel were tattooed during WW II. For additional statistics and a breakdown of placement, etc. see R.W.B. Scutt and Christopher Gotsch Art, Sex, and Symbol: The Mystery of Tattooing (New York: Cornwall Books1974), pp. 89-96. back
- Harriet Guest, "Curiously Marked: Tattooing, Masculinity, and Nationality in Eighteenth-Century British Perceptions of the South Pacific," Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850, Ed. John Barrell (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992), pp. 101-2. B.R. Burg., "Tattoo Designs and Locations in the Old U.S. Navy," Journal of American Culture 2 (1994): pp. 69-75. back
- Robert Jewett, The Captain America Complex: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism, (Philadelphia: Westminster P, 1973), p. 169. Alan B. Govenar and Leonard St. Clair, Stoney Knows How: Life as a Tattoo Artist, Tattooing Since 1928, (Louisville: University of Kentucky, 1981) p. xv. Also see Spider Webb, Spider Webb's Pushing Ink, with Marco Vassi, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979) p. 23. B.R. Burg, "Tattoo Design," p. 71. back
- Alfred Gell, Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 10. back
- (Lauren Berlant, The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life, (Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1991) p. 34. back
- Berlant National Fantasy pp. 5-8. back
- Govenar Stoney Knows How pp. xx-xxi. back
- Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Trans. Alan Sheridan, (New York: Vintage, 1979) p. 136. Slavoj Zizek, Metastases of Enjoyment, (London: Verso, 1994) p. 20. Anne McClintock, "The Return of Female Fetishism and the Fiction of the Phallus," New Formations 19 (1994): pp. 1-21. back
- McClintock "Return of Female Fetishism" p. 5. Teresa de Lauretis, The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire, (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994) p. 129, 131. back
- Heather Findlay, "Freud's 'Fetishism' and the Lesbian Dildo Debates," Out in Culture, (Durham: Duke UP, 1995) p. 338. See Albert Parry Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art, (New York: Macmillan, 1971 ) pp. 87-89; Alan Govenar Stoney Knows How p. xviii; Samuel Steward, Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks 1950-1965, (New York: Harrington Park, 1990) p. 66. back
- Govenar Stoney Knows How p. 104. back
- Regarding popular tattoo images in the military see Burg "Tattoo Designs" p. 72; Albert Parry Tattoo p. 80. For an example of this expert advise see Jim Earls and Hester Ruport, "Tattooed Sailors: Some Sociopsychological Correlates," Military Medicinens. 132. 1 (1967): pp. 48-53. back
- See"Tattoos Shunned by Young Seamen," New York Times, 4 Aug. 1935. sec. 2: 8; "One in Ten Americans Tattooed," Life, April, 1936: 10; "Tattoos Cover Acres of U.S. Sailor Skin," Life, October, 1940: 27; "Poll Shows Tattoo Interest Declining" New York Times1946. sec. 2:3. back
- Gell Wrapping in Images p. 27. back
- Steward Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos pp. 101, 112. back
- For Lauren Berlant's argument regarding fashion and nationalism (with Elizabeth Freeman) see "Queer Nationality,"Fear of a Queer Planet, Ed. Michael Warner, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993) p. 195. On nationalism and fashion trends see Marilyn J. Horn, The Second Skin: An Interdisciplinary Study of Clothing, (Boston: Hougton Mifflin, 1968) p. 226. Regarding the adoption of tattoos from Polynesian cultures see Alfred Gell Wrapping in Images p. 123. back
- See John Thayer, "Tattoos," Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, 7: 350-1, and Donald McCallum, "Historical and Cultural Dimensions of the Tattoo in Japan," Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body, Ed. Arnold Rubin. (Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1988) p. 124. back
- See Homi K. Bhabha, "The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse," The Sexual Subject: A Screen Reader in Sexuality, (New York: Routledge, 1992) p. 320; Trihn T. Minh-ha,Woman Native Other,(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); Edward Said, Orientalism, (London: Penguin Books, 1991); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, (New York: Routledge, 1990) p. 143. back
- On tattooing in Hawaii see Alfred Gell Wrapping in Images p. 285; Beth Bailey and David Farber, The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press 1992) pp. 26-29; Don Ed Hardy, Sailor Jerry Collins, American Tattoo Master, (Honolulu: Hardy Marks Publications, 1995) pp. 18-19. back
- Said Orientalism pp. 204-206, 20. back
- See Bailey First Strange Place, p. 133; Zizek Metastases p. 79. back
- C.H. Fellowes, Tattoo Book, (Princeton NJ: Pyne P, 1971 ) p. 11. back
- For a discussion of general psychological readings regarding the physical masking of alienation see Horn The Second Skin p. 198; for Butler's reading see Gender Trouble p. 47. back
- See Bailey First Strange Place p. 105; Hardy Sailor Jerry Collins p. 21. back
- Govenar Stoney Knows How p. xvi. back
- M.M. Bahktin, Rabelais and His World, (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1968) p. 6, pp. 5-40; also see Govenar Stoney Knows How p. 35. back
- Bahktin Rabelais p. 52. back
- Steward Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos pp. 40-42. back
- On carnival see Bahktin Rabelais p. 34; on the tattoo parlor see Steward Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos p. 41. On the phenomenon of tattooing shipmates while at sea see Burg. "Tattoo Designs" p. 74. back
- Steward Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos p. 41; Parry Tattoo p. 2. For representative interviews on the blurring of gender-specific sexual desire in the military, see Steven Zeeland, Sailors and Sexual Identity: Crossing the Line Between "Straight" and "Gay" in the U.S. Navy, (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995). back
- Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, (London: Verso, 1989), p. 43. back
- Klaus Teweleit collects the voices of many German military men in Male Fantasies, Vol. 2, Trans. Erica Carter and Chris Turner, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1989), p. 179. Jean Bethke Elshtain,Women and War, (New York: Basic Books, 1987), p. 207; Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity on the Margins, (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 60. back
- Quoted in Fellowes Tattoo Book p. 57. back
- Steward Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos pp. 99-102. back
- Gell Wrapping in Images p. 27; Lauren Berlant. "Live Sex Acts." Feminist Studies ns. 21.2 (1995): 379-404. back
- Elizabeth Broun, Alberto Vargas: The Legacy Nudes, Comp. K. C. DenDooven, (San Francisco: San Francisco Art Exchange, 1998), p. 12. back
- Burg "Tattoo Designs" p. 71. back
- Berlant "Live Sex" p. 402. back
- Earls "Tattooed Sailors: Some Sociopsychological Correlates" pp. 48-49. back
- Zeeland Sailors and Sexual Identity p. 4. back