Fannish tattooing and sacred identity

Bethan Jones

Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—Pleasure is an important motivation for fans to adopt texts. Fannish tattoos function to demonstrate affective investments in a text; they are also a performance of fandom and an example of sacred fan identity. Like engaging in cosplay or wearing clothing that features logos, fannish tattoos mark people as fans of a text. Furthermore, the more obscure the logo or fannish reference, the more performative the tattoo. Fannish tattoos help to construct a sacred fan identity. The sacred experience (as theorized by Émile Durkheim and his concept of the totem) is imbued with meaning through choices that set it aside from the mundane. Within the context of fannish tattoos, fan affect gains similar significance.

[0.2] Keywords—Émile Durkheim; Identity; Performance; Totem

Jones, Bethan. 2015. "Fannish Tattooing and Sacred Identity." In "Performance and Performativity in Fandom," edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul J. Booth, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 18.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Awareness of fannish tattoos seems to have become increasingly common in more mainstream circles recently: Buzzfeed regularly posts lists of tattoos inspired by film, television, music, and books (see;;, Inked Magazine ran a feature on geeky tattoos which included Star Wars, Batman, and the Penguin publishing company ( and the BBC Web site has recently reported on Brazilian soccer fans copying their idols' tattoos ( In a similar way, the fannish practice of cosplay has begun to receive more mainstream and academic attention, but unlike cosplay, academic work on fan tattoos is lacking. Given the resurgence of interest in the emotional connections that fans have to texts and the role that affect plays (Sandvoss 2013; wordplay 2014; Chin and Morimoto 2013), this is surprising.

[1.2] The act of tattooing is, as Daniel Rosenblatt notes, an act of expression: "individuals seek to express and reclaim themselves through the act of getting a tattoo; the design of the tattoo should ideally reflect some aspect of the self that is otherwise without public expression or is repressed by our society" (1997, 310). Although society at large is becoming more aware of fandom, fans, particularly those of specific genres or celebrities, are still treated with something approaching disdain by many critics (Jones 2012). While it may be a mistake to argue that fans are repressed, nonetheless some forms of fandom are more accepted than others—wearing full team kit to watch a favorite football team play sports, for example, is considered the norm in many countries, while attending a comic convention in full cosplay is considered strange—despite similar affective relationships with the two fannish texts. Craig Norris and Jason Bainbridge note in their study of cosplayers that the wearing of "T-shirts or caps with logos such as the Autobot or Decepticon insignias from the Transformers…[is] connected to a more general otaku experience, marking out people as fans of a certain manga/anime property" (2009). I would suggest, however, that the fan tattoo is an expression of the fannish self that exists at a deeper level than simply clothes or accessories can demonstrate. Discussing his Star Trek tattoo, Andy Balkus writes:

[1.3] I got this because Star Trek has been my moral compass since early childhood. Both The Original Series and The Next Generation spoke to me and really shaped my outlook on life. It lead me into a life of public service, including The Marine Corps and law enforcement. Sure, they got a little preachy from time to time (thanks Wesley Crusher) but it's way simpler and a lot more forgiving than any established religion. (

[1.4] The fannish tattoo is thus imbued with more meaning, a more affective relationship, than wearing an item of Star Trek clothing would be, and I would suggest that this can be analyzed in relation to Émile Durkheim's concept of the totem and sacred identity. In The Elemental Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim analyzes the totemism of Australian tribes in order to understand the essential features of religion. He records that sacred totem animals or plants individual to each clan are represented by stylized images drawn on stones and wooden objects and that these images are emblems of the clan in much the same way that a flag is an emblem of a country or a logo is an emblem of a sports team. He further argues, however, that members of clans with sacred totems are also sacred as they possess some of the same essence as the totem. Thus when a member of the Kangaroo clan describes himself it is not as a member of the Kangaroo clan but as a kangaroo. Durkheim writes that "identity in name is presumed to entail an identity in nature…For the primitive, the name is not simply a word, a mere combination of sounds; it is part of the being and, indeed, an essential part. When a member of the Kangaroo clan calls himself a kangaroo, he is in a sense an animal of that species" (1995, 134). Using Grossberg's notion of affect as being "closely tied to what we often describe as the feeling of life" (1992, 56) I would suggest that the Kangaroo clan's relationship to their totem can be described as an affective one, and in a similar way I would argue that members of fandom describe themselves as being part of a community represented by a totemic emblem of that fandom. Doctor Who fans, for example, refer to themselves as Whovians (their emblem or totem would, of course, be the TARDIS); fans of The X-Files refer to themselves as Philes (and adopt the series' distinctive X as their totem). In a similar way to the tribes that Durkheim studied, fans can become part of communities or clans which are not familial but nevertheless can represent a civic family and can find meaning from within the clan and their affective relationship to its totem.

[1.5] I do not wish to conflate fandom and religion here or suggest that fandom replaces religion. As Mark Duffett writes, Durkheim's work "rests on a distinction between the sacred and the profane that seems inappropriate when applied to commercial music or other forms of popular culture" (2013, 150). However in fandom, as with religion, the social experience is foregrounded. Michael Serazio notes that sports players "unknowingly indulge in this mythology [that the team (god) is us (society)] when they dote upon the vacuous old sports cliché: 'We couldn't have won this without the fans'" (2013, 306), and a community feeling is foregrounded in events like football games, concerts, and conventions. My interest in Durkheim here, however, is not in his concept of communitas as applied to fandom. Rather, I examine his concept of the totem in relation to fannish tattoos and examine how these can relate to a sacred fannish identity. I begin by analyzing Durkheim's concept of the totem and the sacred and examine the ways in which this can apply to fandom. I then draw on fans' accounts of their own fannish tattoos and assess these through a Durkheimian lens. Finally I analyze fannish tattoos as performances of fandom and relate this to the performances of totemism that Durkheim observed in Australian tribes. I argue that Durkheim's concept of the collective totem can be applied to fan tattoos through the fannish text being analyzed as a totem and fandom as a symbolic community. I further suggest that the role that narrative plays in fandom and individuals' fannish histories is recorded and replicated through the fannish tattoo, which evokes both a personal, individual biography as well as a collective fannish memory.

2. Methodology

[2.1] This article draws on quotes from a number of fans who have fan-related tattoos and have sent photographs and narratives of these to the Web site The site, launched in 2008, is a collection of geeky tattoos (a broadly defined category, as the site's tags demonstrate. The word geeky encompasses anime and manga, science, computers, gaming, Internet memes, books, and TV, among others) curated from other sources online and through submissions received by fans who are aware of the site. There are 46 separate categories on the site, including generic categories, such as gaming, computers, and science, and specific categories including Star Wars, paleontology, Doctor Who, and World of Warcraft. The site's most popular tags are displayed on the right hand side of each page and include Star Wars, Super Mario Brothers, and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (all of which are categories in their own right) as well as Battlestar Galactica, Pokemon, and Star Trek (which do not exist as separate categories).

[2.2] The quotes used in this article were taken solely from user-submitted narratives of fan tattoos. The site contains a disclaimer that by submitting a picture, individuals acknowledge that they are the owner of the photo and have full permission to distribute it; they also grant the site a nonexclusive copyright license to publish and distribute the photo: "In short you're telling us it's ok to post and distribute your photo" ( Individual posts on publicly accessible Internet pages are considered to be within the public domain, but James E. Porter (1998) argues that precedents for treating any and all Internet writing with integrity in research situations must be established and that it is methodologically valuable to treat every post as writing and every poster as a writer. The site contains no way to contact the owner of the photograph, but I treat their submission to the site following the site's submission guidelines as permission to quote from their narratives.

3. Ritual, totemism, and the sacred

[3.1] A Durkheimian approach to fandom has been utilized by several scholars who have analyzed the rituals and practices inherent in fannish engagements with texts and celebrities (Rojek 2001; Löbert 2012; Serazio 2013; Duffett 2013). Durkheim's interest in religion was in its roots as the genesis of the social system rather than in its metaphysical truth. Religion worked when social groups shared a set of beliefs that separated what was sacred from what was profane, and religion was above all about community. Anja Löbert, in her analysis of Cliff Richard fans, notes the importance that Durkheim places on rites, which order and reproduce the sacred and profane. She argues that the pop concert can be seen as a rite, with the performer constituting the object of ritual as "he fulfils all the conditions required to do justice to the belief system of his fans" (2012, 131). Furthermore, the concert becomes a primary interaction ritual and is a sacred place, existing in a different place from the profane life before or after the concert. Chris Rojek (2001, 56) also locates the concert as a site for "collective effervescence," a state of popular excitement, frenzy, or ecstasy, for which Durkheim proposed that religious ceremony provided an outlet. Marci D. Cottingham also draws on Durkheim's concept of the sacred in her argument for group symbols as sacred objects, citing Steelers fans' Terrible Towel as one example: "Fans do not use the towel for any utilitarian purpose; rather it is a prop to be waved during games and may be displayed as a decorative item on walls in homes, offices and public places. Opponents have been known to step on a Terrible Towel, or use it as an ordinary towel…in an effort to gloat or taunt players and fans" (2012, 177).

[3.2] Durkheim's concept of the totem has similarly been adopted for use in fan studies. In his article discussing Elvis fans, Mark Duffett writes that "star performers do seem to have a totemic function in generating fan engagements. The moments of effervescence they stimulate are visible at concerts and these events in turn create new fans" (2012, 2). Indeed, musicians have been referred to as totemic objects by several writers (Martin 1979; Riley 2005; Till 2010), but Duffett points out that applying Durkheim to fandom can be problematic, not least because the totem decides what is sacred and what is profane (2012, 3). He argues that an alternative way by which we can frame fandom is to use a neo-Durkheimian approach, which replaces the sacred/profane dichotomy "with a continuum between: being distant with the star and being intimate with them" (2013, 3). What Duffett does here, however, is to read Durkheim's totem as the contemporary star. Durkheim does refer to an individual totem, but this is distinct from the collective totem of the tribe. In this paper I want to return to the concept of the collective totem, albeit with a variation on the concepts of sacred and profane which Durkheim uses. In this respect I draw on Kenneth Thompson's reconceptualization of the sacred and the profane, in which he suggests that these concepts should be seen as an ongoing dialectical relationship:

[3.3] The "sacred" is that which is socially transcendent and gives a sense of fundamental identity based on likeness (kinship), constructed and sustained by difference or opposition over and against: (1) the alien Other (which may be another culture that threatens takeover or some other danger to the maintenance of its identity); (2) the mundane/profane i.e. the world of everyday routine, particularly economic activity and its rationality. (1998, 101)

[3.4] In relation to fandom, the sacred stands for an affective relationship, a fannish engagement with the text and with other fans, which stands in opposition to the mundane world existing outside of the fannish space. I have noted elsewhere (Jones 2014a) that this notion of community is at work in the construction of the sacred fan identity. Brendan Richardson, in his study of football fandom, notes that fans will utilize any available resource to maintain the sacredness of their fan experience: "In the case of members of the 'Real Reds' Liverpool fan community, co-production that relies excessively on consumption of official merchandise is regarded as far less meaningful than co-production that utilises alternative consumption objects, such as home made banners, as part of the process of production" (2011).

[3.5] This sacred experience is an experience imbued with meaning through the choices and distinctions that set it aside from the mundane. In terms of affect it is "what gives 'color,' 'tone' or texture to our experiences" (Grossberg 1992, 56). Fandom, doing the same, thus becomes a symbolic community, sustaining a sense of total identity as a fan rather than the multifaceted and shifting identity necessitated by the mundane world (employee, mother, cook, parent, billpayer, etc.). Indeed, as Jack Krauser notes of his EvE Online tattoo:

[3.6] These 2 symbols, are in my game race and clan symbols, Minmater (top) and Sebestior (bottom). The Minmator one I got at EvE fanfest last year, they had a booth for people who wanted EvE related tattoos right at the event…I really liked the symbol and for me it means not just my love for the game, my in game character, my badass race, but also the week I spent in Iceland with the thousands of other EvE fanatics, which was the most crazy and fun time ever. I've never met so many cool new people in a short period of time, all brought together by this devotion to a niche game. (

[3.7] Parallels, then, can be drawn with the fannish text as totem. Durkheim notes that the totem is generally an animal or plant, although some tribes use inanimate objects such as the moon or sun while others use part of an animal, such as the tail of a kangaroo. In general, however, the totem is a species or variety, collective and impersonal (as opposed to the individual and personal totem which Duffett draws on in his work on Elvis fans). Writing about the collective totem Durkheim says:

[3.8] Every clan has a totem that belongs to it alone; two different clans of the same tribe cannot have the same one. Indeed, one is part of a clan only by virtue of having a certain name. So all who bear this name are member of it in the same right; however scattered across the tribal territory they may be, they all have the same kin relations with one another. (1995, 100)

[3.9] In fannish terms, then, the tribe is the fandom at large (e.g., football fandom, science fiction fandom, pop fandom); the clan is the specific fandom (e.g., Philes, Whovians, Chelsea fans); and the totem is the object of fandom, symbolized by an emblem (e.g., the Wales rugby team symbolized by the three feathers; Star Wars symbolized by a light saber. Members of a clan (fandom) are thus linked together by their totem (the text and its visual representation) regardless of where they are in the world. Moreover the totem acts as a coat of arms for a specific tribe, and, as Henry Rowe Schoolcraft notes of North American tribes, "the Totem is employed as the evidence of the identity of the family and of the clan. The totem is in fact a device corresponding to the heraldic bearings of civilized nations, which each person is authorized to bear as the evidence of his family identity" (1853, 420). The totem is displayed on weapons, houses, clothes, and burial sites, but is also inscribed on the body—a mode of representation that Durkheim argues is by far the most important. He names several tribes in which, during certain religious festivals, officiants wear costumes that represent the body of the animal that acts as the clan's totem. There are, of course, comparisons to be drawn here with cosplay, in which fans dress up as characters from favored texts (Lamerichs 2011; Winge 2006). Of particular interest to me, however, is the ways in which members of tribes mark their bodies permanently with reminders of the totem. Among the Yerkla tribe, gashes that leave scars are inflicted on young men during their initiation, and the number and form of these correspond to the tribe's totem. A similar relationship between scarification and the water totem exists among the Dieri tribe, and the custom of tattooing the totem on the body is widespread among the Indians of the Northwest. Durkheim considers tattooing to play a considerable role in totemism and notes, as with sacred forms in general, that tattooing does not die out in modern society. Rather, it has continually been used by adherents to different religions, pilgrims, college students, soldiers in the same barracks, sailors in the same boat, and prisoners in the same jail:

[3.10] Tattooing is the most direct and expressive means by which the communion of minds can be affirmed. The best way of testifying to oneself and others that one is part of the same group is to place the same distinctive mark on the body. Proof that such is indeed the raison d'être of the totemic image is that, as I have shown, it does not try to copy the appearance of the thing it is considered to represent. It is made of lines and points that are given an entirely conventional meaning. The purpose of the image is not to represent or evoke a particular object but to testify that a certain number of individuals share the same moral life. (1995, 234).

[3.11] The behavior that Durkheim noted in Australian tribes clearly evidences the role that the totem played in tribal and community life, but Durkheim also argues that the written sign held a more central place in the clan's life than did the spoken one (1995, 235). This recording of narrative ties the individual irrefutably to the clan and its totem and in that respect functions in a similar way to what Paul Sweetman argues is the ability of the tattoo to narrate connections to specific periods (2000, 68). Indeed, narrative also plays a large role in the creating and inking of fannish tattoos, as Rachel Newbury demonstrates:

[3.12] I got these four tattoos a few weeks apart as a graduation present to myself for finishing my Graduate studies in Library Science. I have always been a HUGE fan of Douglas Adams and the "Don't Panic" mantra fits my personality, I love that a number is the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything plus I get a kick out of peoples [sic] reactions to it.

[3.13] I grew up reading "Alice in Wonderland" and have wanted a Cheshire tattoo for a while and was so thrilled when Tim Burton's adaption contained what for me was the best version of the cat. "We're All Mad Here" is a favorite Cheshire quote and I always say that the best people are a little crazy. (

[3.14] For Rachel, then, the totemic texts are The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Alice in Wonderland, each of which speaks to her individual experiences and her affective relationship to the texts in a specific way. Following the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tag on, however, reveals a further 14 posts detailing various Hitchhiker's Guide tattoos. Prominent among these are the number 42 and the phrase "Don't panic," both of which are emblematic of the series and are easily recognized by other fans. It is this recognition, as well as the notion of a collective clan identity, which is important in analyzing fannish tattoos. As I have written elsewhere, Bryan S. Turner argues that modern society erodes the traditional social processes in which tattoos were embedded and thus allows tattoos to become optional and playful. He suggests that "tattoos and body piercings are no longer functional, but indicate the social construction of traditional patterns of sociability in the modern world" (2000, 41). In this respect, the sacred totem that Durkheim analyzes as embodiment of the clan becomes a sacred, playful totem symbolic of a fannish community but in which membership is voluntary and marking optional. Fannish tattoos thus are "part of a personal and interior biography" (Turner 2000, 42), but they are also a feature of a collective fannish memory, recognizable to members of that collective clan.

4. Performing fandom through fan tattoos

[4.1] It is this concept of recognition that I wish to turn to now to analyze the ways in which fans can perform their fannish identity through their tattoos. I have already mentioned cosplay as a means by which fans express their fandom, identifying as fans of a particular text through dressing as that character. Bainbridge and Norris also, however, note that the wearing of clothing featuring logos such as the team emblem from Gatchaman or the NERV symbol from Neon Genesis Evangelion marks the wearer out as a member of fandom through a play with identity: others have to be able to recognize the design in order to recognize the property and thus recognize the fan (2009) (note 1). Carole Turbin notes that clothing is more closely tied to personal identity and self-presentation than any other material object: "dress is not a simple cultural expression of society or individuals but a form of visual and tactile communication linked to the body, self, and communication, it is paradoxical and double-edged, both public and private, individual and social. Dress adorns the surface and at the same time masks and/or reveals (sometimes unwittingly) the inner psyche" (2003, 45). If dress, particularly fannish dress, reveals to the observer elements of the inner psyche, then surely tattoos, particularly fannish ones, must do so to a larger degree. Describing his Neverending Story tattoo, Bastion writes:

[4.2] this tattoo has especial significance for me, on a few levels. For one, I've always loved The Neverending Story; I watched it endlessly as a child, and go back to it from time to time even now, as an adult of 28 years. It resonates deeply with me, with the message to never let go of your childlike wonder, your imagination, your creativity, and your belief in the fantastic. Our dreams enrich and beautify our reality; if we lose sight of our dreams, life is dull and grey and without meaning. The Auryn is also a symbol of guidance and protection. (

[4.3] In getting the tattoo then, the fan reveals two layers to other fans of The Neverending Story: the intentional reference to the film and the symbol of guidance and protection for which the Auryn stands. To an extent, then, the ideals that Bastion takes from the film are available for all to see and for fans of the text to read into. The tattoo thus becomes both a public and a private presentation.

[4.4] In a similar way to Turbin's argument that dress is an ideal venue for exploring the connections between public and private presentation (2003), so too are tattoos an outward expression of private meaning, made significant to the observer only when the meaning or importance of the tattoo is read through cultural or subcultural understanding. Compare this to Kim Hewitt's analysis of tattoos: "the message of a public tattoo is not only its content but its existence as a display of public identity. Symbols of identity that are used to construct identity in the eyes of others carry meanings far beyond their physical existence" (1997, 83). The performative element of the fannish tattoo thus comes in its recognition and decoding by an observer who has the same subcultural tools as does the owner of the tattoo. Tattoos, however, are unlike dress in that they cannot be removed: they are permanent reminders of a fannish connection and an affective relationship with a text. Erving Goffman's (1959) concept of the everyday performance is useful here. Goffman developed the idea of dramaturgy to describe the ways in which individuals create and display themselves. He saw the world as a stage where people take on different roles according to the situation that they are placed in and the audience they interact with in those situations. According to Goffman, people's presentations of themselves can be separated into front stage, which is performed or presented to others intentionally, and back stage, which is kept hidden. In tattooing oneself, however, there is a possibility for the front stage and back stage to become merged. The tattoo is permanently on the skin, unable to be removed as a piece of clothing would be (although it can, of course, be covered up). There is thus an element of performance in choosing what to tattoo, how, and where. If affect, as Grossberg notes "defines the strength of our investment in particular experiences, practices, identities, meanings, and pleasures" (1992, 57), then getting a tattoo to demonstrate the strength of that investment requires significant thought as to what the tattoo should be. This is particularly the case in fan communities where having the right kind of tattoo as a mark of subcultural capital is important. The tattoo becomes a calculated symbol tied into what the fan wishes to portray to the everyday world and/or to their fan community. But many of the ideas, concepts, and symbols that go into a tattoo are what Goffman would consider back stage—the things that are kept hidden but that are simultaneously on show. These can include aspects of the fannish objects that only other fans might recognize, demonstrating the subcultural capital of the owner. It could also acknowledge the owner's affective relationship to the text, their history in fandom, or what a particular aspect of a text means to them. Both Brandon and Shane Highley demonstrate these aspects of front and back stage in discussing their fannish tattoos. Brandon writes:

[4.5] Some of my earliest memories involve sitting down at my Grandparents house, hooking up my Aunt's Nintendo, and doing battle with an array of creatures as Link in "The Legend of Zelda"—in effort to recapture my childhood, it seemed only fitting that I pay homage to the series that kept me entertained and my imagination captivated for years. And after saving Hyrule for the 1,000th time, I figured it was only appropriate that I assume my role as the "Hero of Time." (

[4.6] His tattoo thus identifies him as a Legend of Zelda fan while also serving as a reminder of his family and childhood. However, there are further links to his fannish identity given the tattoo's function as a celebration of a specific moment—saving Hyrule for the 1,000th time. This celebratory aspect of specific fannish achievements is echoed by Shane Highley: "I got the shotgun spree tattoo from Halo 3 because it was zombie weekend on Halo and I said if I got over 20 or so shotgun spree medals I'd get the tattoo, I got way more than 20" ( Both tattoos thus function as performance of fandom in everyday life, containing both elements that are intended for audience consumption and back stage aspects that reflect more emotional connections to Brandon and Shane's lives.

[4.7] As Matthew Guschwan notes, however, fans' declarations of identity take shape within the spaces of fandom: "The individual fan or performer is held accountable to the standards of fandom that develop within the fan community. A fan's authenticity may only be ratified by other fans. One of the underlying functions of a performance-based fan culture, if not the essential function, is to create the context in which fandom and its manifestations are accepted, understood, and encouraged, as well as disciplined and critiqued" (2011, 1994). Fannish tattoos, as I have written previously, can therefore have a gatekeeping function, separating true fans from those who simply like or are aware of a text. Discussing her Charles Darwin tattoo, Aubrie writes:

[4.8] The only real back story here is I am a huge science nerd and I am a hard-ass for the facts of evolution. The extra benefit to having this tattoo is it's kind of a quick way to weed out the idiots (like the people who don't know who he is, or the people who after seeing it say, "well what about creationism?"). The coolest thing about this tattoo is that when I met Richard Dawkins he said it was amazing, and that J. Craig Venter now has a picture of me and my tattoo on his phone. Highlight of my life. Also, during the holidays we draw things on him, such as Santa hats or laurel crowns. (

[4.9] Not only does the tattoo function as a way to weed out people who are not aware of (or are not fans of) Darwin, it also functions to provide Aubrie with a certain amount of cultural (or subcultural) capital (Bourdieu 1984; Thornton 1995). Not only does Richard Dawkins admire the tattoo, but J. Craig Venter (regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his contribution to genomic research) has a photograph of it. In fannish circles, where subcultural capital can be an important indicator of fannish status and fulfill a gatekeeping function, this tattoo functions as a clear performance of both fannish identity and fannish standing. Steve, who submitted a photograph of his Green Lantern tattoo (see, also demonstrates the performative aspect of the fannish tattoo. He provides very little background to the tattoo, but accompanying the picture is an editorial note: "For the uninitiated, here's some more info on the Emotional Spectrum. (It's a Green Lantern thing)" ( This tattooing of less recognizable icons further plays with identity and performance. To the fan, the Green Lantern tattoo is obvious, both as a fannish tattoo and as relating to the Green Lantern. To the uninitiated, however, it is unrecognizable as a fannish tattoo. As I have noted elsewhere, "This play with identity through the choice of tattoo further functions as an in-joke of sorts, or, perhaps more accurately, a form of gate-keeping" (Jones 2014a)—to the uninitiated it is a tattoo of some logos, possibly related to a computer game; to the fan it demonstrates the owner's position within fandom.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] In this article I have returned to Durkheim's concept of the totem and sacred identity which have been used in fan studies, but have used them in different ways to analyze fan tattoos and their relationship to fandom at large, as well as their affective relationship to the source. For Durkheim, the totem is representative of the clan and its members and functions not only to distinguish the sacred from the profane but also to ensure a community among the civic family which makes up the clan: "The clan's totem is also that of each clan member…It is common for a clan not to reside in the same place, but to have members in different places. Even so, the clan's unity is felt, though it has no geographical basis" (1995, 100–101). I have argued that in fandom, the clan becomes a specific fandom, and the totem is the text and its visual representation. In terms of community, fandom functions across geographic boundaries, its members bound by the fannish object rather than by nationality, religion, or culture. Furthermore, for Durkheim the most elementary form of individual appropriation of collective symbolism is the tattoo. Its object, as I have already discussed, is to "bear witness to the fact that a certain number of individuals participate in the same moral life" (Thompson 1998, 99)—a description that is as applicable to fandom as it is to Australian tribal clans. The "collective emblem's engraving on the individual as a tattoo" is thus important not only because the tattoo is "such a dramatic sign of group membership [but] also because it is so permanent, acting both as a lifelong commitment to an identity and as a lifelong reminder of it." I suggest that the affective relationship that a fan has with a fannish object plays a large part in the decision to tattoo a reminder of that fannish text onto the body, but the tattoo also serves to mark its owner out—to a greater or lesser extent—as a fan of that text.

[5.2] Sweetman suggests that tattoos that serve as connections to specific periods "might be argued to commit the tattooee to a particular narrative…tattoos could tell a story [but] the extent to which others would be able to read this text would depend on their ability to 'piece it all together'" (2000, 68). In other words, the ability to read a fannish tattoo depends on the amount of subcultural capital that the reader has. The role of subcultural capital in fannish tattooing, particularly when combined with the role of gender in geek communities and the concept of the fake geek girl, would be a fruitful area for further research. The decision to ink a specific aspect of a fannish text onto a body irrevocably commits that fan to a particular narrative: the narrative of themselves as a fan and the narrative of the text itself. Moreover, tattoos demonstrate fannish affect which "operates within and, at the same time, produces maps which direct our investments in and into the world" (Grossberg 1992, 57). As Margo DeMello writes,

[5.3] Tattoos are fundamentally a means of expressing identity, both personal and collective. Tattoos inscribe a person's relationship to society, to others, and to him or herself, and they do so in a manner that is visible not only to the wearer but to others as well. Except when worn in private areas, tattoos are meant to be read by others. For this reasons tattoos as identity markers are not merely private expressions of the need to 'write oneself,' but they express the need for others to read them in a certain way as well. (1991, 107)

[5.4] Of course, the one thing I have not touched upon in this article, focusing as I have on the totemic nature of fandom and tattoos, is that fannish tattoos are inherently bound up with concerns around capitalism and consumerism (an area in which further research could be undertaken). Tattoos function to perform fandom in similar (though not the same) ways as items of fannish clothing do. Of course, as part of the body rather than simply an accessory to it, tattoos cannot be considered in quite the same way as official and unofficial merchandise. They are representative of an individual's affective relationship with the text, and while fannish tattoos are bought, the money spent on them goes to members of another subculture—the tattoo community—rather than to corporations, licence holders, or fans who undertake free labor to generate further profits for these (Jones 2014b). Indeed, Sweetman, referring to tattoos as corporeal artifacts, argues that they escape the flow of commodification and cannot be interpreted simply as superficial accessories—rather, they can be considered as a form of "anti-fashion," sharing certain affinities with subcultural uniforms (2000, 66). Furthermore, I would suggest that in locating fandom in tattooing, we should look to fans' own voices as a primary tool for discussing their relationship to consumerism. Matt Hills argues that we must consider affect as "capable of 'creating culture' as well as being caught up in it" (2002, 93), and I would suggest that fannish tattoos are a prime example of creating a culture. Consider Charlotte's description of her Star Wars tattoo:

[5.5] I had been going through a particularly difficult time in my final year at University, suffering from anxiety, exhaustion and acute stress. I was concerned about my mental health and after coming to terms with several issues, I decided to stop waiting for things to change and be more proactive. I got this tattoo as a reminder of my strength and abilities. To give me the push I need on those days when I feel like giving up. It has become a personal mantra.

[5.6] I had my tattooist (Mick Miller at Headingley Tattoo Studio) draw it up using the Star Wars font, and had it tattooed in reverse on the left side of my chest. I had it in reverse because it is for me, and me only. When I look in the mirror, I can read it perfectly—but others struggle to read it in reverse and it has become a pretty good conversation starter. (

[5.7] The element of the text prioritized here is Charlotte's relationship to the meaning that she found within it. The tattoo ("Do or do not, there is no try") speaks to her as a direct result of her own experiences and her reading of the Star Wars films. Furthermore, its placement (in reverse so that it is only readable when viewed in a mirror) speaks to the performance of fannish tattoos not only to the observer but to the tattooed fan as well. Returning to Durkheim then, the totem symbolizes not only the clan but also the individual's place within it. Fannish tattoos as totems remind their wearers of their fannish clan and the reason why they are a member of that fandom.

6. Note

1. There is also a discussion to be had here about fans who get the wrong sort of tattoo, either because their interpretation of the text is wrong (for example, Scully/Doggett shippers in The X-Files fandom are regarded as anomalies who are reading the text incorrectly) or because their tattoo possesses the wrong sort of subcultural capital—for example, a tattoo of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen rather than a line from the novel that only a dedicated fan, not casual viewer, would understand. As Awesome Barb, in a blog post discussing tragic Twilight tattoos writes, "I'm a Twilight fan, but I can't imagine sporting something so everlasting when it's turned into a cornerstone of pop culture (I'd want something a little more obscure I suppose)" ( Henry Jenkins's (1992) reading the right way has scope here as a means of analyzing these tattoos as explicit markers of fans who are focusing on aspects of the fannish object that may not quite fit into what the rest of the community deems acceptable.

7. Works cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto. 2013. "Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom." Participations 10 (1): 92–108.

Cottingham, Marci D. 2012. "Interaction Ritual Theory and Sports Fans: Emotion, Symbols, and Solidarity." Sociology of Sport Journal 29:168–85.

DeMello, Margo. 1991."Anchors, Hearts and Eagles: From the Literal to the Symbolic in American Tattooing." In Literacies: Writing Systems and Literate Practices. Davis Working Papers in Linguistics 4, edited by David Schmidt and Janet Smith, 93–110. Davis: University of California.

Duffett, Mark. 2012. "Applying Durkheim to Elvis." Transatlantica 2.

Duffett, Mark. 2013. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury.

Durkheim, Émile. (1912) 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, edited and translated by Karen E. Fields. New York: Free Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Grossberg, Lawrence. 1992. "Is There a Fan in the House?: The Affective Sensibility of Fandom." In The Adoring Audience, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 50–65. London: Routledge.

Hewitt, Kim. 1997. Mutilating the Body: Identity in Blood and Ink. Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press.

Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers. London: Routledge.

Jones, Bethan. 2012. "Being of Service: X-Files Fans and Social Engagement." In "Transformative Works and Fan Activism," edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 10.

Jones, Bethan. 2014a. "Written on the Body: Experiencing Affect and Identity in My Fannish Tattoos." In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

Jones, Bethan. 2014b. "Fifty Shades of Exploitation: Fan Labor and Fifty Shades of Grey." In "Fandom and/as Labor," edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15.

Lamerichs, Nicolle. 2011. "Stranger Than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 7.

Löbert, Anja. 2012. "Fandom as a Religious Form: On the Reception of Pop Music by Cliff Richard Fans in Liverpool." Popular Music 31:125–41

Martin, Bernice. 1979. "The Sacralization of Disorder: Symbolism in Rock Music." Sociological Analysis 40 (2): 87–124.

Norris, Craig, and Jason Bainbridge. 2009. "Selling Otaku? Mapping the Relationship between Industry and Fandom in the Australian Cosplay Scene." Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, no. 20.

Porter, James E. 1998. Rhetorical Ethics and Internetworked Writing. Greenwich, CT: Ablex Publishing.

Richardson, Brendan. 2011. "Football Fan Loyalty and the Fan Conversion Experience." Paper presented as part of the Norwich Business School Seminar Series, University of East Anglia. April 13.

Riley, Alexander. 2005. "The Rebirth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Hip-hop: A Cultural Sociology of Gangsta Rap." Journal of Youth Studies 8 (3): 297–311.

Rojek, Chris. 2001. Celebrity. London: Reaction Books.

Rosenblatt, Daniel. 1997. "The Antisocial Skin: Structure, Resistance, and 'Modern Primitive' Adornment in the United States." Cultural Anthropology 12 (3): 287–334.

Sandvoss, Cornel. 2013. "Toward an Understanding of Political Enthusiasm as Media Fandom: Blogging, Fan Productivity and Affect in American Politics." Participations 10 (1): 252–96.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. 1853. Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. Part 1. Philadelphia: Lippincott Grambo.

Serazio, Michael. 2013. "The Elementary Forms of Sports Fandom: A Durkheimian Exploration of Team Myths, Kinship, and Totemic Rituals." Communication and Sport 1 (4): 303–25.

Sweetman, Paul. 2000. "Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity." In Body Modification, edited by Mike Featherstone, 51–76. London: Sage.

Thompson, Kenneth. 1998. "Durkheim and Sacred Identity." In On Durkheim's Elementary Forms of Religious Life, edited by N. J. Allen, W. S. F. Pickering, and Willie Watts Miller, 92–104. London: Routledge.

Thornton, Sarah. 1995. Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Till, Rupert. 2010. "Pop Stars and Idolatry: An Investigation of the Worship of Popular Music Icons, and the Music and Cult of Prince." Journal of Beliefs and Values 31 (1): 69–80.

Turbin, Carole. 2003. "Refashioning the Concept of Public/Private: Lessons from Dress Studies." Journal of Women's History 15 (1): 43–51.

Turner, Bryan S. 2000. "The Possibility of Primitiveness: Towards a Sociology of Body Marks in Cool Societies." In Body Modification, edited by Mike Featherstone, 39–50. London: Sage.

Winge, Theresa. 2006. "Costuming the Imagination: Origins of Anime and Manga Cosplay." Mechademia 1:65–76.

Wordplay. 2014. "Finding Glee in Your Mailbox." In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. TWC is a member of DOAJ. Contact the Editor with questions.