Re: mutilation and ritual

Adrienne Dearmas (DearmasA@AOL.COM)
Mon, 1 Jul 1996 12:26:23 -0400

> On Thu, 27 Jun 1996, Rachel Novak wrote:
> > I would be interested to study how this form of expression has
> > diffused from the British punk Sex Pistols genre to what is now
> essentially
> > mainstream young American..and why.

I wonder if in fact this is diffusion or spontaneous generation. In other
words, the punk craze of the 80's and the safety pins in ears was, to my
knowledge, an expression of the pain of growing up impoverished in London
slums. Piercing with safety pins was actually a form of self mutilation
performed much like cutting one's self to relieve the anger and frustration
of urban poverty and depression.

According to Jim Myers, the origin of piercing in the US is the S&M gay
community. It has certainly been adopted by mainstream American youth since

> >Is it just the spreading of a fad,
> > or is there greater meaning? Is a pierced tounge a fashion statement or
> > something more ritualistic? If this body mutilation is ritualistic then
> > there should be an underlying symbolism to it. If it is reactionary
> > what are the causal variables? Seems like a good research project to
> > me. I think there is a greater need for researchers to study up now
> > than ever.

Pierced tongues are interesting - they are considered one of the least
painful, most prone to infection, most dangerous in terms of potential nerve
damage, and relatively hidden piercings of all. A fashion statement yes, but
I think that tongue piercing grew out of a crazed search for anything
piercable. I.e., the S&M merits of genital and nipple piercing are obvious.
Ear piercing is traditional. Navel and Eyebrow piercing are variations on a
theme - and then there is neck piercing and lip piercing and tongue piercing.
I think we've pierced every part of the body that is capable of being
pierced. Is it possible for piercing to be a reationary movement based in
aesthetics that has no formal ritual attached to it but by the adornment
itself is symbolic of the movement? Is that roundabout?

In a message dated 96-06-28 00:39:20 EDT, ms44278@HUEY.CSUN.EDU (mike shupp)

> Rites of passage, perhaps?
> Which provokes a question: How much formal ritual need be attached
> to symbolic modifictions/mutilations of the body? Does anyone
> how much ceremony was attached to circumcision in the early days
> Judaism? Or in contemporary female circumcision?
Judaic circumcision, or the bris ceremony is highly ceremonial. In fact, one
aspect of the ritual had to be outlawed because it was causing a tuberculosis
epidemic (mohels with TB were infecting babies when they placed their mouths
over the wound) - there was much outcry about this part of ritual being
eliminated. Female circumcision (or fgm) is highly ritualized as are most
circumcision ceremonies which are performed as a puberty rite of passage.
Money and gifts, food, clothing, dancing, singing, seclusion, parades,
drinking, etc. all accompany the event. Today, as fgm falls under closer
scrutiny and the age of the operation declines, I would assume there is much
less ceremony and more cultural retention for cultural retention's sake.
However, last year's Dateline segment on fgm clearly showed the ceremonial
aspect of one type of fgm.

I would ask the question, is it piercing (which is a uniquely Western
practice) that lacks ceremony, symbolism and ritual, or is it Western
practices which lack ceremony, symbolism and ritual or is it that we as
Westerners cannot see the ceremony, symbolism and ritual in what we do?
Remember, Westerners tattoo - and we are not alone, as many cultures tattoo
the body. However, we are (as far as I know) the only culture that tattoos
without ceremony, symbolism and ritual.

- Adrienne