30 September, 2010

War, Skulls, And Xbox Live

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and may only coincidentally reflect those of Mystic Metals, its employees, or associates. All responses should be posted as comments here, or mailed directly to the author, A. Robert Basile, at ihatebasile@gmail.com. Mail sent directly to Mystic Metals will not be read.

War, Skulls, And Xbox Live


I was seriously considering taking this week off from posting a blog. Then I thought that Prime Time, Becks, Krista, Jenny, my mom, and some others (are all my readers women?) would find me and cripple me. Well, cripple me more. More than I already am. Am crippled. Part of my laziness has stemmed from the weather arresting my legs and back, but most of the laziness is that I finally got Splinter Cell: Conviction for Xbox 360, and it’s fucking awesome. So I want you to know that I’m taking a break from Sam Fisher’s compelling story to write for you guys. If anyone wants to buy my a Gold Live membership, I won’t say no.

What you have tattooed on your body is none of my business. It none of anyone’s business. Just that of you and those with whom you choose to share. Tattoos, as we have learned recently, are protected by our wonderful First Amendment rights to speak freely, so you can mod pretty much anything you’d like on your skin. Of course, if you got “Jihad” tattooed on your face and “Death To America” on your chest, expect some flack. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Not really. I have seen some awful tattoos. I have seen some incredible tattoos. I have seen awesome tattoos of dumb things, and I’ve seen bad tattoos of awesome things. The question is, when we learn about where the inspiration or impetus comes from for a particular tattoo that then sheds a different light on the individual wearing it, what is our responsibility as a society, if any?

Where did this come from. Good question. I read an article recently that conflicted my sensibilities towards things like what a tattoo means to someone. A twenty-five year old Staff Sergeant in the US Army was recently questioned for the suspected murders of three Afghan civilians. During the process, the kid, Calvin Gibbs, revealed a tattoo on his leg that may lead to further investigation. On Gibbs’ calf is tattooed crossing pistols with six skulls. The skulls represented Gibbs’ kills at war, three colored red for Iraq, and the other three blue for Afghanistan. These tattoos are expected to be used in the investigation.

This isn’t a rant about what I think about war and those who fight it. Whatever you think about war, I don’t really care. I do think that the atom bomb is man’s greatest invention, better than the inflatable tire or even the taco. Seriously, it’s better than the taco. I also think that if this dude is convicted of killing civilians, he should be hanged; and if he is acquitted, send him back in to kill more bad guys. I have never participated in war, so providing a civilian sensibility to what is going on in the field of battle while people with guns are sending bullets and flack (there’s that flack word again) passed your ill protected vehicles and body is grossly unfair and misguided.

What this is a rant about is modification and this guy’s skull mods. Let’s assume for a moment that this kid’s tattoos do indeed represent the people he has killed in war. Let’s also assume that these kills for which these skulls were tattooed were clean, legal kills. Kills in the art of war, whatever the rules allow for its legality. As a member of a society, when this cat shows me or you his skull mods and explains what they represent, what is the appropriate reaction, and are we even allowed to pass judgement?

Well, I suppose we’re allowed to pass judgement. Everyone is. The idea that people aren’t allowed to judge others is silly. Yeah, there’s one true judge and all that. Yeah, judging people based on what we perceive rather than what we learn as fact is nearsighted. I got all of that. But we as people need to judge others in order to ascertain things like comfort, safety, and if that dude in the cubicle over there is cool enough to hang out with at the bar after work. These things are important. Especially the bar thing. But since we are expected to be accepted for our modifications and what they mean, ought we not afford the same courtesy to those who sport modifications that may be of things with which we don’t agree? What I think about this soldier’s memorializing his kills in tattoo oughtn’t matter, right?

On the other side of the coin, if this dude shows me this mod and tells me what it means and I tell him that I think it’s fuct up, he’s allowed to be offended by my reaction just as much as I am allowed to have my opinion. Using modifications as part of a criminal investigation is a different rant for a different day, but socially, in everyday life, how much do we afford to others in agreement or disagreement of their modifications? All of our modifications are protected by our rights to speak, our rights to create free art. What’s funny about those rights is that we are often much more ready to exercise them when they serve our purpose, but we damn them when we disagree with the opposing statement using the same rights. So getting back to the original question, will someone buy me an Xbox live Gold membership? Also, what is our responsibility?

You can look at this kid’s tattoo and just see guns and skulls. Neat-o. There are tons of people who never killed people walking around with tattoos of skulls. But now you know that his tattoo marks his kills, and some of those kills may have been civilians. Now how does your opinion change? The tattoo hasn’t changed. The person hasn’t changed. But now you have a connection between the modification and the person in whose skin it lives. Let’s change the story. Here’s some fiction. Your neighbor has a series of tattoos on his arm. They are all little outlines of cute kitty cats. You’ve lived next to him for fifteen years, and he’s a great neighbor and a great guy. One day, you find out though eavesdropping on a crossed line on the telephone that the neighbor is in a gang and each kitty cat on his arm represents a gay person he’s beaten up. What does that tattoo now tell you? What is your responsibility, and is there any greater responsibility than it is to know what the tattoo means? OK, to be fair, that analogy is weak because phone lines don’t get crossed up anymore. Leave me alone; I’m old. The point is this, now that you know what the mod means, does your judgement toward the mod and toward the person wearing it change?

I’m not really looking to answer any of these questions in this rant. More of a food for thought thing than anything else. The underlying idea here is that modifications mean things to people. Meaning nothing is meaning something as well, and with information, perceptions can change more quickly than your girlfriend’s opinion of you after you suggest something in bed that she doesn’t want to do at all. The kid in the army with the skulls tattoo, he’s got bigger problems than what people interpret his tattoo as. Actually, that interpretation might be the end of him. What responsibility we have as modified people. What we choose to share or memorialize reflects onto our personas to other people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really give a shit if the dude over there thinks I’m a dick because of one of my mods, but I have to be prepared for the instance that his thinking I’m a dick because of my mods is a possibility. Also, misinterpretation oughtn’t gas a pointless fire either. If that same dude of there (and I don’t know why I’m picking on him) thinks my mod means one thing and judges me negatively for it, my crying out, ‘You just don’t get it, man’ isn’t a fair retort. An open dialog, if that dude over there is willing to have one, is the way that judgements like these are quelled. Conversation and proper presentation of your personality and interests. The judgement isn’t what’s wrong, it’s the assumption that’s wrong. It can be difficult because strangers may not all be willing to open that dialog with you if the stranger is assuming bad things, but if the situation arises, we ought to represent ourselves in a way that positively befits our culture. Unless you have a swastika tattooed on your throat, in which case, I really don’t want you representing me. I’m kidding. Mod what you want, kids. Just be prepared for all comers. Stay beautiful, kids.

Talk to A. Robert Basile on AIM at Basilephone
Yahoo Messenger at andrewbasile@rocketmail.com


  1. Love the angle...and the food for thought!

  2. Has anyone offered to buy you an xbox live gold membership yet??

  3. I'm still shitty silver. I don't even think they call it silver anymore.