Category Archives: Popular Culture
“I love your blonde hair/I kiss your pigtails/And I could not share/The scratch of your nails/And though you mark me/Your eyes so glassy/Oh why did you have/To be so Nazi?/Remember the curls/Of the Deutscher Girls?/A love of mine/From down on the Rhine” (Deutscher Girls, Adam and the Ants).
The first time I ever associated Nazism with sexuality was as a young teenager listening to Adam Ant sing Deutscher Girls in Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk rock film Jubilee. The punk rock movement – and particularly the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees – were arguably the architects of ‘Nazi chic’ (defined by Wikipedia as “the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture, especially when used for taboo-breaking or shock value rather than out of genuine sympathies with Nazism”) when one of the Pistols’ entourage appeared on the London-region only television show Today (December 1, 1976) wearing a swastika armband. The Wikipedia entry on Nazi chic notes:
“In the 1970s punk subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend The Establishment became popular…[Johnny] Rotten wore the swastika another time with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute. In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was also known to wear a Swastika armband with fetish S and M clothing, including fishnets and a whip. These musicians are commonly thought to have worn such clothing for shock value…rather than being genuinely associated with any National Socialist or fascist ideologies”.
As an avid Adam and the Ants fan, I devoured every lyric of every song. One of Adam Ant’s heroes was Dirk Bogarde – as evidenced by the first album being named after him – Dirk Wears White Sox. The song Dirk Wear White Sox (a live favourite at their early gigs) wasn’t actually on the album and was never actually released on any official Ant recording. One of the reasons for this may have been because of the controversial lyrical content that also linked sex and Nazism via concentration camps:
“You gotta concentrate on kink/In a concentration camp/All dressed up like little David/In a concentration camp…You can get a uniform for free/Shiny boots of soft black leather/Oh how proud your mum will be”.
The inspiration for the song may well have been the controversial film The Nightporter starring Bogarde as a former Nazi SS officer (Maximilian Theo Aldorfer) and his “ambiguous” relationship with concentration camp survivor Lucia Atherton (played by Charlotte Rampling). As the Wikipedia entry on the film notes:
“Flashbacks show Max tormenting Lucia, but also acting as her protector. In an iconic scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song ‘Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte’ to the concentration camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and Max ‘rewards’ her with the severed head of a male inmate who had been bullying the other inmates, a reference to Salome. Thirteen years after World War II, Lucia meets Aldorfer again; he is now the night porter at a Vienna hotel. There, they fall back into their sadomasochistic relationsip relationship…The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome”.
“Somebody who becomes sexually aroused when seeing someone of the Aryan race in an SS Nazi, Third Reich uniform or Holocaust/Hitler related uniforms. Charlotte Rampling in ‘The Night Porter’ would be a Nazi Fetish for some men or women”.
Academically there has been little written on Nazi fetishism. I went searching online and found dozens of confessions by people claiming to enjoy and be fans of Nazi fetishism (as well as lots of websites – such as the uniform fetish site at Live Journal – that feature lots of sexually provocative Nazi fetish clothing). Here are some of the online admissions that I found. Obviously I can’t guarantee their veracity but they all seemed genuine to me:
- Extract 1: “Don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT IN ANY WAY support their murders, torture, or anything of the sort. I would never support such heinous actions. That being said…I like Nazis. I like the uniform, the boots (Yesss, the boots), the fact that they’re German/speak German, as well as the whole ‘Aryan’ look. Neatly combed blonde hair, blue eyes. My friends think I’m insane, because I’m half black and I like blonde Nazis. Anyway, I love the masculinity they seemed to have. It’s very attractive. It’s a fetish I have”.
- Extract 2: “I am a girl and I am turned on by The Nazi look blonde hair blue eyes and uniform, I can’t help but have thoughts about it is there something wrong with me? I think the holocaust was awful and I hate what the Nazis did but I just can’t help it, am I normal to have a weird fetish?”
- Extract 3: “Nazi fetishes are actually fairly common in BD/SM. There used to be tons of Nazi-themed pornography and general exploitation movies although as the years following WW2 pass it is becoming more uncommon…The taboo and violence attached to Nazis makes them a popular fetish for people of many races, religions, and sexual orientations. Nazi fetishism is currently most popular in Asian and in gay pornography”.
- Extract 4: “Lately, I’ve found myself getting a little too excited thinking about what most would call Nazi fetishism. I already had a bit of a German fetish, what with the accents and appearances, but when the SS uniforms started sneaking into my fantasies, when the idea of a little Nazi roleplay started to really appeal, things were different. I even fantasize about my love interest in the uniform (which is ironic because he is quite far from being an Aryan)!…I’ve uncovered other fetishes I have and now see how this fits in. (i) German accents are extremely sexy to me, (ii) I have always liked uniforms and nice clothes. (iii) taboo appeals to me quite a bit, [and] (iv) power and being dominated appeals to me” (z0mbiequeen)
- Extract 5: “I have a fetish for uniforms and I don’t blame someone for having a Nazi fetish, people who are sharply dressed do look pretty sexy, especially the women’s clothing. I don’t have a fetish for the accents and everything German…It could also be how Nazis are frowned upon, so having a fetish for something so controversial and wrong makes it dirty?” (lovingpegasister)
- Extract 6: “[Nazi] fetish is so common in many circles, from anime cosplay to gothic culture. They had the most badass uniforms at the time and they still look hot on just about anyone” (derBunker)
The Nazi clothing appears to be a fundamental part of the fetish and would appear to be a sub-type of uniform fetishism (that I outlined in a previous blog). In 2007, Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry appeared to praise the Nazi style (both in fashion and architectural terms) when he was quoted in a German newspaper as saying: ‘The way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags – just fantastic. Really beautiful”. However, Ferry’s comments caused huge controversy and he then clarified his comments by saying: “I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective”. This type of apology is very similar to the caveats made by Nazi fetishists online in justifying their like of Nazi imagery from a sexual perspective.
Arguably the most high profile case of Nazi fetishism was Max Mosley (youngest son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists and former head of Formula One’s governing body) who was caught in 2008 on video with five prostitutes playing concentration camp fetish games. One article quoted [unnamed] “experts” saying: “While the Nazi concept is not unusual in sadomasochistic circles, playing both sides in such a kinky ritual is unusual”. Another (less high profile) case was that of Gareth Meade, a senior council officer in London (UK), who lost his job for gross misconduct after his involvement in Nazi fetishism was exposed by a Sunday newspaper. Photos of Meade posing in Nazi regalia was found on a gay sex website. Meade claimed in the newspaper interview that he was “not a racist” and that his sexual activity was “a private fetish”.
A recent 2013 paper published by Dr. David Lopez and Dr. Ellis Godard in the journal Popular Culture Review studied Nazi fetishism using online forum data (a method that I have also been using to study rare paraphilic behaviours and which I have recently published a couple of papers on – see ‘Further Reading’ below). They also view the fetish as a type of uniform fetish. Their paper notes that:
“Nazi uniform fetishists and role-players represent the diversity of BDSM subculture as it is a very unique activity with a specific form of expression. The most salient form of this expression is seen in the style and fashion of these fetishists and role-players. Style and fashion express autonomy, proclaims messages, establishes boundaries, and generates definitions of a subculture (Hebdige, 1979). For uniform fetishists, the uniform creates a context for the BDSM scene. A Nazi uniform is just one type of uniform fetish. We suggest for these participants, they are attracted to Nazism as a movement steeped in violence and evil and the uniform is representative of this movement. BDSM practitioners use the term ‘scene’ when referring to erotic power exchange”.
Lopez and Godard collected data from a BDSM site that had over 900,000 members. They then focused on specific discussion groups within the main site. One of these groups comprised individuals that were interested in ‘Nazi Uniform Fetish and Roleplaying’ [NUFR] and had 617 members. They also noted that there were at least 12 other similar groups with an interest in Nazi fetishism including ‘Females of the Third Reich’ (114 members) and ‘SS [Shutzstaffel] Protection Squad] Uniforms and Those Who Love Them’ (162 members). The NUFR group was chosen as the site to study as it had the biggest number of members and the most detailed postings from its members about Nazi fetishism. The data were content analysed and comprised over 300 threads (approximately 10,000 comments). The authors reported that members discussed the uniforms themselves, including where to acquire them and pointedly disavowed white supremacy and anti-Semitism, emphasizing only the erotlcism associated with the uniforms. They also reported that many posts commented on the sex appeal of the uniforms. In response to a post asking “What makes a sexy Nazi?” one respondent noted that:
“A well cared for athletic, mature female body, subtly made up fair skin and hard steely blue eyes, long dark hair gathered up carefully in a high ponytail. She is very stylish and well groomed, a pristine women’s tailored Black SS uniform laid out for her on the bed beside her as she sits gracefully at her dressing table in her delicate, demure lingerie and Fully fashioned seamed and Cuban heel Nylons leaning elegantly forward and to the side to pull up the zips on her gleaming almost mirror polished Black Leather 5″ heel knee boots. Her visor cap, Black Leather Gloves, 4ft bull whip and SS officer’s belt on her pillow along with the heavy Leather holster that shrouds her 9mm P38. The interest in Nazi role-playing and the Nazi fetish is for most people (I can’t vouch for everyone), is a stimulating response to strong imagery, well tailored uniforms, and notions of power and fear”.
As with the online posts I found online, Lopez and Godard noted that their participants were “very careful and go to great lengths to establish that they are not anti-Semitic or supremacists”, and were fully aware that confusion is possible. For instance, some respondents noted:
- Example 1: “People tend to automatically assume that someone who finds the uniform or the role-play sexy, is actually a Nazis themselves. Which I’m sure can be the case from time to time but couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I’m actually the exact opposite”
- Example 2: “There are a lot of Jews in this group, like me. Except we’re clever enough to know the difference between a fetish and actually committing racist acts”
- Example 3: “The biggest fan of my ex’s SS-uniform was a friend of ours who is Jewish”
- Example 4: “Jews like to play Nazis and Nazis like to play Jews”
- Example 5: “I’m a Jew who likes to keep being a Jew in my Nazi torture role-playing”
The authors also noted that not one post they examined expressed explicit anti-Semitism. It was the violent nature of Nazism, not anti-Semitism that motivated the self-presentation of individuals as ‘Nazis’ among Nazi uniform fetishists. They also added that it was the image of violence that was being portrayed, more than the actual violence. This is because BDSM play is highly controlled (as evidenced by, consensual scene negotiation and the use of safe-words). Based on the (mainly) qualitative data collected, Lopez and Godard concluded that:
“Nazi uniform fetish and role-play is just that, the playing of a role. The fetish serves to enhance the BDSM experience and has little to do with white supremacy or anti-Semitism. The world of BDSM is an erotically charged arena that incorporates a variety of interests, desires, and tastes. It is the association with evil that participants in Nazi uniform fetish and role-play find appealing. The self-presentation of erotic evil serves to contribute to the quality of the BDSM experience and allow participants in this subculture a safe and accepting environment in which to explore and express their fetish. This suggests, as oxymoronic as it sounds, that evil isn’t all that bad. The incorporation of evil symbols in a safe, non-harmful, consensual manner to enhance one’s pleasure suggests some performances (i.e., role-playing) serve a purpose in popular culture; it allows us to be bad”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Betts, P. (2002). The new fascination with fascism: The case of Nazi modernism. Journal of Contemporary History, 37, 541-558.
Fuchs, M. (2012). Of Blitzkriege and Hardcore BDSM: Revisiting Nazi Sexploitation Camps. In Elizabeth Bridges, Kristin T. Vander Lugt, & Daniel H. Magilow (Eds.), Nazisploitation: The Nazi Image in Low-Brow Film and Culture (pp. 279-294. New York: Continuum.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2013). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.
Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of sSyle. New York: Methuen & Co.
Lopez, D. A., Godard, E. Nazi (2013). Uniform fetish and role-playing: A subculture of erotic evil. Popular Culture Review, 24(1), 69-78.
Rocker, S. (2010). Council officer sacked for Nazi ‘fetish’. Jewish Chronicle, March 22. Located at: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/29730/council-officer-sacked-nazi-fetish
Wikipedia (2013). Nazi chic. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_chic
One of the recurring questions I am often asked to comment on by the media is whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than other groups of people. One of the problems in trying to answer what looks like an easy question is that the definition of ‘celebrity’ is different to different people. Most people would argue that celebrities are famous people, but are all famous people celebrities? Are well-known sportspeople and politicians ‘celebrities’? Are high profile criminals celebrities? While all of us would say that Hollywood A-Listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are ‘celebrities’, many of the people that end up on ‘celebrity’ reality shows are far from what I would call a celebrity. Being the girlfriend or relative of someone famous does not necessarily famous.
Another problem in trying to answer this question is what kinds of addiction are the media actually referring to? Implicitly, the question might be referring to alcohol and/or illicit drug addictions but why should other addictions such as nicotine addiction or addiction to prescription drugs not be included? In addition to this, I have often been asked to comment on celebrities that are addicted to sex or gambling. However, if we include behavioural addictions in this definition of addiction, then why not include addictions to shopping, eating, or exercise? If we take this to an extreme, how many celebrities are addicted to work?
Now that I’ve aired these problematic definitional issues (without necessarily trying to answer them), I will return to the question of whether celebrities are more prone to addiction. To me, when I think about what a celebrity is, I think of someone who is widely known by most people, is usually in the world of entertainment (actor, singer, musician, television presenter), and may have more financial income than most other people I know. When I think about these types of people, I’ve always said to the media that it doesn’t surprise me when such people develop addictions. Given these situations, I would argue that high profile celebrities may have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances.
Given that there is a general relationship between accessibility and addiction, it shouldn’t be a surprise if a higher proportion of celebrities succumbs to addictive behaviours compared with a member of the general public. The ‘availability hypothesis’ may also hold true for various behavioural addictions that celebrities have admitted having – most notably addictions to gambling and/or sex. It could perhaps be argued that high profile celebrities are richer than most of us (and could therefore afford to gamble more than you or I) or they have greater access to sexual partners because they are seen as more desirable (because of their perceived wealth and/or notoriety).
Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected. In an interview with an online magazine The Fix, Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an American psychiatrist based at the University of Florida:
“Some people who become famous and get put on a pedestal begin to think of themselves differently and lose their sense of humility. And this is something you can see with addicts, too. Famous or not, people in the midst of their addiction will behave in a narcissistic, selfish way: they’ll be anti-social and have a disregard for rules and regulations. But that is part of who they as an addict – not necessarily who they would be as a sober person. Then there are some people who are narcissists outside of their disease, who don’t need a drug or alcohol addiction to make them feel like the rules don’t apply to them – and yes, I have seen in this in many athletes and actors. Of course, you also have non-famous people who struggle with both…People with addiction and people with narcissism share a similar emptiness inside. Those who are famous might fill it with achievement or with drugs and alcohol. That’s certainly not the case for everyone. But when you see people who are both famous and narcisstic – people who struggle with staying right-sized or they don’t have a real sense of who they are without the fame – you know that they’re in trouble… People with addiction and people with narcissism both seek outside sources for inside happiness. And ultimately neither the fame nor the drugs nor the drinking will work”.
The same article also pointed out that there is an increase in the number of people who (usually through reality television) are becoming (in)famous but have no discernable talent whatsoever. In my own writings on the psychology of fame, I have made the point that (historically) fame was a by-product of a particular role (e.g., country president, news anchorman) or talent (e.g., captain of the national sports team, a great actor). While the Andy Warhol maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes will never be truly fulfilled, the large increase in the number of media outlets and number of reality television shows suggests that more people than ever are getting their 15 minutes of fame. In short, the intersection between fame and addiction is on the increase. US psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer was also interviewed for The Fix article and was quoted as saying:
“Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things – whether it’s food, shopping, gambling or fame – which means it [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the ‘high’ of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they’re not performing, they don’t feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame. The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting”.
I argued some of these same points in a previous blog on whether fame can be addictive in and of itself. Another related factor I am asked about is the effect of having fame from an early age and whether this can be a pre-cursor or risk factor for later addiction. Dr. Archer was also asked about this and claimed:
“The younger you are when you get famous, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to suffer consequences down the road. If you grow up as a child star, you realize that you can get away with things other people can’t. There is a loss of self and a loss of emotional growth and a loss of thinking that you need to work in relationship with other people”.
I’m broadly in agreement with this although my guess is that this only applies to a minority of child stars rather than being a general truism. However, trying to carry out scientific research examining early childhood experiences of fame amongst people that are now adult is difficult (to say the least). There also seems to be a lot of children and teenagers who’s only desire when young is “to be famous” when they are older. As most who have this aim will ultimately fail, there is always the concern that to cope with this failure, they will turn to addictive substances and/or behaviours.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.
Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at: http://www.thefix.com/content/fame-and-drug-addiction-celebrity-addicts100001
Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a celebrity: A phenomenology of fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.
“I was reminded of a scene in the second series of The Thick Of It, where Peter Mannion, an old-school Tory MP, is told by his Steve Hilton-style spin doctor that he needs to start embracing the internet. ‘Have you ever tried Googling your own name?’ he asks. ‘It’s like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are.’ I think this nicely encapsulates the relative merits of Googling yourself: namely, that there are none” (from an article by journalist Bryony Gordon, Daily Telegraph, February 29, 2012).
Last year, the actor Dominic West let it be known to the mass media that he regularly Googles himself and was reported as saying: “I like to have chats about myself with people – mainly putting forward the case for the defence. I use my own name but nobody ever believes me”. I have never worked out why it is such a social faux pas to Google yourself and why it is so derided. I’m quite happy to admit that I regularly Google myself, and that I probably do it more than most other people. In my defence, I am regularly interviewed by the print media and I like to check on what gets reported (particularly as it’s not unknown for me to get misquoted or for my words to be taken out of context. In an article published in the Online Journalism Review, Patrick Dent writes in defence of egosurfing:
“If you are a Web professional – whether an online instructor or journalist, Web developer or marketer – you should be aware of your presence on the Web. And perhaps more importantly, the existence of Web namesakes. And if you are active in the job market, being aware of your nom-de-plume’s cyberexistence is crucial. You should be aware of any nefarious deeds or ill impressions Internet namesakes may be performing… This all goes to illustrate that searching for your name on the Internet is more than the self-serving, vanity endeavor that the label ‘ego-surfing’ implies. Beyond being an interesting exercise, and yes in some cases stroking your ego, it is a prudent – if not downright necessary – activity in today’s Web-aware professional world”.
As an academic, being cited by others is something that is seen positively. As of this morning, I had 14,564 citations on Google Scholar (which for the non-academics reading this means that my papers, articles and books have been cited 14,564 times in other papers, articles, and books). Googling myself is just another variation of seeing how I’ve been cited and I do not think there is anything wrong with it. I suppose I just like knowing about the digital footprint I am leaving online. According to the entry on Wikipedia:
“Egosurfing (also referred to as Googling yourself and less frequently called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, master-googling, google-bating) is the practice of searching for one’s own given name, surname, full name, pseudonym, or screen name on a popular search engine in order to review the results. Similarly, an egosurfer is one who surfs the Internet for his or her own name to see what information appears. It has become increasingly popular with the rise of internet search engines, as well as free blogging and web-hosting services”.
So, there you have it. According to Wikipedia’s definition I am officially an egosurfer. The same article also claims that the word ‘egosurfing’ was first coined in 1995 by Sean Carton (who’s written many books about online technology) and then featured in a March 1995 issue of Wired magazine (although the Wired definition of egosurfing is more encompassing and says it is “scanning the Net, databases, print media, or research papers looking for mentions of your own name”).
According to a short 1999 article in the British Medical Journal by Professor James Drife, looking yourself up online is “arguably the naffest way of coping with boredom”. Professor Drife’s whole article was a simple account of what he had found by Googling his own name. By doing so, he claimed to have expanded his horizons, and “strengthened [his] belief that the world is not quite ready to do without paper. Nevertheless, universities could be making plans to judge academics on their internet hits and the response rate”. (Something that I believe is already happening and is one of the reason I like to egosurf). Exactly the same thing was carried out by JoAnne Lehman, one of the editors of Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources and published in 2004. She also listed all the things she had discovered egosurfing and concluded:
“If there’s a point to my telling of this story here – beyond the desire to promote a woman writer’s work – perhaps it’s about the satisfaction of connecting with kindred spirits, and how those connections can be made in surprising ways. Oh, and maybe that Internet surfing, even the ego kind, isn’t necessarily a waste of time”.
Writing about ego-surfing appears to be a popular way of writing an article not just in academic journals but also in non-academic publications such as the national press. Bryony Gordon (the journalist I cited at the beginning of this blog) wrote that:
“Now, I am not Dominic West (Hollywood star; 5,030,000 Google results in just 0.18 seconds). I am Bryony Gordon (newspaper journalist; 431,000 Google results in a glacial 0.21 seconds). But I don’t think it matters whether you are a world famous actor or Joe Bloggs; the fact remains that Googling yourself is a dangerous and egoistical exercise that will never end well. The best case scenario for Joe Bloggs is that he finds nothing, thus making him feel like a nobody; the worst that he finds a group of his mates bitching about him on a social networking site. Ditto, on a good day the likes of Dominic West will come away from a self-Googling session with an even bigger sense of self-importance, on a bad one with a miserable neediness that their agents and lackeys will have to pull them out of. As Reese Witherspoon says, ‘it’s an affirmation of every horrible feeling you have about yourself’”.
Articles in Tech Crunch (by Duncan Riley), and Tech News World (by Katherine Noyes) reported that 47% of Americans had Googled themselves based on a study carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (up from the previous study in 2002). Using a telephone survey, the study sampled 2,373 adults (of which 1,623 were internet users). Only a very small minority (3%) Googled themselves regularly (and there was nothing on excessive self-Googling). The main reasons given for egosurfing were (i) for entertainment purposes, (ii) as a means of online reputation management (which is probably the category that I would fall under), and (iii) self-promotion and maintenance of a positive online reputation (e.g., locating online inaccuracies and ‘data spills’ and correcting them).
This is certainly an area worthy of further empirical investigation – even if it’s just to examine stereotypes around the kind of person who ego-surfs.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Dent, P. (2000). ‘Ego-Surfing’ derides valid, prudent activity. Online Journalism Review. Located at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964102.php
Drife, J.O. (1999). Egosurfing. British Medical Journal, 318, 203.
Gordon, B. (2012). Google and be damned. Daily Telegraph, February 29. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9111193/Google-and-be-damned.html
Lehman, J. (2004). From the editors. Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, 26, ii.
Nicolai, T. Kirchhoff, L., Bruns, A., Wilson, J. & Barry Saunders, B. (2008). Google Yourself! Measuring the performance of personalized information resources. Proceedings Association of Internet Researchers 2008: Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place, Copenhagen, Denmark. Located at: http://en.scientificcommons.org/31968134
Noyes, K. (2007). Pew study: Self-Googling on the rise. Tech News World, December 17. Located at: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Pew-Study-Self-Googling-on-the-Rise-60810.html
Riley, D. (2007). Do you use Google for vanity searching? You’re not alone. Tech Crunch, December 16. Located at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2007/Do-You-Use-Google-For-Vanity-Searching-Youre-Not-Alone.aspx
Wikipedia (2012). Egosurfing. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egosurfing
While researching a previous blog on Stendhal Syndrome, I came across various references to a number of “city syndromes”. According to an interesting book chapter by Nadia Halim, city syndromes are “acute, (usually) short-lived disorders that have in common a similar set of symptoms and pattern of onset and recovery”. Each of the city syndromes that have been identified in the psychological literature is associated with a specific tourist destination (e.g., Jerusalem, Paris, Florence) and identified by medical practitioners (usually psychiatrists) when sufferers access mental health services. In essence, the condition is a type of ‘culture shock’ where an individual becomes psychologically disorientated when they experience new environments that feel alien to them.
One such city syndromes is ‘Paris Syndrome’, a psychological condition that appears to affect Japanese tourists only, suggesting that it is some kind of culture bound syndrome. According to an article in the BBC News, Paris Syndrome was first identified in 1986 by Professor Hiroaki Ota (a Japanese psychiatrist who was working in France at the time). The condition is said to cause mental breakdown when visiting the city. The incidence of the disorder is very small as reports estimate that only 10-20 people a year suffer out of millions of tourists. However, the only ‘cure’ is for the affected individuals to return back to Japan.
As far as I am aware, there are only a couple of academic papers that have been published on Paris Syndrome. The first one was a case study published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of the Nissei Hospital by Dr. Katada Tamami. This was a report of a male manic-depressive who shortly after visiting Paris presented with symptoms of insomnia, fluctuation of mood, aggression, irritation and increase in sex drive. Tamami noted that being separated from his family, and living alone in Paris, the man had an identity crisis as in Paris he was no longer a father or professor. His fantasy and idealization of Paris played a large part in his abnormal behaviour.
The second paper was by a group of French psychiatrists in a 2004 issue in the French psychiatry journal Nervure. The authors reported that between 1988 and 2003, a total of 63 Japanese patients had been hospitalized because of the condition (with a slight bias towards females in their 30s). Although the number of affected patients was relatively low, the Japanese Embassy arranged for a Japanese psychiatrist to work in the authors’ hospital (i.e., St. Anne’s Hospital). In fact, the Japanese Embassy has a 24-hour telephone hotline for Japanese tourists suffering from severe culture shock. The paper claimed that for affected individuals, the city of Paris held a “quasi-magical” attraction and that it was characteristically “symbolic of all the aspects of European culture that are admired in Japan”. A Wikipedia article on Paris Syndrome claims that: “the susceptibility of Japanese people may be linked to the popularity of Paris in Japanese culture”. The same article also noted that:
“Mario Renoux, the president of the Franco-Japanese Medical Association, states in Liberation’s article ‘Des Japonais entre mal du pays et mal de Paris” (December 13, 2004) that Japanese magazines are primarily responsible for creating this syndrome. Renoux indicates that Japanese media, magazines in particular, often depict Paris as a place where most people on the street look like fashion models and most women dress in high-fashion brands”.
The symptoms of Paris Syndrome are typically transient and include anxiety attacks, violent and aggressive outbursts, feelings of persecution, acute psychotic delusions (of paranoia, megalomania, erotomania and/or mysticism), dissociative and/or disoriented feelings, depersonalization, derealization, psychomotor abnormalities (e.g., dizziness, sweating, tachycardia), and – in some cases – thoughts of suicide. Interviews with the affected individuals revealed that the Japanese arrive in the city with highly romanticized expectations and that many had spent years dreaming of coming to Paris before doing it in actuality.
The authors of the paper published in Nervure identified two fundamentally different types of the syndrome based on previous psychiatric problems and when the symptoms occurred:
- Type 1 [Classic]: These individuals typically have a problematic psychiatric history and may travel to Paris for idiosyncratic “strange” or delusional reasons. However, the onset of the symptoms is immediate upon arrival in Paris (and may even begin in the airport).
- Type 2 [Delayed Expression]: These individuals do not usually have a personal and/or familial psychiatric history. The reasons for visiting Paris are typically for ‘normal’ travelling reasons but the onset of the symptoms is much later than the ‘classic’ type (i.e., three months or longer after arriving in Paris).
As an example of the first type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 39-year-old Japanese woman with a history of schizophrenia that was hospitalized following a psychotic breakdown on her immediate arrival in Paris. She had come to Paris following an advertizing campaign that had the tagline: “France is waiting for you”. She took it to mean it was her personal destiny to go there and claimed she was going to become the queen of one of the Scandinavian countries (“Sweden, Finland or Denmark”). As an example of the second type of sufferer, the paper described the case of a 30-year-old Japanese man with no previous psychiatric history who came to France for educational reasons. The onset of the symptoms was five months after arriving in France and started when he moved into a Paris hotel (after initially studying in Reims). He was hospitalized after experiencing severe anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, and auditory hallucinations (i.e., voices threatening to kill him and his family).
One of the factors that appear to be common among sufferers is that they appear to be highly unprepared for the reality of day-to-day life in the city (e.g., the marked cultural differences, the great difference in language, the difference in public manners and behaviours, etc.). It is these differences that appear to act as a trigger for the onset of the behaviour. The most salient trigger for Paris Syndrome is thought to be the language barrier. Another factor appears to be intense exhaustion caused by trying to cram in as much as possible in the short time available for sightseeing alongside the effects of jetlag. Such factors are said to contribute to the psychological destabilization of some Japanese visitors. Another French physician (Youcef Mahmoudia) working at the hospital Hotel-Dieu de Paris claimed that Paris Syndrome was “a manifestation of psychopathology related to the voyage, rather than a syndrome of the traveller” and hypothesized that it was the excitement resulting from visiting Paris that caused the psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., increased heart rates, dizziness, etc.).
Angelique, C. (2006). Paris syndrome hits Japanese. The Guardian, October 25. Located: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oct/25/japan.france
Fastovsky N, Teitelbaum A, Zislin J, et al (2000). The Jerusalem syndrome. Psychiatric Services, 5, 1052.
Halim, N. (2009). Mad tourists: The “vectors” and meanings of city-syndromes. In K. White (Ed.), Configuring Madness. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.
Monden, C. (2005). Development of psychopathology in international tourists. In van Tilburg, M. & Vingerhoets, A. (Eds.), Psychological Aspects of Geographical Moves: Homesickness and Acculturation Stress (pp. 213-226). Amsterdam: Amsterdam Academic Archive.
Tamami, K. (1998). Reflexions on a case of Paris syndrome. Journal of the Nissei Hospital, 26, 127-132.
Viala, A., Ota, H., Vacheron, M.N., Martin, P., & Caroli, F. (2004). Les Japonais en voyage pathologique à Paris: Un modèle original de prise en charge transculturelle. Nervure (supplement), 17(5), 31-34.
Wikipedia (2012). Paris Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome
Wyatt, C. (December 20, 2006). Paris Syndrome strikes Japanese. BBC News, December 20/ Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6197921.stm
The following blog is an expanded version of an article that was published on my university website as one of the regular ‘Expert Opinion’ columns.
Last week week, a lot of media coverage was given to research on young children’s IT use carried out by the US pressure group Common Sense Media and electronic learning experts VTech. Based on a survey of 1,463 parents of children aged under eight years, it was reported that 38% of children aged under two years of age had used iPhones and/or Kindles for playing games or watching films. The study, called ‘Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, 2013’ also reported that (i) one in three young children use a mobile phone or tablet before they could talk, (ii) 29% of children started using electronic gadgets as toddlers, (iii) children aged under two years spent an average of 15 minutes a day using electronic gadgets, and that (iv) children aged between two and four years spent average of two hours a day watching television. Are these findings a cause for concern?
Over the last decade I have taken part in many radio debates about the influence of information technology on the lives of children. Typically, I am invited onto such programmes to inject a hint of caution along the lines that engaging with technology is OK for children and adolescents in moderation, but that excess involvement with all things electronic may have a downside. To me this seems little more than common sense. As I repeatedly say to people, I am certainly not anti-technology, but pro-responsible the use of it.
Most people will be aware that computers were first introduced into schools in the early-1980s. Since then, information technology has been steadily growing in importance in education rising from a minority option to a compulsory subject in the National Curriculum. Over the years I have watched as many national initiatives have attempted to get children acquainted with IT as early as possible.
No-one can deny that IT skills should be an important part of children’s educational development. However, there seem to be endless numbers of questions that we need to answer before proceeding at the current pace. For instance, should the seemingly growing emphasis on IT be continued at the expense of more traditional classroom learning experiences? Is the idea to increase the amount of classroom work done on computers going to breed a new generation of children who have forgotten how to hold a pen? Should we be introducing children to computers from the earliest age possible? Will computers ever replace teachers?
As a psychologist specializing in the effect of interactive technology in the lives of children, it still surprises me how late in my own life I was acquainted with modern technology. Back in 1982, I experienced my first taste of computers as a teenager playing Donkey Kong on my father’s Commodore 64. It wasn’t until I was 18 years of age and at university that I first did something educational on a computer. The fact that I do not feel I have been left behind in today’s technological generation suggests that children do not necessarily have to begin as young as possible to appreciate the educational benefits of IT (i.e. if I can catch up having not started until I was in my late teens, then there is no reason why others shouldn’t be able to do so).
There is no doubt that children’s day-to-day leisure habits have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Today’s modern teenager may well have a television, CD player and computer game console in their bedroom and many have online access to the internet at home and at home via smartphones, tablets, and laptops. In essence, today’s teenagers live their lives in a multi-media world and are more “screenager” than teenager. What is the long-term effect of this change in children’s leisure behaviour? Over the last decade there have been countless independent research projects all claiming to give pointers as to the long-term effects of children spending more and more time in front of the screen. A decade ago, eminent psychologists (such as Philip Zimbardo) made the observation that there had been a dramatic increase in shyness rates, a doubling of children’s obesity levels, and that children were spending less time involved in physical activities (e.g. sports) than they used to. I cannot put all the blame for these observations at the door of IT developments, but I do think they play a contributory role.
There appears to be a movement that automatically views IT as the way forward on lots of things (particularly in education), and that the only way of self-betterment amongst our children is through increasing IT use. There is little good reason to assume that more always means better. It is my belief that children at school need an integrated balance between computer-assisted learning (including the development of IT skills), traditional learning methods (paper and pen, the three ‘R’s’ etc.), physical sporting activities, and enhancement of play and peer development. That is not to say that computers and the internet do not have their positive side. Even a quick think on the subject would indicate that computers can:
- Be fun and exciting providing an innovative way of learning
- Provide elements of interactivity that can stimulate learning
- Provide elements of curiosity and challenge which can be crucial to learning
- Equip children with state-of -the-art technology
- Help overcome techno-phobia (a condition well-known among many adults)
- Eliminate gender imbalance in IT use (males have traditionally tended to be more avid IT users)
- Help in the development of transferable IT skills
However, on the down side, (and the last thing I want to be is a kill-joy here) computers (including internet use) can in some cases:
- Be socially isolating (perhaps leading to increased shyness)
- Be socially limiting (perhaps leading to physical inactivity and obesity)
- Be time-consuming, engrossing, and in extreme cases addictive
- Provide easy accessibility to exploitative material (e.g. pornography)
- Provide easy accessibility to adult activities (e.g. internet gambling)
- Provide IT skills that quickly change or become obsolete
- Cause repetitive strain injuries
- Produce unintended “sloppiness” (i.e. computers can correct spelling and grammar)
As can be seen by the list of ‘negatives’, some of the problems are not from the IT medium itself but from what children can do in that medium (e.g., access pornography or gamble at virtual casinos on the internet). Both parents and teachers need to be aware of IT’s limitations and need to put safeguards in place to protect children from unwanted exposure to adult material.
To re-iterate and expand on what I said earlier, there needs to be integration between lots of different activities (not just IT), and there needs to be a balance between IT and traditional education so that they can combine to form a richer experience for the children of tomorrow. IT will continue to have a large impact in the lives of our children. What teachers and parents need to concentrate on is not what to learn but how to learn. This in itself will have an impact on both the role of teachers and the contribution that parents can make.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Trends in technological advance: Implications for sedentary behaviour and obesity in screenagers. Education and Health, 28, 35-38.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent mobile phone addiction: A cause for concern? Education and Health, 31, 76-78.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.
Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2011). Adolescent social networking: Should parents and teachers be worried? Education and Health, 29, 23-25.
Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.
Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.
Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.
Spekman,M.L.C., Konijn,E.A, Roelofsma,P.H.M.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition, and measurement: A large-scale empirical study, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2150-2155.
In a previous blog, I examined the psychology of collecting and whether collecting can (in extreme cases) be classed as an addiction. Yesterday, the Daily Mail’s front page story was about collectors that buy ‘Holocaust memorabilia’ on eBay such as the striped pyjamas that prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps during Word War II. This type of collecting is closely related to collectors that buy ‘murderabilia’. Although the word ‘murderabilia’ is fairly new (and is an amalgam of ‘murder memorabilia’), the act itself has a long history and basically refers to collectibles that relate to murder, murderers and/or violent crimes (including such items as artwork produced by incarcerated serial killers, as well as houses, vehicles, clothes, and weapons used in crimes by mass murderers).
The fact that people collect such extreme memorabilia doesn’t surprise me in the least. To me, such behaviour is only one step removed from ‘disaster tourism’ where people pay money to see places, sites, and/or artefacts related to death and disaster. One recent example involved a travel company selling €10 tours to see the sunken cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio (Italy). Another related type of collecting are the thousands of people that collect Nazi memorabilia (including high profile cases such as the lead singer of Motörhead – Lemmy). As Lemmy’s Wikipedia entry notes:
“Lemmy collects German military regalia, and has an Iron Cross encrusted on his bass, which has led to accusations of Nazi sympathies. He has stated that he collects this memorabilia for aesthetic values only, and considers himself an anarchist or libertarian, and that he is ‘anti-communism, fascism, any extreme’ saying that ‘government causes more problems than it solves’. According to Keither Emerson’s autobiography, two of Lemmy’s Hitlerjugend knives were given to Emerson by Lemmy during his time as a roadie for The Nice. Emerson used these knives many times as keyholders when playing the Hammond Organ during concerts with The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer”.
As I noted in my previous blog on collecting as an addiction, Dr. Ruth Formanek suggested five common motivations for collecting in a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. These were: (i) extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); (ii) social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); (iii) preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; (iv) financial investment; and (v), an addiction or compulsion. Formanek claimed that the commonality to all motivations to collect was a passion for the particular things collected. None of these motivations beyond passion appears to explain why people collect murderabilia (unless the collectors themselves identify with the person and/or actions of the murderabilia they collect). Crime writer Leigh Lundin claims such individuals may be interested in the macabre, and that many believe by collecting such items offers the collector power and control. My own opinion is that such collectors want to possess unique items that no-one else has and also believe that possess a piece of history (even if the item is connected with actions or people that are sadistic, depraved and/or deluded). Arguable this latter motivation may be related to the motivation of ‘preserving history’.
Back in May 2001, eBay banned the sale of murderabilia items but all this has done is move the murderabilia industry elsewhere (for instance, on websites like Supernaught.com that claims on its’ homepage that it is “the first and longest running website providing true crime collectibles”; among the items they were selling were bricks from [Milwaulkee Cannibal] Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment at $300 a time). The Australian Caslon Analytics website also noted that:
“Contemporary murderabilia has included items owned or created by serial killers, including postcards from Charles Manson, what are claimed as his fingerprint cards, the license plate of the van used by John Wayne Gacy, a murder weapon used by Gary Gilmore, letters from the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ [Peter Sutcliffe] and the ‘Acid Bath Killer’ [John George Haigh] in the UK, drawings by Gacy and other US killers, the radiator cap from the Bonnie & Clyde ‘death car’, Heinrich Himmler’s limousine, earth supposedly from the house where Gacy buried some of his victims and the clothing of some killers. 2009 saw artworks by UK gang leaders Ronnie and Reggie Kray auctioned for £17,125, along with £3,105 for a canvas by poisoner Graham Young”.
The academic literature on murderabilia is mostly in the field of law and/or morality. However, I did unearth a few interesting academic pieces on the topic. There are also some interesting pieces written from a media studies perspective. For instance, Dr. Melinda Wilkins in her PhD ‘A Comfortable Evil’ noted that:
“The serial murder epidemic also generated within the popular media a lucrative moral controversy to negotiate via films, television movies, docu-dramas, true-crime accounts, novels, and memoirs. There were serial-killer comic books and serial killer trading cards to sell; there were serial-killer records to play, taped interviews with Edmund Kemper, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, and Kenneth Bianchi billed as ‘honesty about violence’; and for a while during the early 2000s, there was even an eBay web site devoted to the sale of ‘Murderabilia’, memorabilia of one sort and another from various notorious murderers in prison. The epidemic provided American journalists with an apparently inexhaustible topic guaranteed to draw readers and viewers”.
One US academic – Professor David Schmid – has written a number of articles and books on the general public’s consumption of fame including murderabilia including one on this very topic in the M/C Journal (an academic journal concerning media and culture). As Professor Schmid observes:
“The sale of murderabilia is just a small part of the huge serial killer industry that has become a defining feature of American popular culture over the last twenty-five years. This industry is, in turn, a prime example of what Mark Seltzer has described as ‘wound culture,’ consisting of a ‘public fascination with torn and open bodies and torn and opened persons, a collective gathering around shock, trauma, and the wound’. According to Seltzer, the serial killer is ‘one of the superstars of our wound culture’ and his claim is confirmed by the constant stream of movies, books, magazines, television shows, websites, t-shirts, and a tsunami of ephemera that has given the figure of the serial murderer an unparalleled degree of visibility and fame in the contemporary American public sphere”
Schmid’s paper examined how the celebrity culture concerning serial killers has developed and the ethics of collecting such items. He provided examples of how collectors buy the hair and nail clippings of murderers as if they were religious icons. Citing from an old book chapter by US sociologist Leo Lowenthal (‘Biographies in Popular Magazines’), Lowenthal argued that magazine biographies underwent a striking change in the first half of the twentieth century with a new type of social biography emerging. His main argument was that biographies had changed from ‘idols of production’ (those in politics, science, sports, business, etc.) to ‘idols of consumption’ (those in film, music, literature, etc.). This latter group has also evolved to include the lives of infamous criminals. As Schmid then notes:
“With Lowenthal in mind, when one considers the fact that the serial killer is generally seen, in Richard Tithecott’s words, as ‘deserving of eternal fame, of media attention on a massive scale, of groupies’, one is tempted to describe the advent of celebrity serial killers as a further decline in the condition of American culture’s ‘mass idols’. The serial killer’s relationship to consumption, however, is too complex to allow for such a hasty judgment, as the murderabilia industry indicates”.
Schmid also discusses the 2000 US documentary Collectors (directed by Julian P. Hobbs) and discusses some of the multiple connections between serial killing and consumerism.
“Hobbs points out that the serial killer is connected with consumerism in the most basic sense that he has become a commodity, ‘a merchandising phenomenon that rivals Mickey Mouse. From movies to television, books to on-line, serial killers are packaged and consumed en-masse’…But as Hobbs goes on to argue, serial killers themselves can be seen as consumers, making any representations of them implicated in the same consumerist logic: ‘Serial killers come into being by fetishizing and collecting artifacts – usually body parts – in turn, the dedicated collector gathers scraps connected with the actual events and so, too, a documentary a collection of images’…Hobbs implies that no one can avoid being involved with consumerism in relation to serial murder, even if one’s reasons for getting involved are high-minded”.
Schmid then goes on to say:
“The reason why it is impossible to separate neatly ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ expressions of interest in famous serial killers is the same reason why the murderabilia industry is booming; in the words of a 1994 National Examiner headline: ‘Serial Killers Are as American as Apple Pie’. Christopher Sharrett has suggested that: ‘Perhaps the fetish status of the criminal psychopath…is about recognizing the serial killer/mass murderer not as social rebel or folk hero…but as the most genuine representative of American life’. The enormous resistance to recognizing the representativeness of serial killers in American culture is fundamental to the appeal of fetishizing serial killers and their artifacts”.
Even if the murderabilia market carries on ‘making a [financial] killing out of a killing’, it is unlikely to wane in popularity (unless the mass media stops reporting such behaviour). Furthermore, even if legislation outlaws such a practice, the activity will simply go (and likely burgeon) underground. There will always be individuals that are fascinated by the macabre (myself included) and no law will ever stop people collecting such items, however immoral, bizarre and/or depraved.
Chang, S. (2004). Prodigal son returns: An assessment of current Son of Sam laws and the reality of the online murderabilia marketplace. Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal, 31, 430.
Daily Mail (2012). ‘Disaster tourism’ boom for Giglio as day-trippers visit the Costa Concordia site. August 15. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2188623/Costa-Concordia-tragedy-Disaster-tourism-boom-Giglio-day-trippers-visit-stricken-ship.html
Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.
Jarvis, B. (2007). Monsters Inc.: Serial killers and consumer culture. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(3), 326-344.
Lowenthal, L. (1961). The Triumph of Mass Idols. Literature, Popular Culture and Society (pp.109-140). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Schmid, D. (2004). Murderabilia: Consuming fame. M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, 7(5). Located at: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0411/10-schmid.php
Sharrett, C. (1999). Introduction. Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media. (pp. 9-20). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Tithecott, R. (1997). Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Wikipedia (2013). Murderabilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murderabilia
Wilkins, M. P. (2004). A Comfortable Evil. Doctoral Dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have taken a passing interest in body tattoos both in relation to those who are sexually aroused by them (see my previous blog on stigmatophilia) and the representation of tattoos in films. I also have to admit that I’ve been watching the UK Channel 4 television series My Tattoo Addiction (mainly because it had the word ‘addiction’ in the title). Although I aim to look at the issue of ‘tattoo addiction’ in more academic terms in a future blog (so apologies for those of you wanting something empirically-based), but I just wanted to quickly examine whether any of the people featured across the television series could be classed in any way as ‘addicted’ to having tattoos.
Most of the time, the programme simply followed various British people where a story involving a tattoo made good (in this case ‘car crash’) television but had nothing to do with ‘addiction’. For instance, one story involved a trans-gendered individual who had his wife’s name tattooed on his arm but then changed gender so she had it changed into another different tattoo representing a symbolic transformation from man to woman. Another moving case story was of a woman who had a double mastectomy following breast cancer and then had nipples tattooed onto her reconstructed breasts following cosmetic surgery. A regular segment followed the events in one of the many tattoo parlours in Magaluf (in the Spanish island of Majorca) where almost all the people filmed were on ‘18-30’ type holidays. All of these appeared to be completely inebriated and having tattoos they would ultimately regret. Most of the cases featured young men and women having the names of people they had met that night and/or bizarre designs (such as the ‘burger nipple’) tattooed on their buttocks (at least that’s the take home message I took from it).
A number of the cases followed described themselves as having an “obsessive personality” and at least two of the cases were arguably obsessed with fictional literary characters that resulted in lots of tattoos (but I’ll come back to them in a minute). One of the men filmed for the documentary was 34-year old Mark from Buckinghamshire, and described by the programme as a “full blown tattoo addict”. He started off having a sole tattoo done when he was 22 years of age “then two, then three…and now it’s crept up on to [his] head”. Mark’s tattoos included one of the glamour model Jordan (i.e., Katie Price) with the words ‘Rape Me’ written across her chest, another of Audrey Hepburn with a sadomasochistic ball gag in her mouth, and another of a prudish Victorian lady reading a pornographic book about anal sex. When asked the reason for getting such extreme tattoos, Mark simply said he liked “the individuality, the outlet, and the shock factor” of his tattoos. Shocking, arguably. Addicted to tattoos? Not by my criteria.
Arguably one of the most sensational segments of the series was the controversial body art styled by tattooist Woody (who had gained much “notoriety for his challenging artwork”) including a tattoo of Adolf Hitler holding a large piece of paper with the words ‘Gas Bill’ on it. Woody claimed he liked his tattoos to “make statements”. The whole of his chest and stomach was taken up with a single tattoo that simply said “Pure F**king Hate” and his back was taken up with a single tattoo that reads “100% C**T” (without the asterisks – I just thought I’d add those for my readers with a sensitive disposition).
Of all the people featured in the series, two most caught my interest (psychologically), Jay – a 29-year old bodybuilder from Kent, and Kathy – a 52-year old woman from Reading. Jay was first described as having a “secret in his attic”. Since he was a boy, he has been an avid collector of super-hero action figures. His whole attic was full of unopened super-hero action figures (thousands of them it looked to me). His collection obsession was argued by Jay to be no different to someone who collects stamps – “just on a bigger scale”. The programme claimed that his “obsession [was] growing and manifesting itself in a new way” because he was getting his back tattooed with eleven large female super-heroes (the programme showed him having his sixth one done in a marathon 10-hour session). The programme narrator then went on to say that although Jay had only just started getting tattooed, he was already giving as much dedication to his tattoos as he was to his collecting.
Jay claimed that whenever he did anything in life he always ‘gave it his all’ and that his reasons for getting super-hero tattoos ran deeper than most. He has dedicated his whole life “to the pursuit of physical excellence” and in his early twenties competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Unfortunately, he had to give it up after a serious heart failure but now devoted to bodybuilding despite being on heart medication for the rest of his life. It appeared to me that Jay was constantly replacing one highly salient activity with another (much like ‘reciprocity’ found in addicts that give up one addiction only to replace it with another).
He was told by a friend to fill his life with “something positive otherwise you’ll self-destruct”. It was during this period that Jay’s interest in super-heroes took on greater significance. It helped him come to terms that he would never reach his dream of becoming the world’s strongest man. I also noticed that around his house there were many items of super-hero memorabilia and accessories along with loads of super-hero DVDs. Jay questioned himself as to whether he has an obsessive or compulsive behaviour. His response was something that I would wholeheartedly agree with given my views on the differences between healthy and addictive behaviour: “As long as the obsession doesn’t ruin my life, why is it such a bad thing? With what I’ve done it’s given me the life I’ve got…it’s the will to do what I do, the best I can”.
Kathy began her story by recounting that in 2010 she had “stumbled across the book that would change her life forever [about a] young and unassuming girl that doesn’t fit in, and comes to the attention of [a] family…it’s just a love story”. The narrator claimed the book “spoke to Kathy in a way she had never experienced before”. The book in question was Twilight (the young adult vampire-romance novel by Stephanie Meyer). She went and got The Twilight Saga DVDs and became “totally hooked”. The books and DVDs weren’t enough and she started getting Twilight characters tattooed on her body to the point where her whole back is now covered in them, along with her arms, legs, and upper chest. Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
Every two weeks after pay day she got another tattoo. At the time of the programme she had undergone 91 hours of tattooing and was just about to have another tattoo put on some remaining space on one of her legs. Most of her tattoos were of (or related to) the character Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson). Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
“Tattooing is addictive. This is my form of getting my fix. It’s not a bad thing. Obviously there’s a certain amount of pain [but] it’s what I get a buzz off now”.
Although a late starter in the tattoo world, Kathy said she couldn’t now imagine a life without tattoos and that without them her life would be “very boring” and that she wouldn’t be the person she now is. However, she admitted the tattoos had caused family conflicts. She hadn’t spoken with her brother in five years because he was too embarrassed by her tattoos, and her father refuses to be seen with her in public. Her sisters were more supportive and noticed that the tattoos had brought Kathy “out of her shell”. The tattoos had apparently turned Kathy from a “wallflower” into someone quite extrovert.
I was interested in how she came to tattoing so late in her life. Kathy revealed that became very depressed after the death of her 63-year old mother in 1999 and it was then that her weight started to balloon through overeating, and she developed a very low self-esteem. She refused to have photographs taken and was “ashamed” of what she looked like. After becoming “hooked” on the first Twilight book, she said it gave her life focus. She had now read it so many times she’s had to buy new copies as well read copies had become dog-eared.
She then bought the music soundtracks and then started exercising to the music. She would even exercise in front of the DVDs for two or three hours at a go. It was then she started losing weight and began getting tattoos. She said that the tattoos gave her focus and was a permanent reminder of how she had got her life “back on track” and kept her “feeling young”. The constant new tattoos were “costing [her] a small fortune – just over eight and a half thousand pounds so far”. She then went on to say that in terms of what she has planned in the future, the total cost of the tattooing will be between £17,000 and £25,000. She says it’s keeping her “permanently broke” but despite the cost she’s “not stopping”.
Based on the information in the documentary, both Jay and Kathy appeared to display elements of addictive and obsessive behaviour. However, I would argue that the addictive elements are more to do with something external to the tattoos (i.e., super-heroes and bodybuilding for Jay, and the Twilight story for Kathy) rather than the tattoos themselves (even though Kathy said that the act of getting tattoos was a buzz and addictive). There appeared to be some conflicts in both of their lives (health, financial, and/or family conflicts) although none that suggested that either were truly addicted to anything (tattoos or otherwise). For both of them, the behaviour they engaged appeared to make them feel better about themselves rather than being something negatively detrimental. As I have said time and time again, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from them.
Duggal, H.S. & Fisher, B. (2002). Repetitive tattooing in borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 190–192.
Irwin, K. (2003). Saints and sinners: elite tattoo collectors and tattooists as positive and negative deviants. Sociological Spectrum, 23, 27-57.
Raspa, R.F. & Cusack, J. (1990) Psychiatric implications of tattoos. American Family Physician, 41,1481-1486.
Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J. & Kappeler, P.M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body Image, 4, 87-95.