Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Michael Bowman


In this study I examine visual representations of tattooed bodies in three arenas of cultural production: tattoo conventions, advertising, and neo-tribal books. Through the methodological lens of genealogies of performance, I analyze these texts' construction of the tattooed body as classed, gendered, and exotic. I argue that contemporary representations of the tattooed body resist and reproduce discursive power regimes by surrogating prior cultural performances and representations of performance. I argue that contemporary visual representations of the tattooed body succeed in resisting discursive authority when they performatively cite multiple and transgressive authorities. I additionally indicate that the body in representation transgresses cultural normalization strategies when it refuses to be categorized as a system of separate and, in their separation, silenced parts. The first case study traces the discursive history of the social status of tattooed bodies performing at the Southern Comfort Tattoo Expo. I link the performance styles and spatial logic of this tattoo convention to the illustrated men and women performing on sideshow stages in circus and carnival venues at the turn of the last century. The second case study situates the tattooed body within gender discourse. I begin with an interpretation of a late 1990s Tampax advertising campaign featuring a tattooed Rosie the Riveter. I then draw interpretive connections between that advertisement and the Marlboro Man advertising campaign initiated during the 1950s before returning again to the 1990s and an evaluation of a Sony PlaySation advertisement. The third case study addresses the construction of the tattooed body as an exotic modern primitive within three books: Modern Primitives, Return of the Tribal, and Customizing the Body. The analysis of these texts suggests that modern primitive discourse creates its own authoritative history as well as attempts to occlude the histories of the sideshow at the turn of the century and the working-class masculine history of the mid-century.