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Tattoos and Marines

The Marines have issued a new rule about body art and tattoos, declaring certain kinds are no longer permitted. Marines that have previous tattoos are exempt from the new rule, though their tattoos have to be photographed and documented, and they are not allowed to add to them. The Marines say that large tattoos detract from the public image of the Corps.

The AP version was picked up by seemingly every major paper. The San Diego Union Tribune was one of the few to cover the story with their own reporters.

The AP version, by Thomas Watkins, used a delayed lead and fantastic images to talk about the tattoos. They lead with the point-of-view of a Marine. They also use many terms that are Marine lingo, such as leatherneck and spit-and-polish. They contribute to the interest of the piece, but they may detract from the reader’s understanding if the reader is not familiar with these terms. This article is also heavy on the side of the individual Marines, and I get the impression that reporter doesn’t think much of this new rule, giving little credence to the side of the officials.

The San Diego version, by Rick Rogers and Steve Liewer, focuses on the individuals who are rushing to get tattoos before the rule goes into effect on Sunday. I think this gives the story more immediacy and makes it timelier. I think this element was in the AP articles, but it was not as prominent. This is also heavy with quotes from individual Marines. Interestingly, they use some of the same sources as the AP article.

I like the immediacy of the second article, though I think that both are too heavily on the soldier’s side, and we could use the perspective of the officials.


I especially appreciate your quick overview of the media's handling of this -- that most picked up the paper but San Diego did a local version. I gather that's because a Marine base, Camp Pendleton, is nearby.

You mentioned soldiers and officials. Is there any other stakeholder?

Is there a sociological angle that's being overlooked by both papers? At the risk of generalizing: Why do people get tattoos? Surely for fine reasons like independent expression, but perhaps sometimes for unhealthy reasons like anger and aggression? Is it natural to expect that those people would go into the armed forces? If giant tattoos are signs of an increase in whatever tendencies, if these are showing up in the armed forces, is there an increase in something deeper that the officials should be worried about? Something that will remain, and grow, even if the symptoms (tattoos) are stamped out?