To Tattoo or Not To Tatto a Cat Tattoo?
June 25, 2018 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a tattoo of Jenny Linsky, a little black cat who is the main character in an old series of children's stories I loved as a child. I'm hesitating because one of the stories is a bit culturally insensitive. Should I ditch the plan, or am I just using this as cover for cold feet? More below the fold.

One of my favorite books as a child was "Jenny and the Cat Club," and I've been thinking about getting a tattoo of one of the illustrations for a while now. Like this one or this one. (I'm not the only person who likes these two as tattoos.) Well. My little black cat went missing last year, and now that I've resigned myself to the fact she's not coming back, I've made plans to finally go through with it as a kind of memorial/reminder.

However, re-reading the stories reminded me that one of them prominently features Florio, a cat who wears an "Indian feathered head dress" he borrows from a doorman (yes, a doorman). Example 1; Example 2. Which is...not great. I wouldn't be getting a tattoo of Florio, of course. The illustrations I'm considering aren't even from that story. And I'm pretty sure this isn't any more objectionable than getting a tattoo of Bugs Bunny even though some of the old shorts were pretty racist. Nevertheless, Florio is giving me second thoughts all the same. Am I right to hesitate, or am I fixating on this so I'll have an excuse to back out?

(Obviously, it's a bad idea to get a tattoo if you're not sure you want it, and it's a bad idea to get a tattoo if you associate it with something negative regardless of whether the association is well-founded. I might scrap the plan for just those reasons. But I'd still want to know whether I'm looking for an excuse to do so.)
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it’s not a “Fuck yes!!!” it’s a no.
posted by nathaole at 11:42 PM on June 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Absolutely don't get something you're unsure about - ANY reason for the cold feet is enough to at least wait.
Would this thought ever go out of your mind even if 1000 people told you it's fine? Or would you still think about it? Perhaps another style of black cat may be an option?
I cannot tell you if A) people would recognize this B) people would be offended or C) if you'd regret it.

What I CAN tell you from being in the process of getting a tattoo laser removed - it hurts and it's very expensive and it takes a LONG time. Go into all tattoos as being permanent. Do not pass go if you are at all nervous. A black tattoo cannot be covered easily. (It's a tattoo I once loved based on something I still adore but the work was poor and the style didn't fit me anymore.)
posted by Crystalinne at 12:28 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: you should totally do it

1. cat tattoos rock

2. the cultural insensitivity seems indirect & super-mild (to me, at least)

3. you get to choose what all this means, not anyone else

4. you can talk yourself out of anything if you try hard enough, no matter how good an idea it is
posted by rd45 at 2:29 AM on June 26, 2018 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I’ve never heard of these but as a fellow black cat lover I find those tattoo idea illustrations extremely adorable!

I’m an animator and animation basically permeates my entire life. I’ve always loved it! One of the downsides of that is that, like many, many things, it’s historically fraught with a lot of insensitive and/or offensive material. My take on these things (depending on the severity and if relevant whether it’s acknowledged, like Warner Bros.’ acknowledgment of its racist Looney Tunes cartoons on its DVD/Blu Ray releases) is that you should be aware and educated about it but that it shouldn’t necessarily ruin the entire thing for you.

I know nothing about Jenny Linsky but I think that’s an extremely cute tattoo idea, but agree with above posts that you shouldn’t spring for it unless you’re absolutely sure! Sorry to hear about your kitty :(
posted by caitcadieux at 4:46 AM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with rd45- "you can talk yourself out of anything if you try hard enough, no matter how good an idea it is." This is a very cute tattoo that has multiple meanings for you. I don't think you'd regret it.

(An aside: Oh. My. God! I remember reading that book in 1st grade, and I've always wondered what it was since! As a child, I was obsessed with trying to understand exactly what the sailor's hornpipe really was.)
posted by Mouse Army at 4:59 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a dilemma that many of us are facing nowadays, the older you are, the more it happens. More and more things we grew up with are now seen as being culturally insensitive. I read an article yesterday that Laura Ingalls Wilder was stripped of the book award given in her name due to some cultural insensitivity in her Little House books -- books that were autobiographical and written in the mid-to-late 1800's. Having grown up on those books, it broke my heart to read that news, I learned so much from her stories about pioneer life and can honestly say racism was the last thing I got from her books. Every time I turn around something I grew up with and knew and loved is deemed culturally insensitive. I can't help when I grew up and I can't help what I was exposed to as a child and I can't help that some of these things hold happy/good/warm memories for me. So what to do?

I'm trying to come to terms with this myself, but I try to remember that these things were reflective of the times, and were normal and acceptable, meaning that many people didn't say or write these things to be insensitive, time has made them that way. So intent is important I think. In your example pictures, it looks like the cats are playing 'make believe', which is something children have been doing forever, so I don't see a mean or hurtful intent, an ignorant one by today's standards to use the feather, but I don't believe it was done to be insensitive on purpose. You learned from the experience and that is an important takeaway.

For all of your other reasons, I would get the tattoo, it seems a lovely way to remember your own cat.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:06 AM on June 26, 2018 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps you could find a tattoo artist that communicates well with you and talk to them about it and see if they have any thoughts. Black cat imagery is pretty common so I wonder if there's another way to have a tattoo with a similar personal meaning without the baggage that you just haven't thought of because you're lingering on this one. Or maybe there's a way to depict your cat in the style of these cute illustrations without being a direct pull of a character, so there's a degree of separation there away from the uncomfortable source material and closer to your own lived experience.
posted by Mizu at 5:23 AM on June 26, 2018

Maybe you could substitute another black cat from children’s literature. It seems to me that now you have refreshed your memories on the cultural insensitivity of the original work, you would always be reminded of that when you looked at the tattoo. Other black cats might include:
-Any of the hex cats from the Nate the Great books
-Gink from the Dorrie the Witch books
-A cat from Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
-Black cat from Black Cat White Cat by Sylvia Borando
-The cat in Black Cat by Christopher Myers

I don’t feel we should hold fast to culturally insensitive literature. Some books, when designated “classics” were only ever meant to be classics for white children. While it’s true those books can hold a place in our hearts, I think it’s important not to magnify their reach.
posted by donut_princess at 5:26 AM on June 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Also relative to whether this scene was just a product of its time and the cats were playing make believe there are literally so many other hats that the third cat could have worn to play dress up. If anything, at that point in time there were way more types of hats than there are now. The artist made a conscious choice to exoticise native nations.
posted by donut_princess at 5:31 AM on June 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

i have a cat tattoo. it’s of my late beloved norwegian forest cat. it’s brought me no end of comfort since he died.

go for it.
posted by hollisimo at 5:36 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I personally would not look askance at you for this tattoo (although I definitely would if you were getting a Florio tattoo). I agree with others that the story you describe is insensitive and kind of gross, but it's just one story out of many, and you obviously aren't seeking to glorify or glamorize that one element of Jenny and the Cat Club.

THAT SAID, I would not get the tattoo, myself. When I was 19 I got a tattoo that I later realized could have some yucky connotations that I would never, ever want to be associated with. I'm almost 28 now and as far as I know no one has ever thought badly of me for it, but I really wish I didn't have it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:51 AM on June 26, 2018

I grew up loving a sports team with an overtly culturally insensitive team mascot. I wouldn't have thought twice about getting that as a tattoo and would deeply regret it now. What are the chances this image becomes that for you? The chance of that would inform my decision. (Sorry, I cannot see those images at this time.)
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 5:52 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's your body. There are as many reasons to get tattoos as there are tattoos; some people get them because they have deep meaning for them, some people because they think they look cool, some people to have a new experience, some people because of the rush you get from it, some people get them to mark events, others to signify membership in a community... it doesn't matter what the reason is, so long as it's your reason, because it's your body. I have two tattoos right now that are just words I aspire to live by, in a place that I can see them when I'm working. One is embellished the way it is just because I wanted some dynamic shapes on that part of my body. I'm planning two more because I think some current non-traditional tattoo styles are really interesting and I think they could blend with traditional tattoo subject matter in cool ways... and I'm planning at third very traditional tattoo to commemorate my recently deceased cat. Most of these reasons have nothing to do with your reasons, but that's my point: the only person the reason (or the tattoo) needs to be good enough for is you.

I don't see why the illustrations you've chosen as exemplars would in themselves be offensive to anyone, and I feel like it's okay to enjoy and feel connected to problematic art as long as we don't pretend it's not problematic, which you clearly aren't doing... honestly, I'd say go for it. Find an artist with some experience, follow the aftercare instructions, and don't worry about what other people think about what you do with your body.
posted by Fish Sauce at 6:24 AM on June 26, 2018

Best answer: that is a freaking adorable tattoo idea and i wouldn't hesitate about getting it. you loved the stories and they made you happy and you loved your kitty who made you happy. presumably this tattoo would make you happy.

i highly doubt that anyone will ever look at an adorable tattoo like that, say "WAIT! isn't there a cat wearing an indian headdress in one of those stories? FOR SHAME!"
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:28 AM on June 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I don’t think you need the intent to be insensitive and/or racist or even ill will for something to be insensitive and/or racist. That being said, this cat character is relatively obscure to *me* and I would just see it as a cute cat since I don’t know the character. I also don’t see this as bad as say, getting the Redskins logo tattooed or something.
posted by buttonedup at 6:30 AM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you have even the slightest concern that someone might be offended someday, don't do it. Everyone is crazy these days and taking offense at everything and it's just not worth it. You can get any kind of cat tattoo that isn't specific to this instead.

Honestly, I don't even think this is bad at all myself since you're not getting Florio and I've never even heard of this book and I doubt very many have, but Someone Else Might and it's just too risky now. Especially if you can't easily remove it. I wish I could agree with misanthropicsarah that nobody would say that, and if we lived in a sane world, yes. But hoo boy, we do not.

Get some other cat. A generic one, maybe.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the advice not to get a tattoo unless you are all in is really wise and you should listen to it. But the me part of me (which isn’t you and won’t have to live with the decision for umpty years) wants to tell you to DO IT because omg, what an adorable image and a great tattoo idea. (My credentials: fellow black-cat-lover.)
posted by eirias at 7:24 AM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Why not get your actual cat, done in a similar style? To me those illustrations are not so distinct and I think you'll be happier with an original created in consultation with a tattoo artist.
posted by kapers at 7:36 AM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have never heard of Jenny Linsky. But the way the cat is drawn and accessorized - and especially the presence of the red scarf, which seems central to the design of this particular cat - would lead me to assume it was the cartoon/illustrated cat *character* that you were honoring, rather than you getting a tattoo of a black cat to honor your own real life cat - and that you selecting this particular character would bring along *all of the associations* with that cat character and its world.

I'm going to strenuously counter Nora Charles' argument that "many people didn't say or write these things to be insensitive, time has made them that way" - Nope. They were *always* insensitive; mainstream society just quashed the voices that called them out. People were being hurt, but their hurt wasn't being acknowledged. The first acknowledged complaint about naming a children's book award after Laura Ingalls Wilder despite the anti-Black and anti-Native sentiments portrayed in her books came all the way back in 1952. And those books were published back in the '30s and '40s; certainly it was offensive to Native Americans back then, but what voice were they permitted in mainstream white American society? The depiction of Florio - sure, kids used to play dressup as "Indians;" there's more awareness now of how exclusionary that is. You're not getting a tattoo of Florio, but Florio is part of Jenny Linsky's world.

Bringing this back to your tattoo choice - you've already indicated that the racist elements in the world of the Jenny Linsky cat are giving you second thoughts about getting this specific tattoo. Concerns about getting a tattoo at all are a bit different, and it's possible you're having those, too. To parse those out, I would look at other black cat tattoo styles. Maybe commission an artist whose work you love to design a tattoo based on pictures of your cat, if you don't like other existing black-cat-character depictions? If you're still hesitant after looking at other tattoo options, maybe that's an indication that you're hesitant about tattoos at all *right now*. (And if you're not hesitant after that, then get your cat tattoo.)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It seems like the potential external risk is:
  • someone recognizes the cat as being Jenny Linsky
  • they know the Jenny Linsky series
  • they know the Jenny Linsky series well enough to be aware that Florio was wearing Indian headdresses in one or more of the books
  • they are upset and/or offended by the connection
It seems like a very unlikely chain of connections that a casual observer would make. Extremely unlikely.

If you would always make the association, and it would cause you to feel bad about your own tattoo, then you probably shouldn't do it. If you make your peace with it, then it will be okay. Yours is the view that matters the most, because you will be living with the art on your body for a long time.
posted by theorique at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I loved those books as a kid!!!

But I hadn't remembered reading them until I saw those illustrations you posted and it broke a wonderful and happy memory for me that was long, long forgotten.

If a tattoo has the power of doing that, I say GO FOR IT.

I would bet my bottom dollar that for the most part your tattoo will bring a smile to people's faces.... if anyone is offended, you can simply say you just love Black Cats and love this drawing, and if they can't see the innocence in that than that's on them!
posted by JenThePro at 11:50 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Even if no one else notices or cares, you seem to care. Or as you suggest yourself, you may be making an excuse not to do it. Both are strong reasons not to do it.
posted by kapers at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I mean, never heard of the books or author but googling her turns up nothing untoward. Even googling her + controversy brings up nothing.

I say go for it, it's a cool art style that would look good as a tattoo and 99% of people will just see it as a cat. The other 1% of people will recognize it. 0% of people will see it, remember that one of the other cats wore a feather, decide a cat wearing a feathered headdress is the same as a person doing it and that the person is white (or whatever) AND that wearing the headdress is inherently inappropriate, offensive, or worth fussing about AS WELL as being so egregious it's worth bringing up to virtue signal over.

Worst case scenario, you encounter the world's busiest body whose fired up about you getting a tattoo of a cat that's in a book with another cat who does something adorable but would be offensive (to some) if a contemporary, white, brodude, college student did it for a party. In this scenario, what happens? They say "a minor part of these books was gross, rah rah rah!" and you already are aware and seem to agree so the conversation would amount, "yeah, that's unfortunate." The end.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:20 PM on June 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm of the school that the image is adorable and would make a great tattoo image. In terms of the potential offensiveness, to me it's like putting a quote by Shakespeare on a coffee mug--Taming of the Shrew is horrible but that's not the thing you're memorializing?

I guess one thought experiment to ask yourself is, if you imagine the tattoo starting a conversation about the books, would you be self-conscious if someone said they'd pick them up? I personally would be comfortable in that situation saying "they're great but avoid the one with Florio" but that might not be your answer.
posted by mark k at 7:45 PM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

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