Tattoos, deviance and consumer culture in North American television
Criminal minds, CSI: NY and Law and order
in Tattoos in crime and detective narratives
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The recent ‘tattoo renaissance’ has seen what was previously considered largely as the mark of the deviant progress into mainstream culture. Tattoos are no longer the province of the outlaw; marks of resistance have become inscribed within the very ideology that historically they appeared to contest. Contemporary tattoo culture finds itself caught in a paradox. Although more lucrative than ever before, the allure of an outsider art is tarnished for many practitioners by tattooing’s seeming ubiquity. This chapter explores the relationship between social deviance and consumer culture in depictions of three contemporary US crime dramas: Criminal Minds, CSI: NY and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Given the tattoo’s longstanding connection to criminality, it is hardly surprising that such shows should embrace the ‘tattoo renaissance’. Importantly, this is a genre that strikes its own balance between marginality and the mainstream; these series rely on the repeated reinstatement of normality in the face of the pathological. This chapter argues that the depiction of tattoos functions not simply as a reactionary gesture of demonising the tattooed, but also as a way of retaining the tattoo’s potency as the mark of the outsider in order to facilitate its usefulness to consumer culture.

Editors: Kate Watson and Katharine Cox

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