Tattoo Column Goes Viral

On February 2, 2012

Fifty-nine thousand people visited The Spectrum website in the past two days.

Almost 23,000 people clicked on Lisa Khoury's column against tattoos.

Six hundred forty-four comments came from readers around the globe – in nations like Australia, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand – and that's on the website alone.

Countless blogs have shared her column, and she's received 827 response emails before press time.

The Spectrum has gone viral.

On Monday, the newspaper published two columns – one in defense of tattoos and the other, a counterpoint, against body art. Counterpoints are a common practice at The Spectrum; it gives editors the chance to have a dialogue about controversial issues.

Lisa Khoury and Rebecca Bratek did just that, but the response to Khoury's column has been monumental and largely negative.

"My friend sent it to me from a blog that wasn't [from] UB, but a national tattoo blog," said Sarah Kost, a junior theater design major who has six tattoos. "That's a big deal. We have to make sure we realize that on the Internet, everything is everywhere now."

Khoury's piece has been popping up across Facebook news feeds, tattoo blogs, Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter since being published in Monday's edition. The Spectrum's writers and editors didn't expect such an intense response.

The "tattoo community" has been the main source of criticism.

"We kind of form a little family," Kost said. " If you have a tattoo, you kind of have a bond with [members of the community], like, ‘Oh, you went through that.'"

Most of the responses – that's thousands at the time of press – have been direct attacks on Khoury's personality, looks, upbringing, position on gender roles, and morals. For every positive response, hundreds more were negative.

On Thursday, The Spectrum sent reporters across campus to find members of UB's tattoo community in attempt to understand the overwhelming responses. Is the criticism meant to attack Khoury or the anti-tattoo mindset?

"I don't agree with anything she said," said Courtney Alwais, a junior theater design major who has two tattoos. "I don't think my body is a temple, I think my body is an empty canvas for art. She has her right to her opinion, and I have the right to mine."

A room full of theater majors exploded in commentary, passing around copies of The Spectrum, and voiced their opinions on Khoury's column. Many even shed their inhibitions and ripped off various items of clothing to share their tattoos and the stories behind them.

Gabrielle Gorman, a sophomore musical theater major, rolled up her shorts to reveal her tattoos – memories of a dear friend who passed away from brain cancer.

Alwais lifted up her skirt to show off a piece she got to commemorate her first theatrical performance – One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Kost, who has six tattoos, peeled back her sleeve to present a phoenix on her upper arm – it represents her renewal and rise from the "ashes of her old self." She also enjoys mythology and Harry Potter. Despite disagreeing with Khoury's opinion, she can understand some of her perspective.

"I get her point [that] if you want to feel better about yourself, don't spend $200 on something that is never going away," Kost said.

While the hatred was apparent in the website's comments and the hundreds of emails Khoury received, there are those who thought the column was simply an opinion piece and should not have sparked such a venomous response.

"I thought that for an opinion piece, people totally over-reacted," said Hannah, a junior biomedical sciences major who didn't want her last name published for fear of receiving attacks similar to the ones Khoury received. "Her opinion is just that – an opinion. Her ideas backing her opinion rubbed a lot of girls the wrong way…oops. She messed up a bit. Big deal. It's an opinion piece; take it or leave it."

Hannah went on to add that she is heading into a profession that doesn't allow visible tattoos, and she has found other ways to value her self-worth without bodily ink. She said this doesn't motivate her to judge other people with tattoos, and thought that this was the intention of Khoury's piece, as well.

"She's a writer who will take this as a learning experience," Hannah said.

One of a newspaper's purposes is to create a conversation – whether it is through unbiased articles that inform readers of the day's news or columns and editorials that express opinion. The Spectrum runs almost all of its editorials and columns on "page three," and labels them as opinion. Editorials are considered the view of the entire editorial staff, while columns are regarded as solely the opinion of the writer.

This disclaimer is clearly stated on the masthead:

"The views expressed – both written and graphic – in the Feedback, Opinion, and Perspectives sections of The Spectrum do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board."

Any student or member of the community is welcomed to submit opinion pieces of their own for publication.

"I wish she had stressed that these were personal opinions and that she was only explaining her own personal reasons for not getting a tattoo," said Pauline Konarski, a senior communication major. "It seems like she was painting all women to be materialistic, and it seemed like [she was] saying women should only be concerned with stereotypically ‘girly' things, like shopping and their bodies."

Kost commended Khoury for her courage to say what she thinks; in her opinion, it is a topic that can be compared to the gay rights movement and both topics would warrant similar responses.

This is the first time The Spectrum has ever received such a significant amount of responses.

Getting a tattoo is a big commitment, and those who have them are passionate about their ink.

"It's a very personal thing," Alwais said. "She has every right to feel that way, and I have the right to want to deck myself out in tattoos."


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