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I have chosen to critically analyze the photo on the title page of the essay, a picture of an extreme tattooed and pierced person, whose picture was at the centre of an article on the web entitled "Heavily-Tattooed People Are More Prone to Deviant Behavior". I believe that this image is a good example of how the media depicts deviance. It portrays extreme body art as a form of moral crusade against this subculture which is formed because of status conflict and competition between groups to control definitions of right and wrong. However, while focusing on deviance those groups that compete with each other to define deviance often neglect the consequences of the labels they attach to individuals.
In this essay my analysis of deviance with reference to excessive body art will demonstrate how claim makers in the media compete to control definitions of deviance by labeling individuals as deviant. I shall also focus on what happens after this phenomenon occurs, how the individual learns and gains their particular identity and how deviance is measured.
Understanding deviance requires examining people and the institutions that define and react to deviance. It is argued that rule making and rule enforcement are often important causes of deviance. Consequently, deviance is defined as behavior beyond the accepted norms of a group and society. However, deviance is not always viewed as nonconformity and is not always synonymous with rule violation. Under scrutiny one grasps the realization that when nonconformity is subject to social control, only then does it become deviant. In this case I believe that the media portrayal is somewhat negative and is used to display extreme tattooing and piercings as a body art subculture that is not only an odd group in society, but deviant in it-self. The subculture is not accepted as normal by those who control definitions of right and wrong. Therefore, the illustration suggests a connection to wrong doing. This in turn implies that individuals who part take in body art are more likely to engage in precarious and criminal behavior.
One factor such as the labeling perspective which focuses on the social reaction to crime and deviance are also an important source for deviant behavior. The phenomenon focuses our attention to what occurs and how the individual is influenced after being labeled. The phenomena of being labeled shows how ones actions when meet with disapproval result in persons taking on a primary identity that could evolve into seeing themselves as deviant, and giving rise to a response favorable to the label and engaging in deviance. Therefore, the labeling theory enables one to record the social reality of attaching a deviant identity to the individual in the world of body art.
It is essential to pay attention to arguments such as those made by Becker and Lemert; they argue that rule making and rule enforcement are often important causes of deviance, since what occurs after someone has been labeled deviant often produce consequences. As a result, once a deviant identity is established and reinforced by agents of social control and contributing members of society there are overall social and institutional changes. Furthermore, the relationship between labeling and reinforcing a deviant identify also illustrates how such relationship affects institutions thereby contributing to prejudicial changes in others.
Since we know that deviance is defined as behavior beyond the accepted norm of society - we must ask ourselves why does deviant behavior occur, or why and what do individuals get out of extreme body art and body piercing - when this decision makes them the 'unacceptable' members of society? I believe that the answer to these questions begin with the two main types of explanations for deviance. The first explanation is through Motivational Theories such as the Strain Theory and the Learning Theory. Motivational Theories give explanations highlighting factors that compel individuals towards deviant behavior. The second explanation is through Control and Opportunity Theories. These theories stress those factors that prevent our inclinations from acting on deviant impulses and becoming deviant ourselves.
Although the Labeling Theory focuses on how societal response to crime and deviance are a focal reason of such conduct. One must ask oneself what makes the individual turn to such an extreme subculture of body art in the first place, since being labeled is just the after effect of an anomic society and capitalism. I believe that because of the disconnectedness from social norms, and ones physical and mental state individuals incur such identities. Hence, Merton's revision of anomie sheds light on this aspect of deviance, since he argues that "anomie is a psychological state of confusion and disorientation due to insufficient regulation in society; it is also seen as characteristic of society, particularly under capitalism" (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 104). Therefore, because of Merton's perspective on anomie, we realize the significance of state of mind in context to deviance as a response of the individual to structural conditions within society as I believe is illustrated in the above photo.
However, in focusing on Strain Theory one realizes it's' unpredictableness, strain may lead to any type of deviance since it is difficult to predict its' affects and determine how individuals may respond. Merton and Cohen further argue that motivations for deviant behavior and criminal activity arise as a result of the disconnectedness of the individual to relate to culturally prescribed goals and access the means to achieve those goals. Since individual disconnectedness plays a major role in deviance, we understand that "to pursue a goal which is by definition unobtainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness" (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 109). Due to Merton and Cohen one captures the greater appreciation for the individual in the photo, because we come to recognize that the lack of social connection and the unavailability of social resources may be the cause of such perceived deviance. However, it is all too evident that a person's learning history and environment also contributes to greater pro-deviant behavior, as well influences pro-conformity.
Although strain contributes to deviance, we must question ourselves on why many individual who face strain do not succumb to deviance. Perhaps the opposing Learning Theory can shed some light on this question. According to what we learned in our course, Learning Theories suggests that how we learn deviant behavior is analogous to the way one learns to be fashionable or play sports. Consequently, as ideas are passed on from one generation to another, conduct norms connect the old and the new preserving traditions of delinquency, which in turn facilitates a basis for social education through contact. As a result, deviance is then acquired and observed as no longer being a private circumstance but transformed into a public behavior associated to expression and symbolism. For example, "people learn to be mad, and others learn to see people as mad, confirming the validity and utility of the original stereotypes" (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 184).
Regardless of the fact that there may be a correlation between body art and crime in some subcultures, such as American and Asian gangs, that use body art to show affiliation as well as brother hood, one recognizes that not all body art subcultures portray these attributes. Consequently, we see two sides of deviance although "many deviants or deviant behavior are distinguished by their visibility" and rely on public gatherings to enable a sense of fulfillment or belonging (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 29). One perspective relates to deviance as social exclusion, confusion and disorientation. Whereas, the other perspective, include both disconnectedness, and the connection to criminal entities as a source of monetary gain. Furthermore, even though deviant behavior may be hidden and criminal from one point of view, from another it is in the open and made to seem criminal by social forces. Hence, due to this understanding the realization is that deviance may be liberating for some but may invite alienation and disapproval for others, which may lead to social control being put in place.
Control Theory explains crime and deviance by focusing on the absence of controls and assumes that no matter what deviance will occur and mainly focuses on how to control deviance. Hence, this approach takes into consideration factors that enable inhibition in opposition to deviance and crime. From this point of view the loosening of control portrayed in the photo, illustrates that individuals exhibiting extreme body art may be considered as lacking both inner and external control hence the need for prevention and conformity. Similarly, as Travish Hirschi argues "the common property of control theories is their assumption that delinquent acts result when an individual's bond to society is weak or broken" and identifies four main components of that social relationship attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 228). Since the conformist is bonded to others and the deviant not, we come to see how the photo portrays the embodiment of the non-conformist somewhat free from social control and exposed to greater risk of deviation. The broken window hypothesis reinforces , Travish Hirschi argument because, I believe that the broken window hypothesis argued by Jane Jacobs and later on by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 exemplified the mindset of the extreme body art sub culture. Just as " Broken window, graffiti, and malicious damage were held to be visible and obvious signs of a neighborhood that was in decay and was open to depredation and about which no one effectively cared", so too does the mindset of the extreme body artist illustrate the same values in a subculture considered deviant (Downes, Rock & McCormick, 2009: 240).