Recent History and Subcultures

"Body piercing" is generally distinguished from (un-stretched) earlobe piercing, and is more recent in popularity. In its late-twentieth-century version, the interest in such piercing can be traced largely to a handful of figures, particularly Doug Malloy along with Jim Ward and Fakir Musafar (Roland Loomis) in the United States and Mr. Sebastian (Alan Oversby) in the United Kingdom.

With Malloy serving as patron and in some respects teacher, Ward began making specialized piercing jewelry in the early 1970s (Ward is credited with the design of the ubiquitous captive-bead ring, also called the ball-closure ring). He and Musafar opened the Gauntlet, a piercing shop that seemed a natural outgrowth of the jewelry business, in Los Angeles in 1975. Gauntlet shops in other major cities opened in succeeding years. Later he began the journal PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly), an important source of both information and community for those interested in body piercing. Mr. Sebastian, likewise taught at first by Malloy, was more secretive with his techniques, but was widely known as a piercer. For both, the initial clientele was largely gay men from the sadomasochistic (s/m) community.

In the 1980s, Elayne Binnnie (known as Elayne Angel in the early 2000s) joined the staff of the Gauntlet, attracting many more women clients. Angel, who was the first person to obtain the "Master Piercer" certificate from the Gauntlet, is also widely credited with popularizing the tongue piercing (having five herself). Along with the navel, the tongue is one of the most popular piercings in the early twenty-first century.

Musafar, who later fell out with his former partner, is responsible for the term "modern primitive," with which a number of highly pierced people have identified. Musa-far emphasizes commonalities between contemporary and older, particularly tribal, traditions; he also emphasizes the psychological and spiritual elements of all sorts of body modifications, including piercing. Many serious piercers in the early 2000s are trained in his seminars. Modern primitives may ritualize the processes and meaning of their body art and often draw on traditional cultures for design in both piercing jewelry and other arts, such as tattooing.

From its start among gay leathermen, piercing grew in popularity to include a number of communities. Among the most influential in the spread of piercing's popularity was punk. The punks in both the United States and the United Kingdom were fond of non-ear piercings, particularly on the face (lip, nostril, and cheek piercings attained popularity early in this group). The punk emphasis is on rebellion and unconventionality; the modern primitive emphasis on cross-cultural connection and spirituality is quite absent here, replaced by punk's interesting combination of outrage and playfulness.

Music and cultural styles that emerged out of punk often have a place for piercing as well. The straightedge movement, generally dated to the early 1980s, though it attained more popularity later on, provides today a large subset of the heavily pierced. Along with tattoos (often of straightedge symbols such as XXX or sXe) piercings show both the punk influence on straightedge music and the subculture's deep interest in the body (most who identify as straightedge are vegetarian or vegan and abstain from the use of alcohol and other recreational drugs). Straightedge thinking may emphasize the slightly mind-altering sensation of the piercing experience, incorporating elements of the modern primitive emphasis on ecstasies (overcoming the limits of time and selfhood in experience) alongside punk unconventionality. The Goth scene emergent in the early 1980s and again in the

1990s has a religious sensibility very different from modern primitive spirituality, tending toward highly stylized and cultivated artifice in its use of religious, particularly Catholic and Wiccan, imagery. As these associations suggest, Goth style tends toward intense theatricality, and visually striking piercings are widespread; the "dark" emphasis of much Goth culture also meets up with an acceptance of s/m imagery and the pain that may be inherent in body piercing.

The rave scene emergent in the 1990s also includes an interest in visually compelling piercings, particularly facial and navel piercings. Often glow-in-the-dark or battery-powered flashing jewelry is used, giving the piercings a hypnotic effect in dimly lit spaces and playing off the more rapid pulse of the very high beats-per-minute music generally favored.

Not all highly pierced groups or scenes are connected to particular species of music, of course. S/m communities remain strongholds of piercing. Here both the physicality of the piercing experience (and the enhanced sensation often provided by healed piercings) and the symbolism of the jewelry are significant—with the significance ranging from pain-tolerance to community affiliation to ownership. Piercing is also popular, though not so much as tattooing, in biker culture. Here large-gauge (thickness) piercings are often favored, complimenting the traditional bold lines of biker tattooing. Finally, many people also simply understand themselves as members of a body-modification or body-art community, with a respect for body modification and an interest in its being practiced well—as well as in having their own bodies modified.

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