“Running the Gauntlet” book review and commentary

I have to admit that my ego, believing the bridges were long since mended, thought I’d have had a less hostile representation in this book, but I suppose that is a result of the reality that I have very often been at sociopolitical odds with Jim Ward and Gauntlet — although I hope it’s obvious that our differences are minor in comparison to our agreements, as we have both dedicated much of our lives fighting for the same general cause. While it isn’t mentioned in the book (and I hope it doesn’t reflect badly upon me that I feel a little bruised and slighted by that), in 2003 I approached Jim Ward asking him whether he would be willing to write a series of columns for BME/News recounting the history of Gauntlet and his essential role in founding the commercial body piercing industry. If memory serves, BME invested about $5000 in a wonderful series of columns that were warmly received by everyone — especially me — and after ten columns (Jim has archived these columns on his website here and they offer a great taste of what you’ll find in the book) it was clear that this project had the potential to be much more than just a column and deserved to grow into a full length book. At this point the columns ended and Jim Ward began pouring his efforts into the book, which is now available for purchase. If I am permitted to whine just a little more, I think the reason that my catalytic efforts in germinating this book are strangely absent from mention is that Jim has never quite forgiven me for labeling him and Gauntlet as “conservative”, and that bitterness does come across a few times in the book. While I strongly disagree with some of the way I’m characterized in the book, it is interesting to see and understand how the words of my youth affected others who had been a working in this industry since I was barely out of diapers.

Here is how I am described in Chapter 14, a description that is both flattering and not depending on your viewpoint;

“Perhaps the most strident voice of the new wave has been that of Shannon Larratt, the founder in 1994 of the online body mod community, BMEzine.com, and originator of ModCon… Aside from the fact that he is essentially a body-mod anarchist, is it any wonder that Shannon considered Gauntlet, is it any wonder that Shannon considered Gauntlet conservative? The most advanced piercings that we did — ampallangs, apadravyas, and the occasional clitoris — pale by comparison. Being so focused on the most extreme modifications conceivable, how could he be anything other than jaded?”

Mixed feelings aside, it is fun to be called a “body-mod anarchist“!

Given my efforts in promoting and advocating for every single form of body modification, I feel this is an unfair statement to make. I think it comes from the fact — and this is briefly mentioned in the book — that in the mid-nineties, I in very strong words criticized Gauntlet and the APP for statements that Michaela Grey, a dear friend of Jim’s, made online and in The Point, eventually driving her from the industry. I make no apologies for that, because during that period Gauntlet had shifted from pushing the industry forward, to holding it back, and they were doing it not through caution, but through outright lies and deception and slander. Nasty rumors were started and promoted about those doing procedures they didn’t support, and horrible misinformation was spread about the use of scalpels and dermal punches — which I knew resulted in safer piercings that healed faster in some cases, and thus promoted them — as well as non-standard piercings and body modification in general. I wasn’t going to tolerate Gauntlet using their seniority to slag great piercers with ludicrous statements like saying any piercer willing to do a hand web piercing is a butcher because of the risk of hitting the bones in the hand. She also claimed that nape piercings put people at risk of paralysis — a statement showing an abject lack of comprehension of anatomy — and Jim admits in the book that nape piercings “still alarm him” although he does concede that he’s never heard of any of the complications that the APP spoke out so strongly with coming true, and sums up, “who can argue with success?”, which I appreciate him including. I’ve never been able to tolerate liars or fools, even if they believe it’s “for a good cause”, and I think that oldschool piercers, who seemed to get their piercing sensibilities from their raging hard-ons rather than their brains, were at great odds with modern piercers who pushed ever more daring procedures that, as extreme as they may have seemed, were well-researched, responsible, and backed up by a solid understanding of the underlying anatomy and science. I think this was amplified because many of those piercers who came from the SM and gay sex world were very used to civil rights abuses by the mainstream, and were very cautious and skittish because of it, making them willing to sacrifice their own to avoid undue public scrutiny.

I’m not the only person discussed in this book with some latent hostility and outright error and misrepresentation. Another “victim” is Jon Cobb, a pioneering piercer who I believe deserves incredible credit for his heroic role in pushing piercing forward. I think it’s very important to remember that “Running The Gauntlet” is one man’s memory of his role — an admittedly essential and important role — in the history of body piercing. It is not a definitive history. It has not been fact checked. And because of that it is riddled with error after error, and mistruth after mistruth. Because that is what personal memory is like. For example, and speaking of Jon Cobb, the book writes, “Paul King performed [the uvula piercing] and then went on to get one himself. His comment? ‘It was a very stupid piercing’”. Not only is this a flat-out lie — one that Paul earned a bad reputation for spreading at the time, and I was both surprised and dismayed to see repeated after so many years — but it simultaneously steals someone’s credit with one hand while slandering them with the other. The truth of the matter is that Jon Cobb came up with this procedure and did it on himself. Paul King was there, and assisted Jon, but in no way did he do the piercing. And while it is true that Paul is on record in print slandering Jon’s procedure as “stupid” or a “trainwreck” (in a recent issue of The Point, showing that these negative attitudes have persisted through the years), that totally misrepresents Jon’s skill and responsible nature and I would urge anyone wanting to know the true story to listen to my BME/Radio interview with Jon Cobb, which is available for free download on iTunes and elsewhere.

While it’s very obvious that I have mixed feelings and some very strong objections to a lot of the content in the book, please don’t think that I’m telling you not to read it. I’d only ask that you read it with a big grain of salt and that you understand that it is one person’s memory, not an authorotative history. It is essential reading for those who want to understand the mindset and the people who created the modern piercing industry in the 1970s and 1980s — and also to understand how difficult it was for them to cope with what BME, Steve Haworth, Job Cobb, Tom Brazda, and a great many others would go on to create in the 1990s from the foundation Gauntlet provided. As we all are, Jim is flawed and his stories are flawed, and he (and Gauntlet) is metaphorically the “parent” in this story, and we (the BME generation) are the “children”. This book is a real reminder that we will never really understand each other. In a way that’s sad, but perhaps it is just the unavoidable way growth and evolution has always happened.

I agree with the review that Sean Philips posted to ModBlog calling this book “required reading”. I can’t imagine a piercing fan that won’t enjoy this, and as far as I’m concerned, all piercing professionals must read it in order to understand where their livelihood came from. You can order the book from Amazon, but you should probably order it straight from http://www.runningthegauntlet-book.com/ because you can get it signed (and I suspect also ordering direct sends more money to the deserving author, rather than a corporate distributor)!

And wow, this book really motivates me to finish getting my own stories down on paper to “tell the other side of the story”.

Great work Jim, I am enjoying this book immensely and may well have more to say on it in the future. Thank you so much for writing it, and for everything you have done. This world would be a very different place without your efforts, and a much more boring place.

6 Comments

  1. Ken Seyler wrote:

    Great words Shannon, and a very honest review. I look forward to the day when I can read your memoirs. I told you this when I briefly met you back in 2003 (I think it was then) and I would like to tell you again, thank you for everything you have done.

    Monday, July 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Rafti wrote:

    The APP was (is?) playing a political game and has a long history of spreading misinformation, for example they were claiming that their training manual was the best available anywhere at any price when in fact they had endorsed “Body Art: A Model Code And Comprehensive Guidebook” published by the National Environmental Health Association. With a letter of endorsement from the APP on page 337- but the APP keeps forgetting about this book, as well as Gauntlet’s Training manual that the APP FULLY knew about, the Gauntlet manual actually taught how to do a number of piercings and pointed out that piercers needed to learn on nonliving things as a matter of professionalism, and it even showed how to make a crude practice tool out of leather (the most suitable material that Jim seemed familiar with). The APP manual in comparison (which they touted as the best piercing book available anywhere at any price) didn’t cover actual piercing procedures, and suggested that you’d learn what works best from practicing on people… lies, and more lies.

    For many years now there has been a line of foam body parts designed for practice and display that eliminates the risk of needle stick injury because they are designed to be pierced with a toothpick with one blunted end acting as the tail end, but the APP doesn’t support anything from non-members and does so without any regard for safety for the industry; they have stated in one of their issues of their newsletter (The point) that the APP board of directors purpose is to do what benefits the APP board of directors, (while ignoring it’s own past and medical realities whenever convenient).

    Shannon you too are guilty of suppressing and distorting information for personal gain, for example you slandered piercing certificates that were issued only to fully legal professionals working out of legitimate studios with a good reputation as being “bogus”, knowing full well that the real bogus certificates come along with tattoo starter kits that include a certificate that says “Tattoo Artist”.

    While ignoring these included in the starter kit “Tattoo Artist” certificates for what they are (meaningless and misleading, A.K.A. “bogus”) the industry made a comical effort to get TLC’s “Tattoo School” off the air- so Certificates awarded to bona fide professionals by organizations (other than the APP) get slandered as “bogus”, as is anything to do with tattoo school, but if I pay Spaulding and Rogers $12 for a “Tattoo Artist” certificate (no questions asked) no one ever says a word against it?

    It’s been said “sunlight is the best disinfectant” which of course is false, but when an industry has a multi-decade history of trying to falsify it’s own history and realities (like when the APP claimed that surface piercing wasn’t body piercing, and as such they had no opinion about it) a house cleaning and major public reality check seems long overdue, actually it’s probably already too late because the people who are most influential in legislation are those who aren’t artists or clients; and trust me a lot of them don’t think highly of us at all, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes out of the negative gut reaction that they get from looking at things that they rather not think about, or understand. For example eye ball tattooing was being considered for banning in Suffolk County NY and one of the board members (a surgeon with an MD’s license who claimed to ‘run’ several emergency rooms in the county) showed up month after month clueless as to if it’s even possible to tattoo any part of an eye at all, and instead of looking up the literature (online or off) he resorted to infantile reasoning “If we ban eyeball tattooing then it’s like telling people that it can be done, but no sensible person would even try to tattoo an eyeball…” (MD’s obviously should be FORCED to update and renew their credentials to get them out of practice before they stop caring about doing their job) so his position was eyeball tattooing should not be banned because it would only encourage people to do it if it was; and I didn’t correct him even though I was there and easily could have because he already made the right choice based on negligence and incompetence, instead of basing it on a proper search of the relevant literature to find and address safety concerns.

    They were also looking to ban all piercings (other than ear and navel) but I proved that the one study they were using to support the ban showed 92% of all (self reported) complications were of the ear and navel, so if they were going to ban any piercings at all, ear and navel should have been the first to go! My point is “This industry tends to bring the worst ego out of people” (Jim Ward wrote me that to me in 2002) and I’ve clearly seen sadistic jackals and mental midgets that ignore or distort the truth on both sides of the issue, seemingly out of greed or indifference.

    Monday, July 16, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    I think there’s been some mixup reguarding what you’re saying in the third/fourth paragraph — I have rarely commented on piercing certificates, and I certainly would never support the fake sort that comes with tattoo kits, let alone profit from them in any way. I don’t really understand why you would suggest that I have anything personally to gain from this debate, as I simply don’t have a horse in that race nor have I ever. I don’t know if you’re getting me mixed up with someone else, or if you’re just mixed up.

    I have not “slandered” anyone by pointing out that piercing certificates handed out by boards of health have little value in indicating the quality and knowledge of the piercer. They simply show that the shop has registered with the state and PERHAPS has met some basic minimum standards. Just like if a restaurant gets a health board certification, it doesn’t mean their chef can cook decent food.

    I’m right about who this comment is from (Rafti?) then this is just sour grapes about being called out as foolish, and continued deranged griping.

    If anyone here has an agenda and a personal motive to distort reality it’s you — totally obsessed with self-aggrandizing yourself as some expert on this industry, when in reality you have no actual first hand knowledge. What little you know was largely gained by reading BME and other online sources, and then plaigerizing them to try and pass off as your own work.

    For those wondering who this person is, I quote from the wiki page, “William Rafti is a delusional monomaniac best known for his book, ‘The Body Piercing Encyclopedia’, a 340+ page compilation of various copyrighted materials stolen from all over the body modification community (including BME), as well as diagrams and text created by the author which are confusing, idiosyncratic and misinformative, at best.”

    For a more amusing version of the tale, here is a sum-up of my first encounter with this person (sad that he’s still around and still obsessed over a subject that he’ll never really be anything but a stalker at the edges of): http://news.bmezine.com/2003/12/05/william-rafti-piercing-visionary-or-scumbag-con-artist-the-publishers-ring/

    And yes, I think “stalker” is probably the best word for Rafti that sums him up concisely.

    Rafti, please leave me alone. I’m not interested in what you have to say and neither is anyone else.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink
  4. well said well done

    keep on truckin’

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  5. Devin wrote:

    Oh yeah! I remember that guy. Wow! He’s still around… checking out your blog. You should be flattered and perhaps a little frightened?

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  6. Thomas Moore wrote:

    Rafti! I can’t believe that was nearly a decade ago.

    Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 12:44 am | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. history, politics, sports « Aniareads Weblog on Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 2:38 am

    [...] review of a book by Jim Ward is def. worth checking out! I’m always glad to see new posts on Shannon’s blog, [...]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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