10 Pop Culture Tattoos (And Their Secretly Ridiculous Meanings)

Tattoos and popular culture have had a long and somewhat complicated relationship. Sure, they make for a great way to add a dash of intrigue to a movie character or to help obscenely wealthy athletes blow their cash, but things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, those characters end up looking less like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and more like your idiot friend after a tequila-fueled run-in with a less-than-ethical tattoo artist. If you plan to add a little ink to something that will be seen by millions, maybe do your homework first.

Featured image credit: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment via YouTube

10 God Is Kind Of A Hypocrite

In the 2010 action/horror film Legion, God decides he’s sick of mankind’s wickedness and sends his army of angels on the rather ironic mission of killing absolutely everyone. The archangel Michael catches wind of this and steps in to stop the coming angelic apocalypse. Michael, branded with heavenly tattoos placed by his creator, comes to Earth to defend the helpless humans from a disappointed God. The thing is—God doesn’t seem to have any idea what he wants.

Astonishingly, the characters scribed on Michael’s torso are part of an actual language allegedly used by angels. Called Enochian, this tongue was invented by British occultist John Dee and makes several appearances in the film. However, the fact that it’s an actual language means that it can be translated, which presents some issues. It turns out that Mikey is carrying around a Bible verse on his chest. That’s not terribly surprising, but the choice of verse certainly is.

“For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed.” That’s Deuteronomy 2:15, and it’s referencing God’s revenge against an army that refused to murder, pillage, rape, etc. on his behalf. So what we end up with is a guy who murders people for not murdering one day and murders them for murdering the next. The only question is why he would ink up his soldiers with proof of his hypocrisy.

9 Monkey Man

Marat Safin

Photo credit: Charlie Cowins

As you’ll quickly learn from this list, Chinese characters are an extremely bad tattoo idea. By this point, that should surprise exactly no one; we’ve all heard horror stories of someone accidentally branding themselves with “semen dumpster” or something similar. Yet, people continue to go this route when selecting their permanent body modification, including retired Russian tennis player Marat Safin.

Safin decided to really set himself apart from the athletic tattoo crowd when opting for exotic Chinese characters for his shoulder ink. Surprisingly, though, they said exactly what he wanted them to—“monkey.” He made this unusual choice because he was born in the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese zodiac . . . or so he believed. He was actually born in the Year of the Ram, leaving him with a tat that seems only to express his irrational obsession with simians.

8 Agent 47—Ice-Cold Killer And Sex Toy Advocate

The Hitman video game series is extremely adult, as one would expect a game focused on cold-blooded murder to be. But while the shooting, strangulation, and neck snapping are out front getting all the glory, one tiny, seemingly innocuous detail is working behind the scenes to help earn that “Mature” rating.

Tattooed on the back of protagonist Agent 47’s shaved head is a bar code, intended to convey his utter lack of humanity. He is a genetically engineered killing machine, mercilessly fulfilling his contracts with single-minded determination. That’s all well and good, but what does the code actually mean?

It means that Agent 47 is shamelessly plugging his apparent second job making dildo bags. When scanned with bar code–scanning smart phone apps, the codetakes the user to the page for the “Drawstring Double Dong Dildo Bag in Starry Night Blue.” The killing business must have slowed down a bit. No judgment, man; everyone’s gotta make a living.

7 Gangstas Are All About Their Winter Sports

The 2007 film Alpha Dog saw Justin Timberlake trying desperately to fill the role of a badass, kidnapping drug dealer. So naturally, he’s absolutely covered in ink. In addition to various gangland staples like the Virgin Mary, he is plastered with various moron staples like Chinese characters. Yes, it’s all pretty laughable already, but it gets better.

Running down his left bicep are two Chinese symbols. What could they mean? Are they confessing to some unthinkable crime? Are they the name of some strung out junkie ex-lover? Are they the recipe for crystal meth? Nope, they sayliubing, the Chinese term for “ice-skating.” Yes, ice-skating—the least “gangsta” sport in existence, other than perhaps golf.

There are two possible explanations: Either the filmmakers randomly chose two “pretty cool looking” characters like 90 percent of Chinese symbol wearers, or the filmmakers are cleverly hinting at the sequel, the first ice-based crime drama in history. It’s probably the former.

6 A Crossover Too Amazing To Exist

For over a decade, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been wowing audiences with its outlandish take on an era that was already pretty incredible. However, no amount of curses, witches, zombies, or tentacle-faced Grim Reapers can out-fantasy the implications of a single tattoo which appears only briefly in the very first installment.

In 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Orlando Bloom’s character can be seen sporting a curious bit of ink on his wrist. At first glance, it may appear to be nothing more than simple text, and it is, but it’s the language that’s interesting. It’s written in Elvish, the language of the elves in the Lord of the Rings universe. Could it be that Pirates is actually taking place in Middle Earth? Will the next sequel see Johnny Depp mincing his way through Ringwraiths and dwarves rather than murderous, rotten-toothed seamen?

No, it was just a mistake. Apparently, many cast members of the Lord of the Rings films got tattoos to commemorate the experience, Bloom included. Unfortunately, this was just a simple matter of not covering a postage stamp–sized patch of skin for a multimillion-dollar movie.

5 A Tribute To Feminine Architecture

Marquis Daniels

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Fun fact—initials aren’t really a thing in Chinese. Every symbol stands for an entire word or idea; you can’t use single letters. So if someone were to, say, request that their initials be tattooed on their person in Chinese, and their tattoo artist was too lazy, greedy, or awesome to correct this ridiculous notion, things might go somewhat awry.

NBA player Marquis Daniels found himself in just such a situation when selecting his skin art. He wanted his initials, M.A.D., inked in Chinese characters. Hilariously (or horrifically, if you’re still capable of empathy), his artist apparently just chose a few characters and told him they were letters. They weren’t.

And that’s the story of how a professional athlete ended up permanently sporting the phrase “healthy woman roof” down his left forearm. Allegedly, he still tells people that they’re his initials, banking on the sort of gross ignorance that landed the thing on his arm to begin with. Perhaps it was all intentional, maybe a secret tribute to a special female architect in his life. Who can say?

4 The Setup To A Long, Hopeless Voyage

The 1995 adventure film Waterworld pitted a gill-sporting Kevin Costner against an army of insane pirates on a mad quest for the last bit of dry land on a flooded Earth. After the melting of the polar ice caps, the only place on the planet high enough to remain above water is the summit of Mount Everest. The only problem is that no one knows how to get there.

Enter Enola, a mysterious young girl with a “map” to Dryland tattooed on her back. However, it’s in Chinese. This presents a bit of an issue until someone scrounges up an ancient copy of China Airlines magazine and translates the image, which turns out to be a set of coordinates. No surprise there.

What’s more surprising is the complete lack of directions. The numbers are there, but without a north, south, east, or west, they are almost completely meaningless. There are four points on Earth with those coordinates; without directions, one would just have to check each one individually. On top of that, the latitude and longitude have been reversed, putting the supposed location of Dryland several thousand miles away from the actual place. So yeah, our heroes would have sailed off into the sunset on an utterly hopeless voyage, never to be seen again.

3 Gotta Keep Them Birds Away

Shawn Marion

Photo credit: Keith Allison

We’ve already covered two examples of million-dollar athletes making some incredibly poor choices at the tattoo parlor, but that’s not even the tip of the idiotic iceberg. There are tons of these athletic errors floating around out there, nearly all the result of a bad Chinese translation. That being the case, it’s difficult to imagine how NBA player Shawn Marion thought permanently plastering a few of these notorious notations on his body was a reasonable thing to do.

Meant to represent his nickname “The Matrix,” the Chinese characters of his skin illustration mean anything but. Maybe they were meant to be a phonetic clone, sounding vaguely similar to his nickname. Maybe they have some matrix-like slang definition in China. Or maybe his tattoo artist was just having a bad day. Whatever the reason, he ended up with the phrase “evil bird camphor” branded onto his body in large letters. Camphor is the foul-smelling stuff used to make mothballs. It may be great if a few demon-possessed sparrows have taken up residence in your attic, but as a tattoo? Not so much.

2 It Was A Conspiracy!

In 1999, the action/adventure film The Mummy gave audiences another reason to stay as far away from the desert as possible. The story centered on an ancient Egyptian priest who, after murdering the pharaoh, was condemned to suffer a terrible curse. Unfortunately, though, this unique form of capital punishment came with a slight catch: There was a chance that the victim would eventually come back from the dead with godlike powers and destroy the entire world.

The Medjai, the pharaoh’s secret service, were the ones to bestow this curse. And in case their incredibly poor judgment wasn’t enough to give it away, they weren’t the brightest of guys. Heavily tattooed with Egyptian hieroglyphs, these burly warriors inadvertently give away their plot to catch, curse, and spend eternity guarding their victim, Imhotep.

When translated, the tats on their foreheads roughly read “Imhotep,” and their chest ink makes references to keeping him silently locked away in the desert. That would all make perfect sense within the storyline, if not for the fact that they have these tattoos before the guy has murdered anyone. They’re visible in the opening scene, when the Medjai rush in to apprehend Imhotep following the pharaoh’s assassination. So basically, they were walking around for who knows how long with tattoos claiming that they would eventually horrifically execute a then-innocent priest.

1 Yeah, They’re Probably Gonna Kill You

It’s pretty annoying when someone claims to be better than you in some way, even more so when you know very well that they’re not. However, because you’re a reasonably peaceful, stable person, you probably just let it slide. But just imagine what you’d do if you were, say, a cold-blooded member of the Russian mob.

In the 2007 crime drama Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen’s character plays a common mafia henchmen who makes a dramatic rise to lead his entire organization. It’s a good thing that he made it that far. Otherwise, he would have felt pretty foolish for getting a massive crucifix tattooed on his chest.

The Russian mafia uses an intricate system of tattoos to document their criminal careers. Different images correspond to different crimes. For instance, a skull means a conviction for murder. But the ink also signifies one’s rank within the organization, and a chest-worn crucifix brands one as a “thief-in-the-law,” a slang term for mob boss. So yeah, the huge cross that Mortensen’s character is showing off even when he’s the intern driving people around and disposing of corpses would have been a bit of a slap in the face to literally everyone he worked with. No self-respecting career criminal is going to take that insult, so realistically, the film should have been less than 10 minutes long. Ugh, Hollywood . . .


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