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Case Number 18847: Small Claims Court

Buy Marked: The Complete Season One at Amazon

Marked: The Complete Season One

History Channel // 2009 // 264 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // May 6th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia got a tattoo to commemorate the time he got tattooed. It's an endless cycle, really.

The Charge

The hidden meanings behind prison, gang, and military tattoos.

The Case

You might think that a show built around tattoos wouldn't be all that interesting; the premise alone sounds rather slight. Still, History's Marked is actually a pretty compelling show. It does give some historical content, particularly on the roots of criminal organizations, but it works best when it allows people to tell their stories, many of which are extraordinary and, on one occasion, horrifying. It's not strictly historical, but as a documentary, it's definitely fascinating.

Here are the six episodes compiled on two discs:

Disc One
• "The Devil's Cage"
In prison, tattoos can be used to mark allegiances to various gangs.

• "Death Ride"
Outlaw bikers use tattoos to display their pride in their lifestyle.

• "Barrio of Blood"
Chicano tattoo style began in prison but has since spread across many facets of culture.

Disc Two
• "Pure Evil"
In the Russian criminal underworld, tattoos can have various hidden meanings.

• "The Kill Zone"
For military veterans and active soldiers, tattoos are marks of honor.

• "Death of the Yakuza"
Tattoos are an integral part of Japanese organized crime.

The show does give some historical context for the tattoos that are seen. Why are members of the Yakuza required to have full-body tattoo suits? Why are Chicano tattoos almost entirely in black and gray with little to no color variations? What's the difference when Russian gangsters tattoo the same symbols either on their knees or on their chest? Marked explains. It also includes interviews in which members of each of the profiled groups explain the particulars of their tattoos and these are the heart of the series. Hearing war veterans, ex-gangsters, and prison inmates describe the stories behind their tattoos is actually pretty interesting. These can sometimes add up to a rather repetitive structure—people talking about their tattoos over and over—but the stories are so fascinating and well-chosen that the results are enthralling.

At least, most of them are just enthralling. Then there's the story of a freshly paroled Russian criminal profiled in "Pure Evil." While showing off his prison tattoos, he cheerfully admits on-camera that he committed a horrific murder. He then just as cheerfully declares that he has no regrets whatsoever about the horrific murder and cheerfully adds that under certain circumstances he would commit murder again. You may think you're unshockable, but even the most hardened documentary watcher will probably be taken aback during this segment. To be sure, Marked has no shortage of people describing acts of violence they've committed, but even by those standards, this story is genuinely appalling. When he explains how his tattoos help him commemorate the murder, it's hard to say if History should even be filming him. Is it the height of gritty realism or is it creepily exploitative? In either case, you won't be able to keep your eyes off the screen.

In any event, Marked makes for genuinely intriguing nonfiction TV. You might think that the stories of average people explaining their tattoos would be dull, but these are not average tattoos and the stories behind them are not mundane. If you're at all interested in cultural anthropology, Marked is worth a look.

Technical specs are typical History: non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, Dolby stereo mix, both acceptable. There are no extras.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 264 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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