Screengrab via Marvel Studios
The overwhelming popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has given birth to an unfortunately familiar method of fan adoration that I can’t help but feel necessitates a much-needed history lesson about the Holocaust. So, let’s begin.
For starters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 premiered last weekend to raucous applause from both critics and fans. The long-awaited threequel bid farewell not just to the band of ragtag superheroes fans like myself have come to love since 2014, but also to the franchise’s director, James Gunn, who will now be spearheading DC Studios’ cinematic efforts.
The MCU’s undeniable popularity notwithstanding, this particular franchise — Guardians of the Galaxy — has harbored an undeniably special place in fans’ hearts. The film’s somewhat uncharacteristically emotional conclusion, by effect, has resulted in a mass exodus of moviegoers walking out of theaters with puffy eyes and tear stains tracking down their cheeks. The reason? Rocket Racoon’s backstory, of course.
Adulation for the character and his triumphantly heartbreaking backstory resulted in one fan taking a trip down to the tattoo parlor to honor the character in perhaps the most permanent way possible — by getting his name tattooed on his arm. Not “Rocket Raccoon.” His other name: 89P13.
Those who have seen the film immediately recognize the string of numbers. Put together, they represent the name Rocket was given by the merciless geneticist, High Evolutionary, played by Chukwudi Iwuji. Abducted, tortured, and experimented on, we learn that Rocket forged his own name because up until that point he was simply known as 89P13, the string of letters fans are now urging others not to get tattooed on their arms for… obvious reasons.
The thrill of getting a tattoo combined with overwhelming love for a character in a movie or TV show is typically the reason fans brand themselves with this permanent method of adoration. It happened with Harry Potter. It happened with Game of Thrones. It even happened with Stranger Things. While the underlying intention may be pure, the genesis of the issue is not, and it needs to be spelled out if only to prevent it from continuing to happen.
The history of tattooed numbers on wrists and arms dates back to the Holocaust, when Nazis branded Jewish and Roma people to identify them among the mass of malnourished, diseased, and starved bodies piling up throughout concentration camps such as Auschwitz. It was, first and foremost, a method of identification, but over time it became a way to dehumanize people. When someone is just a number, it becomes easier to toss them into gas chambers and ignore their wailing pleas for mercy.
Six million European Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. “At least five million Soviet prisoners of war, Romany, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and other victims” were slaughtered as well. Nine million people murdered in total, many of whom had numbers just like Rocket’s on their arms and wrists.
So, no, getting Rocket’s numbers tattooed is not a good idea. There is no “reclaiming” a number as a name, or getting one in solidarity. It’s nonsensical, shameless, and unintelligent, to be frank. But most of all, it’s disrespectful to the nine million — nine million! — people who didn’t just “lose their lives,” but were murdered in cold blood for being nothing other than who they are.
As so aptly put by Kimberly Terasaki at The Mary Sue, “You are not a number, and you shouldn’t want to be.”