Model. Actor. Sideshow freak. However you chose to label Rico Genest, also known as “Zombie Boy,” it would be hard to ignore the white elephant—excuse me, white skeleton—standing in the middle of the room. Or the carnival.
After watching the above YouTube video, my initial thought was, “To each his own.” This is a man who has taken the concept of a tattoo and has blown it to an expansive level. It is hard to miss that many of his tattoos are of the bones and muscles inside his body: brain, skull, rib cage. All are an outward reflection of what is inside the body. He comments that he appreciates true beauty and that you should be who you are. He’s pretty much nailed that down: just by looking at him, I’m not sure if I’m looking at skin or an exo-skeleton.
Rico is the same as a librarian. He has taken something he loves and has made it his world. Isn’t that what librarians do? They love books. They make books their world. They surround themselves in books. Rico, a man who loves art, has surrounded himself in ink. The only difference is that books remain on the shelves and do not manifest themselves onto the body while tattoos cling to the skin and reveal something much more personal about the bearer than silent books left on the shelf reveal.
He appeared in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video in his regular zombie-tatted self alongside a newly fake mirror-imaged zombie-Gaga. She dances around him and struts her, well, stuff. I found it curious that his entire appearance in the video is of him simply standing and staring. Lady Gaga dances around him and makes different facial expressions while he, on the other hand, remains stoic and unchanging. In this way, Lady Gaga is treating Rico as the center. Much like the Earth revolves around the sun, she revolves around him, making it appear that Rico’s thoughts about staying true to yourself and doing what makes you happy are as important and life-sustaining as the sun. Without each, you lose yourself.
In “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga celebrates the differences of human beings, making the case that it is okay to be different. When Rico is showcased, his purpose is clearly to acknowledge just how different people can be. But…Rico was not “born that way.” Getting the tattoos was something that he chose to do, a personal and external alteration of the body. Instead, then, I argue that Lady Gaga celebrates the differences of decisions that human beings can make. While Rico was not born with a tattoo of a brain, rib cage, or skull, his choice to take on those tattoos is what shapes who he is as a person, what comes naturally to him.
Upon making the mistake of scrolling down the page to read the YouTube comments, I found that there was a clear division in how Rico was accepted. Several women acknowledged that he was attractive and sexy. Several males countered that he was a freak and was not to be taken seriously. Of course, YouTube comments are usually not meant for the weak of heart: f-bombs and other offensive comments appeared, revealing just how polarized people are when thinking about Rico. One person insulted Rico’s “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comment, attesting that Rico is trying to be deep but is using a cliché. He also threw in a choice word, but we’ll leave that out.
After looking at the comments, and rolling my eyes at the vast typos (nothing better than trying to take someone seriously when they have about as many typos as the ideas as they are insulting), one thing was clear: This man straddles the idea of what you can do to your body. As stated, librarians surround themselves with books. Lawyers surround themselves with clients. Athletes surround themselves in fitness. And Rico? He surrounds himself with what makes him happy…tattoos.