When False Outrage Limits Freedom of Expression (Updated 4:30pm ET 4/25)

I was in the Business Class cabin on a flight to Ohio a few days ago.  It wasn’t new territory for me; as a member of my preferred airline’s Elite program, I find myself in these premium seats more often than not.  Often, I’m seated next to businessmen a decade or two my senior dressed in sport coats and ties.  I am often sporting wingtips and an Oxford so as to not be a complete disgrace to the forward cabin, but they’re offset by 5/8″ tunnels in my ears and a lip ring, much to my father’s chagrin.

This trip was no exception.  The gentleman beside me had fifteen years on me and his hair, unlike mine, was clean cut and not dangling in front of his eyes.  He told me he was a business owner with plants in two major cities upon our introduction; I informed him of my position with my employer’s corporate office.  A large part of our conversation centered on social media, oversharing, personal style and appearance, and how those things play into job interviews and even casual introductions such as ours on the airplane.  He admitted he’d never look too hard at a candidate with metal in their face or one who shared their political views too fervently on Facebook.

This is unsurprising, of course, as I often encounter looks of curiosity or downright disgust from newly introduced peers, sometimes even in my own generation.  When I step into the Elite security line at the airport I am often rebuffed with “sir, this line is only for Elites.”  What they’re thinking is “sir, this line is only for self-respecting adults who don’t have childish facial piercings, you mischievous-looking wage slave.”  If only those TSA screeners knew I made two to three times what they do (according to the little bit of Googling I just finished), they wouldn’t be making the same judgments, but my metal (and moreso their personal prejudices) have already done my speaking for me.  I flash my card, smile and accept their apologies.

However, at the end of the day, I’ve made it this far despite my refusal to dress, speak and act as I’m expected to.  I may have been slowed down here and there, but I haven’t been outright stopped.  I consider myself lucky when I see articles about people being removed from public events, fired, or even having their education denied because they had the ludicrous idea that personal expression was acceptable, even encouraged, in America.  Fortunately for my sanity and the relative sensibilities of those around me, I have not been put in a position to have to defend myself against the morality cops.

Sadly, a friend of a friend has brought this conversation much closer to home and now it’s time to share her story.

Lana Massey recently took her eight year old son to Legoland in Texas, a very popular destination for kids his age, to check out the sights and spend some quality time together. They allowed the mother and son to line up, pose for pictures by an employee, pay their admission and spend a few minutes looking around before being asked to quietly step out of the lobby area.  When I asked Lana which tattoo may have caused the disturbance, she had an idea:

I am sure it was the Tinkerbell one. Back story on that one is that it is original artwork from the 50s from the creator of the Tinkerbell character. She is in a traditional pinup pose, nothing vulgar.

She described the conversation with the Legoland employee as such:

When I was approached by Melanie, she said,”Excuse me, ma’am, I need to ask you… Well, I need to give you a refund and have to ask you leave.” I said,”What?” She stated that a guest had “complained about your tattoos.”

Lana was quick to note that she did not make a scene and complied with the requests respectfully.  If only the closed-minded complainant would have had so much respect the entire situation could have been avoided, but it’s pretty clear to me that personal prejudice is more powerful than respect and composure.  What compels someone to register a complaint about another person’s appearance, and what makes them feel that their sensibilities are so important that two paying customers should be forcibly removed just so they don’t have to look at some inoffensive ink?

Who was the victim here?

How do we prevent this type of discrimination?  How do we get the message out about Legoland?  How do we show the complainant that they ruined an eight year old boy’s day and, more importantly, likely created an insecurity about the judgment of others that could follow him for years?

What will it take for us to finally start having a little respect for each other’s differences?


Lana received this note from Legoland’s management:

Dear Miss Massey

Thank you for taking the time to e-mail us regarding your visit.

With regards to your e-mail, you were asked to leave due to customer complaints received about a visible offensive tattoo located on your lower leg. As a family attraction geared to children three to 10 years old, our entrance policy guidelines allow our staff the absolute direction to refuse admission to guests wearing clothing or images on their person that are offensive in nature.

The Duty Manager onsite acted in accordance to this policy, and offered the you a refund or tickets to return another day with the graphic tattoo covered. Our offer to return to the attraction with complimentary tickets still stands with the understanding of our policy.

Kind regards

Phil Royle

Head of Operations

LEGOLAND Discovery Center & SEA LIFE Grapevine Grapevine Mills Mall

3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway

Grapevine Texas 76051

In the interest of full disclosure, I am working to determine whether I can share with you the picture of the tattoo in question along with the full story behind it from the tattoo artist.  I will update the article when I have more.


What a difference a few days make.  We have links to the picture in the comments (and you can go click those links if you’d like, but I wouldn’t click them at work or around children to be entirely honest).  I can own up to disagreeing with someone’s definitions of words like vulgar or inappropriate, and while I’m on the fence about “vulgar,” I’ve come to the conclusion that what we’ve seen is indeed outside of what society considers appropriate in a park for children.  My site, my opinions… I am an honest person and I don’t compromise my honesty for friends, family or anyone, so I’m here to follow up.

I don’t believe that naked female tattoos are inappropriate.  With the violence we see every day on television, nudity is the least of our society’s concerns and I think we’d benefit from less of the Puritanical modesty that allows us to kill cops and hookers in the Grand Theft Auto series but flips out as soon as you bring in the nudity.  If this had been a topless Tinkerbell, I’d have continued to stand for the rights of the accused and I have no reservations about saying that.

At the end of the day, my assumption is that the complaint, while not specified directly by the (potentially flustered) worker, was related to the strong sexual nature of the picture, which appears to depict Tinkerbell using a lightswitch to violate herself and a facial expression that suggests she’s quite enjoying herself.  It’s the penetration, rather than the nudity, that makes this inappropriate for kids in their single digits.  Of course, this is just the opinion of myself and, judging by the comments here and at the Dallas Observer, a vast majority of commenters; we all have the right to teach our kids about sex (both with another person and with oneself) at whatever age we personally deem appropriate.  That said, other parents also have the right to shield their children from overt sexual content and private businesses also have the right to ask patrons to leave if they deem that response appropriate for the situation.

I will happily defend Lana’s right to have the tattoo, and I argue strongly that we have a duty first to be as inclusive and open-minded as possible to allow each other to coexist without violating each other’s rights.  However, it’s just as much within a citizen’s right to complain out loud about a tattoo as it is to get one in the first place… both sides have free speech.  At the end of the day, it is placed in the hands of the private property’s owners and management to determine whether a complaint is valid enough to warrant intervention.

I can’t say whether they made the right call, but we’re always asked to consider “community standards” in cases where art is deemed offensive or inappropriate.  The community is speaking loudly here and elsewhere and they seem to be agreeing with Legoland’s management team upon considering all the circumstances.

I’d like to hear from a few people who continue to feel that the company was wrong to remove Lana after seeing the tattoo in question.  Please leave your messages in the comments or tweet @AlanRadio.  We’ll pick up some of the responses and turn it into a follow-up article in a week or two.

  • While I agree this was completely out of line for a business that wants to attract positive attention, there are a couple of things that struck me. First of which is the fact that they made no effort to hang on to the sale. How about, “Excuse me miss, would it be possible for you to cover your tattoo? Normally we would not ask this, but another guest has found it offensive and complained.”

    On the other hand (and before ye judge me, keep in mind you never knew me when I had my facial piercings 😉 ) Those of us who have had or have certain adornments do so to make some type of statement. Good, bad, or indifferent the point is to attract attention. Maybe it’s to start a conversation. I work with an Agent now, who has “Think Different” tattooed on her wrist. This is going beyond being a fan boy to her. My wife and I got eyebrow piercings on our honeymoon. I was working for a very big, very stodgy company at the time, and had no (known) problems. My wife got some crap from her attendings at medical school. She was not surprised.

    The point is that when you do things like that to attract attention, well, sometimes you succeed and it isn’t pleasant.

    It is unfortunate that her son had to suffer the results of this attention as well, but (and this is where I pull the parent card) people do not understand how their choices impact their children, until they have them.

    I’m — as you know — a lot more open minded than most parents these days, but certainly if I found someone’s actions and yes appearance offensive I may be inclined to say something, and rather than confront the person directly possibly causing a bigger scene than necessary I might seek out an employee.

    • Kadryn Goodwin

      I AM that agent with think different on my wrist 🙂 it’s my ultimate fanboy tribute to the company that I started my computer career with. I also have a few others, one being a rather subtle lesbian pride tattoo on my upper arm. I do get comments on that one (when people understand what that symbol means) and I have been approached and reprimanded for it. I was once asked to leave a religious event. Same goes for my (now mostly removed) facial piercings. Back in the day, with my multiple piercings, visible tattoos, and faux hawk, I was treated very coldly in public places and more often than not expected to be up to no good. It’s ridiculous. I “cleaned up” my look not because society told me to, but because I’m allergic to metal and some of those really hurt 😀

      However, I agree with Aaron on the children note. If I take my little sisters out and someone has a vulgar or obscene tattoo that they notice and repeat, I am going to get riled up. But what is vulgar to me may be just fine to another person, and vice versa. It’s hard to draw the line since its so personal.

      I feel bad for her kid…poor guy just wanted to go to legoland!!

      • Janey

        And he can come back anytime. She was given a refund and complimentary tickets on another day – when she doesn’t have the tattoo showing.

        I’m very liberal and open minded.. long time Burning Man attendee even. But even I thought the tattoo was rather inappropriate for such an environment. I also think that Legoland was honest, forthcoming, and very cordial in this situation.

      • Damarcus

        If they threw everyone with tattoos out of Legoland, there would be 15 people in there! She was not tossed out because of her tattoos generally. Instead, she was asked to leave because she was showing children a cartoon character who was being “turned on” by a light switch in her vagina. I don’t see why anyone would be sticking up for that tattoo around children. I’m pretty liberal, but I have to draw the line at showing children pornography. And I’m okay with that.

  • Agent201572

    I wanna see the ink!

  • DPunch
  • Alan,
    You’ve been misled by your friend.

    “I am sure it was the Tinkerbell one. Back story on that one is that it is original artwork from the 50s from the creator of the Tinkerbell character. She is in a traditional pinup pose, nothing vulgar.”

    Is topless Tinkerbell straddling a lightswitch vulgar? I guess that’s up to who’s looking at it. In this case, the tattoo is visible on her calf, in full view of children that know who Tinkerbell is. That’s pretty bad judgement in a public place where kids are in my opinion.

  • Jim Bob Guthrie

    If she doesn’t find that image vulgar, then she may be unfit to be a parent. It is Tinkerbell-fucking-a-lightswitch. In a children’s area, a cartoon image will get more attention. The tattoo is on her calf — eye level for a three year old. The tattoo is not just a pinup Tinkerbell. She is not merely nude. She has a light switch entering her vagina. That is pornography.

    She has every right to her freedom of expression. But our free speech rights can be restrained by time, place and manner restrictions. Here, showing a pornographic image in an area where children frequent. It is completely reasonable to ask her to leave or to cover it up. You don’t get to show pornography to children without consequence.

    • Anonymous

      We have a local airline (southwest) that if they saw that, would either make her cover it or no let her fly

  • Anonymous

    you’ve been had, follow the link to the story

  • Anonymous

    “but they’re offset by 5/8″ tunnels in my ears and a lip ring” = you are fucking retarded

  • Anonymous

    “How do we show the complainant that they ruined an eight year old boy’s day and, more importantly, likely created an insecurity about the judgment of others that could follow him for years?”

    His mother’s choice to display a potentially offensive tattoo did that, not LegoLand. Nice of you to pass the buck, however. Sigh. I guess personal responsibility really is a thing of the past…

  • KT

    If her Tinkerbell tattoo was not vulgar, why would she leave the picture out of her post?

  • TabooTattoo

    false outrage… indeed.

  • Anonymous

    Dont be fooled, a friend of hers came out and said she has an equally vulgar tat of peter pan on her other calf. discrimination my ass