Sociology of Scars

Let's talk about scars. Most of us acquire at least one scar or other throughout the turbid frothing streams of our lives: a round white scar acquired from an overly large pox of the chicken persuasion, a thin white line from some form of surgery, a reddish mark or nick from a mishap with a pair of scissors or while carving a pumpkin for Halloween. Such marks fade with time and growth, becoming paler and thinner and perhaps eventually vanishing until the skin is more or less as unblemished as before. The marvels of modern medicine ensure that most serious wounds and surgeries leave the smallest and least noticeable scars possible.

Yet the modern mentality and mythos surrounding scars seems to view them as hip and sexy indications of a person's dark, angst-ridden, mysterious past. That is, of course, speaking of characters who possess strategically placed and not-too-disfiguring scars. Shall we take a look at a few of these?

There is the sullen hero of Final Fantasy VIII, Squall Leonheart, with a great huge brown scar slashed diagonally across his face. The source of this scar is a scene of drama and fighting and hacking and slashing with gunblades and in general, actually, since I never did play FFVIII, I'm probably not really qualified to go harping on about it. But from what I do know, I'm fairly sure that Squall gets this scar to 1) make him look badass and 2) form nice symmetry when the dude who gave it to him in the first place receives a similar scar going diagonally the other way across his face. Of course, that whole point #1 about looking badass goes back to my original intent in starting this post: What is it about having a huge scar slashed across a guy's face that makes him "badass"? Is it the implied macho-ness of having survived such a near-deadly wound and coming out without permanent damage to the eyes? The thrill of a near-miss? That he must be pretty damn manly to have been in a fight and earned such a scar in the first place?

Himura Kenshin of the anime Rurouni Kenshin is a prominently scarred character, and this is an example of a scar with a purpose, history, background, and effects upon the character's life. Kenshin used to be a political assassin during the war-torn Bakumatsu era and helped to bring about the transition into the Meiji Era, and was renowned as a highly-skilled and terrifying swordsman, the Hitokiri Battousai, identifiable by the cross-shaped scar on his left cheek. The back story of how he acquired this scar—and changed from being a feared assassin to a gentle wanderer—is very dramatic, very full of character-driven passion and belief, and very excellent. Naturally having a prominent scar in a difficult-to-hide place complicates Kenshin's life for there are those with grudges or glory on their minds who seek to best the legendary Battousai—particularly as he has taken an oath to never kill again.

Dilandau Albatou of the anime Vision of Escaflowne gets sliced along the left side of his face (what it is with the left side, anyway?) during a skirmish with Van Fanel, and because Dilandau is already an unstable narcissistic freak, this wound sends him over the edge and let the animators have a field day competing to see who could draw him with the most psychotic expression short of foaming at the mouth. For Dilandau, the scar that he so often strokes thereafter is an unsightly mar upon his beautiful face and is entirely Van's fault, and fuels his obsession for killing Van throughout the series.

In the anime series Death Note, the character Mello's face becomes scarred through spoilerific means. Here we seem him munching on chocolate, as usual. But it should be noted that after he becomes scarred—or perhaps more accurately because of the events that lead to his scarring—Mello becomes more obsessive and underhanded with regards to his goals. In this case, it is events that lead to his change in personality and the scar serves as a symbolic reminder.

In Bleach, Grimmjow is scarred by Ichigo. A lot. In this case, however, it's not just a single fine slice across his face, but massive owwiness. While I can't speak for all fan art, what fan art I've seen of Grimmjow is typically not of him crisped and burninated and mono-armed. Clearly his amount, type, and location of scarring goes beyond aesthetic appeal and perhaps becomes either grotesque or just simply not "sexy." Is this because there is something tragically attractive about near-perfection or perfection-now-marred, but not immense or intense amounts of disfigurement? And yet fan art of Mello in his scarred state is more prevalent than that of scarred!Grimmjow—is it because Mello isn't also missing an arm and is more femininely androgynous than machismo-manly Grimmjow?

Moving beyond anime, there is Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride by William Goldman, a Spanish man who has parallel scars on his cheeks—one on each cheek, vertically, scarred for life as a child, he was. For him, these are scars of remembrance of vengeance, for the six-fingered Count who gave them to him also killed his father.

We can take a look (once again) at Harry Potter, who bears a zigzag scar on his forehead that is the source of much pain (physical, mental, magical, etc.) in his life. What is this mystical scar? Why, it marks him as the Boy Who Lived, the only person ever to have survived the Killing Curse, and cast by the Dark Lord Voldemort no less. Later on it's revealed to have several sorts of magical properties linking him back to Voldemort (hurting when Voldemort is nearby, enabling Harry to catch glimpses of what Voldemort's doing, etc.), and is also a symbol of Harry's mother's love for him. It becomes a symbol and a plot device and an identifying mark all rolled into one lightning-shaped stamp on his forehead.

In the Asian ball-joint doll community, many doll-collectors have an obsession with painting their dolls to have scars, with or without a story behind them. The methods of accomplishing scarring range from the purely cosmetic (simply painting a scar onto a doll's face or body) to physical modification (actually carving a scar into the resin using a knife). Facial scars slashed across an eye, along the jaw, or over the bridge of the nose are a particular favorite.

The Volks company released two versions of an extremely limited and highly-sought-after scar-faced variant of their original Cecil doll, creatively named "Cecil the Scarface". How does Scarface differ from regular Cecil? His right eye is mostly closed and a great huge gash is carved into his face—literally. (He also has a scar carved into his right arm.) This scar is a deep, jagged-edged groove that is typically painted some form of orange-red-brown, as though this poor doll is doomed to have a perpetually unhealed wound sawed across his eye. (Incidentally, both versions of Cecil the Scarface were sold with a special "blind eye", gray with a white pupil, that could be used for the wounded eye.)

But as mentioned in Grimmjow's case, scars cannot be disfiguring or else they become too disturbing. Take a look at the Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode III: According to Krispy, he acquired the scar over his right eye in battle during the Clone Wars in a light saber duel with Asajj Ventress, shown in the Clone Wars cartoon series. His scar doesn't play any kind of role in the third movie and I haven't watched enough of the Clone Wars series to determine if it has any affect there either, but fans seem to accept and like his scar as far as I can tell.

But once Anakin Skywalker gets toasted and he morphs into Darth Vader (as it were), well, he's totally covered in black so that not a speck of skin shows, from face to feet. It would be too disturbing for the audience and anyway he's not attractive anymore. In a way, he very much resembles V from the movie V for Vendetta, also a victim of full-body burns who also covers himself from head to toe so that none of his burns are visible—but V probably belongs to another post some other time. For now, it's enough to see Anakin's descent from his pedestal. I mean, come on, you find tons of pictures, fan art, screencaps, etc. of Anakin and Darth Vader, but not of Anakin-after-the-lava-pit or Darth-Vader-sans-mask-and-helmet. People want him either whole and handsome or dark, mysterious, and completely covered.

The physical scars of real-life can mean anything, including nothing. I don't think twice about this weird little scar I've had on my hand for several months now, originally attained from scraping my hand on a protruding bit of wire mesh. This event was hardly traumatizing or life-changing and it was just an owwy on my hand that healed pretty quickly and didn't even require a band-aid, and yet the tiny slightly discolored mark persists. But scars earned from bullets taken in warfare or in the line of duty are proverbial red badges of courage and honor and duty.

But in the world of fandom, at any rate, scars seem to be as cosmetic and varied as eye- and hair-color. They tend to be of mysterious origins rooted in angst and trauma. But not too much scarring, and not too intense a scar. They can be marks of honor or remembrance or vengeance or brotherhood, of ritual or tragedy, or maybe just incidental, accidental, and forgettable—except that if a scar is either shown or mentioned, chances are it's not the latter.

This post is brought to you by the fact that one of our characters does have scars, acquired through traumatic means, and which definitely do drive him indeed along his thorny path of vengeance. But really it's not the scars that are important to him or about him: it's what happened to him in the past. (Incidentally his scars are not in a usually visible place, unlike most of the characters named above. I tried to think of characters who have hidden scars, but none readily came to mind. If I manage to think of a few, there may be forthcoming Scar Post Part II. Oooh, that rhymed.)