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Simply put, the use of barcode tattoos in futuristic settings, particularly of the dystopian flavor. Maybe it's to mark them as being property of some Mega Corp or a Nebulous Evil Organization. Maybe they're clones, slaves, or prisoners. Maybe it just looks cool. Whatever it is, barcode tattoos are appearing more and more often in fiction.

Most often these tattoos are on the nape of the neck, but they can be in other places, as the picture shows us.

This can be a Truth in Television: A lot of these people actually think that these tattoos look cool or Badass. Anyone who's ever used an actual UPC scanner knows they sure aren't feasible; even minor printing errors render barcodes printed on paper, plastic or metal unscannable, and tattoos tend to dissipate with age. Even fresh ones would be distorted whenever skin is stretched by movement.

A related trope in futures that are more Zeerust than dystopian is the barcode license plate, often an accompaniment to flying cars but seldom accompanied by the owner-applied markings on nearly every vehicle that would be necessary for owners of popular cars to find them in crowded parking lots without special equipment. No one explains why law enforcement doesn't object to license plates which human eyewitnesses to crimes can't possibly read. Real Life Automatic License Plate Readers have made barcode license plates unnecessary.

Examples of Scannable Man include:


  • The Big O. It gets kinda hard to tell.
  • They're standard on one specific moon in Cowboy Bebop.
  • The eponymous Nora has one - inside an inverted pentagram, no less - to indicate that he's a member of the Dark Liege's Army. Interestingly, the DLA is actually the good less-bad of the two demon factions.
  • Stiyl Magnus, under the eye.
  • "Barcode Kougaiji" in Saiyuki after he's reprogrammed by Goukumen and Nii.
  • Wild Arms : Twilight Venom - Sheyenne Rainstorm has one on the sole of his right foot. (It's not, strictly speaking, his right foot, though....)
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Criminals in Neo Domino City -- including The Hero, natch -- are marked with barcode tattoos so they can be tracked after they're released from prison. Marked criminals become societal outcasts, with no choice but to live in the Satellite (if they weren't originally from there already, which is highly likely).


  • Parodied in the Affectionate Parody fanfic of Hitman 2, Hitman Miami. In one of the missions, 47's barcode will set off an alarm as he leaves a supermarket, subjecting him to a traumatizing cavity search; to avoid this, he can rub his head across a cashier's barcode scanner, which then displays "GNTCLY ENGNRD CLONE: $12.32".


  • The Philadelphia Experiment II: The Nazis tattoo barcodes on Americans as identification, and use scanning devices to determine whether or not a barcode is fake.
  • Alien 3: The convicts all have barcodes in the neck, and Ripley identifies the doctor as being one of them, rather than someone employed there, by the fact that he's got a barcode, too.
  • The Terminator had Kyle Reese's robot-run concentration camp tattoo (on the arm).
  • Gleefully turned into a gag in Idiocracy.
  • The future convicts in Twelve Monkeys are marked with barcodes on the neck. Cole's tattoo is scanned when he is brought in front of the scientists.
  • Pandorum. The crew and colonists on board the spaceship have their department (Agriculture, Flight Team, etc) tattooed on their arm. The tattoo is somehow printed so that, even though a colonist waking up from hypersleep has to peel off their dead skin, a fresh tattoo exists underneath. To access areas the computer scans both the tattoo and their palmprint.
  • The Island. The clones have a bar code on their wrists, which is one way of identifying them from the real ones.
  • In the Blade films, vampire familiars (human servants) have the glyph of the vampire who owns them tattoed on their body.


  • The eponymous heroine of the novel Jennifer Government has a barcode tattoo beneath her eye (as depicted on the cover), but it is purely a cosmetic thing she had done herself, not for identification. The tattoo is revealed late in the novel as the UPC for Malibu Barbie, a reference to her previous job at Mattel. On the book cover itself, however, it is the barcode for the book itself so that it could be scanned by the cashier.
  • There's a novel for teenagers called The Bar Code Tattoo.
    • Which is quite good and explains the kind of dystopia the world would become if a Bar Code Tattoo was to be law almost everywhere.
  • In This Perfect Day, they don't have tattoos, but they do have steel bracelets with unbreakable chains that everyone is forced to wear. The bracelet has your nameber, and must be touched to a scanner whenever going through a door, so that the supercomputer that rules the world can keep track of you.
  • Barcodes appear on just about everything in the world of Fforde's Shades of Grey.
  • In the early books of the Dumarest of Terra series, Earl Dumarest's credit account is tattooed into his forearm, to be read -- and altered as necessary -- by magnetic scanner.
  • The protagonist in Richard Morgans Altered Carbon muses that "anyone who bar-codes their employees isn't likely to be the forgiving type".
  • The slaves genetically engineered by Mesa in the Honorverse have barcodes on their tongues. They're not tattooed there; they're a combination of natural pigment and patterns of taste buds. Even if you cut the tongue off and regenerated it, the barcode would grow right back; it is possible to eliminate the mark, but it takes way more medical resources than most former slaves could ever get their hands on.

Live Action TV

  • The transgenics in Dark Angel. Bonus points for it being genetically engineered into them, so if it's lasered off, it comes back.
  • Resistance Fighters sent back in time from the post-apocalyptic future of The Sarah Connor Chronicles often sport bar-code tattoos due to time spent in Skynet work camps. See Terminator under film examples above.
  • Sort-of subverted in "Seven Days", where chrononauts for Project Backstep have a serial number tattoo to confirm their identity upon arrival.
  • An episode of Seinfeld that was scripted but never filmed (does that count?) had Kramer change his name to a bar code tattooed to his butt.
  • Mad TV did a parody of Wal-Mart where the employees had barcodes on their arms.
  • British drama series The Last Enemy gives us a modern spin on this trope at the climax: implanted RFID chips.


  • The album art to Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too by New Radicals features a series of photographs of Gregg Alexander with bar codes stamped on different parts of his body. The only exception is a photo where he's basically just a glowing white silhouette.
  • The video for Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam features new born babies on a conveyor belt getting bar codes stamped on to their foreheads.
  • The album art for Epica's Requiem For The Indifferent includes a bar code tattoo on Simone's upper right arm. The entire cover gives off a distinctly dystopian vibe.

Tabletop Games

  • In one Shadowrun supplement, call girls had bar codes tattooed on them, presumably to make it easier to scan them and total up the client's bill.
  • Paranoia has tongue tattoos.

Western Animation

Web Comics

  • All citizens of Derse and Prospit have barcode tattoos in Homestuck, for reasons currently unknown, but it brought back "painful memories" for the Wayward Vagabond and Spades Slick used it to open Lord English's safe.

Web Original

Video Games

  • As seen above, Hitman's hero, Agent 47, has one on the back of his skull.
  • Guilty Gear: Potemkin has one on his (massive) left bicep. Unfortunately...
  • Raiden of Metal Gear Solid 2 is revealed to be covered in bar code tattoos during the naked sneaking section of the game. Bonus: Jackie boy is pasty enough to presumably make said bar codes legible to laser scanners twenty paces away.
  • The HUmar in Phantasy Star Online has a hairstyle which consists of a Mohawk and a barcode.

Real Life

  • Some U.S. Christian fundamentalists believe that a future U.S. government, under the control of The Antichrist, will put bar code tattoos on people, thus fulfilling the "Mark of the Beast" prophecy.
  • The original katzetnik. True, they weren't barcodes, but they were unique serial numbers tattooed as identification on the arms of people interned in Auschwitz. Katzetnik tattoos are often shown as a visual shorthand for Holocaust survivors, as with the film version of Magneto.
  • Cliff's Amusement Park in Albuquerque, NM uses bar codes to mark patrons that have bought an unlimited ride pass. Stationary scanners on some rides and handheld scanners on others check the bar code. It's a bracelet, though, tattooing not required.
    • Similarly, Blackberry phones running BlackBerry Messenger can generate a unique 2D barcode (looks like a square made up of a bunch of blocks) that other Blackberrys can scan using the built-in camera to transfer contact information with relative ease. They even have an app so you can throw your barcode up on your Facebook.
  • Entertainer, visionary, and completely bonkers musician Doctor Steel sports a 47-style barcode tattoo on the back of his neck.
  • ID-number tattoos are a common means of identifying racehorses and other valuable livestock. Technology has improved to the point that high-end research laboratories can actually buy an automated machine capable of tattooing ID-numbers on a mouse's tail, to take the place of old-fashioned ear tags.
  • Henry Rollins used to have a bar code tattooed on his neck, but later changed it to the Black Flag 4-flag symbol.
  • This fellow steps it up to a QR tattoo.
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