Disclosure: I have no tattoos. Not one. Not even a discreet mumbling insect somewhere only cognoscenti would look. I do have some varicose veins on my legs which, if you squint, can be mistaken for tattoos. I also have a couple of holes in one earlobe, but that’s it as far as bod-mod is concerned. Only removable stuff, and not much of it.
So, naturally, I’m well qualified to write about tattoos.
I came up in a time when they were the sole prerogative of sailors, ex-marines, carnies, and other folk with a propensity to drunkenness in unusual places and a propensity to accept dares as solemn challenges. And, now that I think of it, a place to go when paychecks and wild urges were completely spent, until next time around the block. Themes were limited: Mom, Semper Fi, pierced hearts inscribed with ‘[your name here] Forever,’ and a handful of dragons and dripping daggers. There were prison tats, of course, but those mostly looked like some middle schoolers’ cribbed notes for an upcoming exam.
They remained daring for years, until — when, the 90s? Now they’re so common it’s unusual to see bare skin younger than 60. And I mean common: pets, cartoon characters, bible verses. It’s like the middle schoolers replaced their crib sheets with the kind of doodles that used to be reserved for textbooks.
Now and then you see a kanji character, an inscription in Sanskrit, or some homage to Maori body art, makes no difference which, since the bearers seldom understand them, and the artists who ink them even less often. You know those tech instructions in poorly translated, fractured English that everyone laughs at? How many tattoos in exotic scripts evoke the same kind of reaction in people who can read them?
In any case, tat madness coupled with the current penchant for extremes has come to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell if someone is wearing a shirt. We’ve come a long way since Ray Bradbury’s classic book of short stories, The Illustrated Man, in which tattoos covering the entire body were used as a device to connect the stories. In 1951, when the book was published, everyone easily bought into the notion that the man was not only unusual, but possibly a dangerous freak. He wouldn’t even be considered extreme now.
Are there “good” tattoos? Of course there are, dear. Only, it’s not easy to tell them from bad ones. Some people will tell you all tattoos are good by default, but that argument would be … tatological.
Like all fashions, this one, too, will pass. Eventually, it will once again be a trait of the very old or very bold. One day, your kids will laugh at all the silly stuff you had permanently affixed to your body.
If they can see past the folds and creases.