June 11, 2006

"It's a very easy way to express something that you think represents part of your identity..."

"... that you don't have to tell someone but you can just have seen." It's a very easy way to express something that you thought represented part of your identity that will still be seen when you don't think that anymore. If I were a young, failing artist again, I'd learn how to tattoo. And I'd specialize in custom designs that add material to existing tattoos to make them express what the person with the inky skin thinks represents part of his identity now.

ADDED: As I've said before, "tattoos remind you of death," and I love the idea of your body -- your body, not mine -- as a game of Exquisite Corpse.

43 comments:

David said...

My opinion of tattoos and body piercings is that the are a form of self-abasement and lack of self respect.

It is also a form of exhibitionism as you get to bare your body to the ministrations of strangers in a sexually suggestive way.

You are forever bonded with the pesonal behind the needle!

Cheap Thrills!

ignacio said...

Tom Beaudoin in his book "Virtual Faith: the Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X" postulates that being tattooed may signify a quest, through suffering, for incommunicable metaphysical experience. Also a way of "owning" one's body apart from society's expectations.

Who is in control when the exhibitionist makes you look? Whose power is added to or diminished in the exchange?

Simon Kenton said...

Tattoos as rebellion? "Always remember you're unique, just like everyone else."

If I could find a stock for the company that sells tatoo removal equipment, I'd go long.

Dave said...

"My opinion of tattoos and body piercings is that the are a form of self-abasement and lack of self respect."

So earrings prove women don't respect themselves?

I knew there was a reason why we shouldn't respect those pierced women!

What a presumptuous statement.

Ann Althouse said...

About a decade ago, a saw a young woman who had a large bathtub tattooed on the back of her neck. That made a big impression on me! I wonder what that bathtub is now? A butterfly?

Simon: The article talks about a new kind of ink that can is iradicable somehow. That might be the best thing.

Bissage said...

David and Dave: Are you guys the Althouse version of Bele and Lokai?

Link.

ignacio said...

To dismiss them all as just young and stupid seems to fall right into the trap of the old fart.

Of course they're young and stupid. That's not very illuminating. Assuming illumination is your aim.

Ann Althouse said...

That "Star Trek" episode never made any sense to me. Didn't these people have mirrors? Anyone looking in a mirror would see the image of the supposedly hated other?

Ann Althouse said...

Ignore the question mark...

Dave said...

Bissage: Don't really understand the question or the link.

ziemer said...

i happen to have to the citation to lochner v. new york tattooed on my right bicep.

if i ever renounce individual liberty and join the socialists, i'll let you guys know how i got rid of the tattoo.

AllenS said...

Thank God, I didn't get that tattoo. I can just imagine what my thoughts would be now, when looking into a mirror and seeing:

nnA evol I

Bissage said...

Here's a plot synopsis.

The joke was based on the similarity of your names. In other comment threads I had a hard time telling who was who. Here, when Dave pounced on David, it reminded me of how Bele chased after Lokai. In the episode, the reason for the antagonism had long passed and the difference between the two men/aliens was merely their black/white faces. To the crew of the Enterprise, their humanitarian mission was jeopardized by pointless racial hatred.

An imperfect analogy, I admit. But I thought it was funny and hoped others would think likewise.

Terri said...

I worked in a nursing home for a few years when I was a teenager and one of the many lessons I took away from the experience was: don't get a tattoo.

Fatmouse said...

Tattoos: A great way for uninteresting people to carry around conversation starters.

ignacio said...

Critic Donald Kuspit once said of artist Cindy Sherman: She's not a thinker... she has an attitude she's trying to express.

That seems fair. And perhaps applies to many of those who sport tattoos.

Dave said...

Bissage: an imperfect analogy to be sure.

ignacio said...

My last word here on this is that, although I personally find most tattoo art unappealing, the hostility expressed here against those with tattoos is mysterious to me.

It's a fashion. My best friend has tattoos. My wife has a couple. They look just fine.

My father had tattoos from being in the Marines.

Almost all athletes these days and anyone who's in a band will get a tattoo. It's a fashion.

It doesn't always look bad.

Bissage said...

Agreed. The joke was in the differences. The third paragraph of my 11:24 was a mistake.

Old Dad said...

The motivations for getting a tattoo are surely complex, but I'll comment on those in my extended family and circle of friends who have them.

By far, most were late teens and early twenty somethings, and all were makig a countercultural statement. Of course, the tattoos also represented a kind of initiation rite into their social group. All the tattoos were rather innocuous and in discrete locations. We aging boomers might call them freak flags.

A middle aged man and woman also got them. The woman's was an odd but personnally meaningful symbol in a visible but not obtrusive location. I think she was simply trying to be different.

The man got a large, politically charged tattoo on a bicep, and an ear ring. He was and is a proseperous, well educated community leader.He was saying "this is what I think" MF.

Jennifer said...

Ignacio - The derision was a mystery to me too.

Yes, clearly everyone who gets a tattoo does it for the exact same reason. And clearly they are all far stupider than the commenters thus far. Clearly.

I have a tattoo that I got ten years ago. I thought it was pretty. I still think so. It doesn't mean anything - no more than the jewelry or makeup I choose to wear.

And yes, terri, I realize it will be ugly when I'm old and wrinkly. I will be ugly when I'm old and wrinkly. As will you.

Fatmouse said...

ignacio,

You say it's a fashion. Fine. But since that word was invented, people have been mocking the stupid, stupid decisions made for it.

The big difference is that unlike tattoos, all the moronic fashion disasters of the past - from leisure suits to mullets - can be EASILY REMOVED.

Imagine that everyone who put on a pair of avacado green sans-a-belt polyester bellbottoms in the 70's still had them on today, and it would cost thousands of dollars to get them off. That's exactly what's going to happen to people who get tattoos, especially those with those hideous "sleeves."

somefeller said...

"That "Star Trek" episode never made any sense to me. Didn't these people have mirrors? Anyone looking in a mirror would see the image of the supposedly hated other?"

That's the point, Ann. Whenever we look in the mirror, we may see the hated other.

[Cue the violins and fade to commercial break.]

CB said...

uh, you folks do realize that tattoos have been around for thousands of years in virtually every culture in the world. They're not exactly some new fad.

Jennifer said...

Good point, CB.

I think some of the old folks here seem to believe that people get tattoos to be different, shocking, rebellious. But, I don't think most young people perceive tattoos as all that unique.

It would be like driving an SUV to be different. Good luck with that.

Elizabeth said...

I got my first tattoo at 38, so it's not all about youth. Only one is visible easily, and I'm not all about baring my body. They're pleasing to me. I particularly like the pelican rising over a line of waves; it reminds of what I love about living on the Gulf, and that's especially comforting after Katrina.

Medopine said...

I have two tattoos - one with some band lyrics that I semi-regret, and an Egyptian heiroglyph on my back. The band lyrics tattoo isn't the greatest but it serves to remind me of the time I got it and all the good things that were going on in my life at that time. The Egyptian symbol is representative of my intense fascination and love for that ancient culture - plus I think it looks neat. My ex boyfriend has the tree of Gondor tattooed on his side because he loves Tolkien's works.

It's not a counter culture statement - it's a personality statement and a commemorative statement. Or even a fashion statement. Seems more like a way to revere and beautify the body rather than disrespect it.

I didn't think people still thought tattoos were "scary" and "rebellious" and "dirty." Sheesh.

J said...

"an Egyptian heiroglyph on my back"

This may or may not apply to Egyptian heiroglyphics, but I read an article not too long ago (in the Atlanta J/C I think, but I'm not certain) that claimed a lot of tattoos with symbols in them, particularly those with Chinese symbols, did not, um, say what the tattooee thought they said.

"The man got a large, politically charged tattoo on a bicep, and an ear ring"

I guess I'm just not the activist type. I can't imagine holding a political opinion so strongly that I would have it permanently written on my skin. I have strongly held opinions of course, but I'm always open to the possibility that I'm wrong.

Palladian said...

"uh, you folks do realize that tattoos have been around for thousands of years in virtually every culture in the world. They're not exactly some new fad."

Yet another vulgar vestige of our savage past that needs to be shaken off.

I live in a heavily tattooed neighborhood, where I daily see quite good looking men and women with tattoos on their necks and faces and arms that basically ruin their good looks. When you get your face tattooed you basically flush your chances of a normal life down the toilet. And from an aesthetic point of view, ugly bluish marks on one of the most beautiful surfaces in nature, human skin, is displeasing to my eye.

I read an interview with John Waters once where, when asked about tattoos, said: they look good when you're young and hot but when you get older you just look like an out of work Tilt-A-Whirl operator.

LoafingOaf said...

I think some of the old folks here seem to believe that people get tattoos to be different, shocking, rebellious. But, I don't think most young people perceive tattoos as all that unique.

Yeah, like the article says, once upon a time a tattoo usually meant you were a sailor, convict, biker, soldier, carnival worker, or punk rocker (back when punk was still a meaningful counter-culture). Body piercings used to mean you were part of a sexual fetish underground.

Today tattoos and body piercings usually mean you live near a mall, watch MTV, and wanna join the in crowd.

Which is fine. I can't claim to be above having done things to try and fit in, and sometimes the tattooed (a small minority of them) have body art that looks really good or makes a cool statement.

But I can't imagine caring so much about fitting in with the crowd that I'd subject myself to PAIN in order to do so! I hate pain, plus I change too often for there to be something I'd want on my body forever.

John Jenkins said...

When people talk about this, I am always reminded of Dennis Miller's take that tattooing and body piercing, like other choices about personal appearance, conveys a message. In this case, the message is, "in an already crowded employment market, what can I do to make myself less employable?"

Medopine said...

"This may or may not apply to Egyptian heiroglyphics, but I read an article not too long ago (in the Atlanta J/C I think, but I'm not certain) that claimed a lot of tattoos with symbols in them, particularly those with Chinese symbols, did not, um, say what the tattooee thought they said."

I became interested in Ancient Egypt through studying it in college. I know what it means and what it stands for and what it's supposed to look like. Otherwise I wouldn't have it permanently put on my body. I don't advocate anyone getting a tattoo without seriously thinking about it and planning it.

"Yet another vulgar vestige of our savage past that needs to be shaken off.

I live in a heavily tattooed neighborhood, where I daily see quite good looking men and women with tattoos on their necks and faces and arms that basically ruin their good looks. When you get your face tattooed you basically flush your chances of a normal life down the toilet. And from an aesthetic point of view, ugly bluish marks on one of the most beautiful surfaces in nature, human skin, is displeasing to my eye."

Thanks for the close-minded comment. I guess there is more of a generational gap (or something) than I previously thought. This thread makes me sad.

Palladian said...

"Thanks for the close-minded comment. I guess there is more of a generational gap (or something) than I previously thought. This thread makes me sad."

Close minded? Isn't it actually closed-minded? Maybe you mean close as in cramped and crowded with thoughts, in which case I thank you.

Anyway, the ol' "closed-minded" epithet, the eternal refuge of those who conflate criticism and bigotry. Making an aesthetic choice and defending it is not bigotry or "closed-mindedness". In matters of aesthetics at least, an open-mind is often just as unappealing a pit of confused, smelly offal and excrement as an open sewer. And about as healthy for the body politic, I might add.

But for the moment, I'll accept the popular meaning of "open-minded" and apply it to myself. I am quite "open-minded", at least "open-minded" enough to forsee that there may be one day when I don't want to have to look down at my arm or stomach or calves and be reminded of the times when I though impregnating my derma with dye in the shape of a flaming, tongue-wiggling skull or a cod-celtic decorative motif picked from a dog-eared patternbook was a good idea.

Tattoos do say something about you, something about your aesthetics and ideas and "identity". But, like any good post-modernist should realize, what it says may not be what you want it to say, or what you intended to say about yourself. The text has its own life, whether printed on a page or injected sub-cutaneously, so you'd better be ready to accept that when you decided to get that chinoiserie applied to the back of your neck. And, just like the Kos people with their black socks and poor coiffure, don't expect other people (friends, neighbors,future employers) to ignore what's in front of us, and see the "real you". Because what's in front of us may be the extent of it.

And as for the "generational gap" thing, I'm 31, a member of the most pierced, inked demographic in the US.

John R Henry said...

Theodore Dalrymple is a British doctor who works in the London prison hospital as well as a number of slum hospitals. He wrote an excellent book called "Life at the Bottom" about the various pathologies of the underclass. One of the chapters was about tattoos and the correlation (though not necessarily cause and effect) between tattoos, criminality and the underclass.

Its available online at http://www.city-journal.org/html/5_4_oh_to_be.html

Titled "It Hurts, therefore I am"

I don't have a problem with a small tattoo or two in discreet, even if obvious, places. There is absolutely no way I would ever hire, for any position, any of these people with sleeve tattoos, neck or face tattoos or the like.

Number one, it creeps me out and I have no need to work with people who creep me out. Number two, I think it says something unwholesome about the person.

Of course I would not tell them it was because of the tattoo. I'd find some other reason to give them.

John Henry

ziemer said...

good lord.

its obvious from any of the posts that concern law that you people are largely uneducated about law.

i grant you, though, you caught on pretty quick that the doors' reference to whipping horses' eyes was an allusion to crime and punishment, so you are obviously not uneducated generally.

but the hostility towards tattoos is really shocking. obviously, i have no tattoos above my neck or below my elblow, but i like my tattoos alot.

sometimes, it is a pain to try to explain why an 1895 new york law limiting the amount of hours a baker can be employed is unconstitutional.

but it was unconstitutional. as are all current minimum wage laws, and pretty much, every law that has been passed since lochner was overruled in 1938.

i will never change my mind, and i will never shy away from explaining to people that our current socialist state is unconstitutional.

Ann Althouse said...

What does liking or not liking tattoos have to do with being educated? I mean I can see wanting to turn the tables and act snooty back at the people who are snubbing you about tattoos, but the rest of it makes no sense.

ziemer said...

as i said, the people here are educated people (they got the allusion to crime in punishment from the silly doors tune).

they're obviously not knowledgeable about law, as i assume you've gathered on your own.

i just thought that an educated group of people such as post at your blog would not be this intolerant toward something like tattoos. i was wrong.

Palladian said...

No, darling, I'm not intolerant of tattoos, I just don't like them. As a superior educated person, I'd assume you'd understand this subtle difference. But why do you care what a few blog people think? You're tough, you have tattoos, man!

ziemer said...

palladian,

i just didn't expect this when i decided to click on the comments.

i agree with you as far as tattooed faces are concerned.

as i said, for obvious reasons, i have no tattoos above my neck or below my elbows (you have to be able to wear a polo shirt without any ink showing, darling).

i just thought this would be a fun post, and instead, it was this diatribe against a wholly innocuous, and in some cases beautiful thing (in addition to the citation to locher, i also have a beautiful red oak leaf tattooed on my left tricep).

Medopine said...

Excuse my typo above, palladian. Of course that is always a good way to attack someone's post...

I hear what you're saying, but I just don't understand why you can believe that anyone who gets a tattoo is "flushing their chances at a normal life down the toilet." Ah well.

Jennifer said...

Silver Fox - Palladian said [w]hen you get your face tattooed you basically flush your chances of a normal life down the toilet.

Jeff said...

Tattoo artists will generally counsel customers who seek face or had tattoos before doing it. They feel bound to explain that it's a line of demarcation for even the heavily tattooed.

There is a broad range of tattoo styles and an even broader range of motivations for getting one. People with tribal designs find traditional "flash" to be vulgar or cheap, while traditionalists think that tribalists are trendy and fake. The divisions go on. But one thing is universal: the difference between someone with a "tourist" tattoo, like a bugs bunny gotten on spring break, and those who have put years into thinking of tattoo designs and see them as an expression of their inner selves.

My tattoos were chosen with a lot of care. It took me years between them to find the art and modify it to my liking. They were chosen as a way of exerting some control over my body and its appearance, and as a way of making external what was previously only internal.

They are not statements of youthful rebellion or transient fashion but rather ways of physically and visually linking myself permanently with certain elements of ancestry and culture.

The most eloquent tattoo that I have ever seen was on the hand of sculptor of my acquaintance back in the late 80's, when tattoos were fairly uncommon. It was a black square, about a centimeter per side, on the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. It was tiny but symbolic and it impressed me immensely at the time (I was 19). It spoke volumes and still does.

Palladian said...

"What does a black square say ?"

That one is a fan of Kasimir Malevich?