The Problem with Tattoos
There’s a problem in all of this. Tattoos are everywhere. Take, for example, the gym that I go to for a “work out,” where I lift bar bells grandmothers would laugh at. The overwhelming majority of patrons there have tattoos: forearms, upper-arms, calves, chests, necks, fingers, and ankles. Some extol Satan, mother, the names of love interests, Harleys, crucifixes, weapons, dragons, fire, spiders, abstractions, hell, flowers, Jesus, the Marines, the spirit, God, stars, angels, snakes, and superheroes, to name a few.
In this tattoo glut there’s a general loss of meaning. When I was growing up, tattoos used to mean something: some kind of countercultural expression, a protest against the yoke of certain mores and expectations, an all-purpose middle-finger at authority. I’m not saying I agree with their former message, but still, a message was there. No pun intended, but today’s tattoo phenomenon is representative of a broad and expanding problem that is best described as a dedication to surface, to integument. These walking tattoo canvases are not even pretending anymore. They have an unabashed sense of purposelessness in marring their skins. It’s not even fake remonstration, a love with the appearance of off-road thinking. No. None of that.
It is, I’m afraid, the end of the world. Ok, how about . . . what Frank Thomas and Matt Weiland include in their little noticed volume: Commodify Your Dissent, a collection of essays from various authors that mourn the loss of true dissent and countercultural spark. What caused the loss? Is it a victory of the scourge of the ordinary and complacent, the glacial momentum of conformity? No! Get this: it is a commercialization of all things countercultural. Yes, the corporate world has discovered the perfect assassin of alternative thought: make money out of it by supply-sided economics, inspiring kids by the throngs to flock to the fringe, thus eliminating the meaning of fringe and emasculating its long and unofficial historical role of keeping people true.
Here’s what my tattoo will read: “Down with Down!” I know, you don’t care either.