Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The problem with the new "Tattoo Culture"

I wrote this paper a few months ago and for reasons that I cannot explain, will never be able to publish it (not to imply anyone ever would anyway). So I figured what the hell, Ill just stick it up here.

Tattoo Reality Check- By Josh Roush

Tattoo "reality" shows, and numerous popular musicians are heaving the previously rebellious tattoo culture of yesteryear into today's American mainstream. This surge, combined with an extreme lack of forethought has led the concept of tattoos away from its roots of stating individualism to a redefinition of uniformity. Getting a piece of art that will be forever displayed on your body until the time of your death (and shortly thereafter) is not something to be taken lightly. After all, not only are tattoos permanently affixed to your body they will shape how you are perceived by the general populace for the rest of your life.

Gone are the days when tattoos signified the events that had occurred in your life.Once upon a time, a tear drop tattoo next to your eye meant that you had killed someone in prison. Now it may signify nothing more than someone attempting to upset their parents. Tattoos used to hold a deep, spiritual meaning (albeit sometimes a dangerous one) to the person that had "collected" it. Today, many of the original meanings have been bastardized into pointlessness by the over and ignorant use of their imagery.

Until recently, tattoos were only acquired by those who had no false ambitions of ever completely fitting into society. These groups of people consisting mainly of sailors and convicts would spend months, even years at a time away from home, all the while knowing full well that when they returned, it was only to be temporary. Due to this, tattoos used to come with an air of mystery, danger and adventure to them. The air has as of late, become stagnant.

For some people getting a tattoo is the filling of a deep seeded void, be that as a marker of who they are, where they're from, where they're going, or in memory of someone close to them. For others, tattoos are viewed as the ticket price to be among the hip and trendy. An amazing example of the proprietors of this particular brand of nonsense is the show "LA Ink" which follows the drama fueled adventures of Kat Von Dee as she whores her way around the tattoo-ridden rockstar world. Shows such as this glamorize the tattoo industry. This overemphasis on the tattoo artists life overshadows the actual art being done, giving the masses atrocious examples of why they should or shouldn't get tattoos.

But behind the personal ramifications of the ignorant use of tattooing is a larger issue: The cheapening and degradation of other cultures. Many popular tattoos today are symbols for the believes and values rooted in other cultures. Trendy tattoos such as the Lotus Blossom and the Koi fish have deep historical, religious and sacred meanings to the Asian culture, yet they are tattooed on westerners without a second thought. And let us not ignore the ever popular "tribal" tattoos that plague the tattoo industry today. Some traditional tribal art is very meaningful to the Aboriginal and Indian peoples of the world. However, most "tribal art" from a modern day perspective is quite literally meaningless, and only functions as a form of adornment. Many societies in the world regard getting tattoos as a coming of age ceremony, yet here in America, tattooing at large has lost a lot of its meaning.

Another issue in this vein is the use of a foreign languages alphabet in another cultures tattooing industry. The best example of this is the over abundant use of traditional Chinese characters in US tattoos. Without going into any of the horror stories that I have heard second hand, it is a fact that just the slightest variation on any given shape of one of these complicated characters has the potential to dramatically alter it's meaning. Scarily enough, many tattoo artists do not have reliable reference points for the correct formation and context in which many of these characters are to be used to retain their meaning.

In former days, tattoos were viewed as a "middle finger" to societies standards and practices. What many people participating in this "tattoo boom" do not understand is that after this tattoo fad has passed, they will still have this artwork brandishing their body. As they get older, these people will violently crash into the wall of self realization that anyone not native to that time and place where they were considered cool, will negatively view them as an outcast in society.

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