Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past. ~Jack London
The tattoo culture is not a new one… Otzi the Iceman from about 3300 BCE had them, and they think he was even carrying an implement that could have been his tattooing needle. So, over the span of about 5,310 years we have maintained a tattooing tradition. I wonder how many other things humans have done for that kind of duration aside from the obvious sex, drugs and rock and roll. However, it seems like tattoos have really had a renaissance over the past twenty years or so. No longer even remotely alternative, they seem to be… almost cliche. [Probably why the other forms of body “modification” have been emerging…] In fact, it was estimated that more than 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 40 had at least one tattoo and 36% of people between 18 and 25 were inked up back in 2006. According to the Harris Interactive Poll, 14% of the total population had a tattoo in 2008. There are some very amusing statistics and tables here to look at to get some more of an idea about what people are thinking about tattoos.
I must admit, I find tattoos totally intriguing. I cannot put my finger on exactly why… but I have a feeling it is that I like the apparent commitment that a person demonstrates by getting tattooed. It is like they are willing to go the distance. Ex #3, while not explicitly negative about my tattoos, used to say, “Why put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?” I think there is a compliment in there somewhere, but it’s a bit hard to discern, especially since if memory serves, he was talking about why he didn’t have tattoos… Still, I have always liked them and, yeah, I think they are sexy. Just look at the All Blacks or oh my, David Beckham and for fair play we must look at Angie too…
I got my first tattoo when I was a freshman at UCSD. It was small and typical of what a semi-daring 18 year-old might do. More important than the tattoo though, was the tattoo artist. Oh man, Randy Janson. It was all I could do to not go back and have him tattoo every available inch of my body. (And I mean that exactly how it sounds.) I was so biggigitty over this guy I rushed to tell my BFF about it (we were just ‘F’ at that time) and imagine my shock and awe to find out she knew him. Like knew him, knew him. I wanted to die. Or just follow her around to bask in her glory. [I still do that, by the way, for myriad reasons.] Whether it really was all about Randy or something deeper, that tattoo was just the beginning. My mom was not thrilled. At first she had somewhat of a proprietary attitude about my body going on in the vein of, “Hey, I made that… What are you doing to it?” But she came around and has a lovely little piece of artwork on her back now, too. [Hope I am not outing you Mom.]
Since that day in 1989 at Avalon Tattoo in Pacific Beach I have been tattooed a few more times. I did go back to Avalon as well… and have added to my collection on Haight Street (I also did the navel piercing thing there… but that was cool in 1992 and over by 1996), in Chiang Mai and in Hong Kong. How very international, eh? I like to think so.
Sometimes I wonder what people think about my tattoos, though they only show if I want them to. I wonder if they think they fit my personality or my image (unclear what that might be, by the way.) I have come to realize that I feel about tattoos the way I feel about underwear… always pay for good ones, love how they look and know your style, revel in the secrecy of them and the subtle attitude they convey, and know you can never have enough really nice ones. And yes, BFF, they should match.
Tattoos have meant a lot of different things through the ages. Tribal affiliation, clan affiliation, prisoner status, military memento, religious homage, political statement, gang affiliation, tramp stamp, ethnic distinction, personal memorials, bad taste… you name it. For me, they are one more way to make a statement, even if that statement is not so out there anymore. Now with entire reality television programs about it – it seems… syndicated. Miami Ink even came to our little island to film an episode of their new program World Wide Tribe. My super hot neighbor will be featured in the Hong Kong episode airing in September. [He is a perfect example of the kind of surprises I love: a literaure professor on Miami Ink. Ideal.] According to author Margo deMello, that ideal is real: “The tattoo attracts and also repels precisely because it is different.”
I tend to feel more along the lines of authors Vale and Juno who said, “A tattoo is a true poetic creation, and is always more than meets the eye. As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, so its essence emotes a poignancy unique to the mortal human condition.” Every tattoo I have (save for the second one that I got just so I could sit by Randy) has a very specific meaning and story behind it. And the people who get to see them get to find out.
And then of course, there is the added bonus of being able to say, “Hey, if you show me yours I will show you mine…”
[the tattooed tongue image comes from nublog – freaking awesome image.]