Monday, 15 August 2011

For Those About To Ink, We Salute You

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Ever popular Hawaiian lady

Good Day, Class. A few semesters ago, September 2010 to be exact, you will recall our discussion on body decor, specifically piercings. Today we’ll continue to cover this area with the tattoo. Has it ever been more popular or widely accepted? Your mom is out getting one right now. And middle America knows that it has the green light to ink up one side and down the other with ‘reality’ TV shows illustrating that the paint parlor is just another esthetics appointment in the day-planner. Akin to getting your hair and nails done, getting a new ‘tat’ is not out of the norm for a week’s end of pampering. But don’t get me wrong; tattoos are very special and the decision to have one can be a very significant event in one’s life.

Take for instance the first tattoo I came into contact with; it was on the arm of Popeye. Yes, I’m referring to Popeye the Sailor Man, the beloved cartoon character. My brother was the ecstatic recipient of a ‘life-size’ inflatable Popeye punching toy one Christmas morning. Hence, I got the day off. He sported an anchor on each steroidal-sized forearm, naturally. I didn’t think much of them. It was a Navy thing. I was about 4.

The next tattoo I saw was on a real life friend of my dad’s. It was an image of an exotic hula girl. He could make her wiggle by flexing his bicep and triceps muscles. I had a feeling this was a showstopper at the local pub where he assuredly drew the ladies. Talented, this fella, and maybe just a little creepy; I wasn’t all that impressed.

Aside from girlfriends’ names, the only other tattoos I was witness to were of the jailhouse variety sported by friends in my father’s motorcycle club. The homemade tattoo, traditionally in blackish blue ink, was often hard to decipher. Some looked as if they were a little hurried while others seemed abandoned altogether. Or maybe “Rosie forev” was intentional shorthand. Skulls, flames and crosses seemed to be the order of the day. The occasional teardrop was one to be wary of.

There weren’t too many kids adorned with ink in the early punk days, probably for the sole reason that most punks didn’t have the necessary funds. Eventually more and more tattoos surfaced. Many went for a comic approach with cartoon characters. Fred Flintstone with his “Yabba Dabba Fuck You” was a standout. Soon loyalty to favorite bands would influence tattoo choices--for example, the graphic black bars symbolizing Black Flag or the DK logo for the Dead Kennedys.

As the early1980s rockabilly revival scene grew so, too, did the number of tattoos. More hula girls and anthropomorphic cats with quiffs! And, of course, when hard-core punk and heavy metal rolled out like thunder, fellows lined up around the block at their local tattoo parlor for the toughest designs: again, skulls, flames and crosses. I guess if it ain’t broke...

But with the tattoo’s recent leap in popularity, encompassing wide demographics, we now see a more diverse and unique implementation in design. People have pushed far beyond the standard rose tattoo into new and exciting territory. But Skoolers, I have a few words of caution, so please, take these following tips in to consideration when you are about to take the plunge:

loyalty counts

Tip #1  When deciding whether or not to get a tattoo of the name of the Love of your Life, choose the girl or guy you will love forever wisely. This tattoo will let you discover just how long ‘forever’ really is. Consider tattooing your ‘one and only’ using the shortest version of their name as possible. For example, rather than inking in “Elizabeth”, why not go for “Liz”? That way if you break up you may still be able to find yourself a “Liza” or even “Eliza” down the road, rendering the tattoo pertinent. Remember, it’s easier to amend a “Sam” than a “Samantha”.

Tip #2  Don’t be preachy. Be careful with tattoos that are full of free advice, like the catchy phrase “Live fast die young”. Unless one is planning on checking out before their 30th birthday it could look a little hypocritical sporting that tattoo at the age of 70 over at the seniors’ shuffleboard showdown. And slogans telling us to “live free” in a fascist country’s text isn’t the best choice. Talk about rubbing it in. No one likes a Sanctimonious Sandy. Your tattoo should not be a bumper sticker for your body.

Tip #3  Keep the text to a minimum. Some folks load up on too much information-- for instance, by tattooing the whole left side of the body with a favorite passage from the New Testament. That’s all well and fine, but keep in mind you may be spoiling the story for those that haven’t yet read the book.

Tip #4  “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” These words are all too familiar. When is the best time to get a tattoo? After many, many drinks, obviously. First of all, it won’t hurt as much. Plus, you will have obliterated any reservations about the appropriateness of the tattoo, leaving you open to a world of choices. Perhaps renew your feelings for a first love by putting the name of an old flame over your heart. Even if they are now married to someone else, they will still feel honored.

And you can’t go wrong with good ol’ “Mom” or “Dad” – unless it turns out that you were disinherited.

Tip #5  Research your Sanskrit and verify it with a master. You never know what sort of sense of humour the local tattoo artist may have. You might think your fancy lettering says “Avoid evil, practice good”...only to find out it really translates as, “we’re having a two for one sale at Ed’s Inkery.”

Aside from these five basic tips you need to ask yourself this: what’s the message you’re posting permanently on your body? Further, what part of your body is displaying the message? I need to question the positioning of the tattoo on the small of one’s back. It can’t possibly be for the owner’s amusement but rather in consideration of the person assisting the tattooed one while down on all fours to, say, find that contact lens that just popped out. Or perhaps as an accompaniment to the uber classy thong straps rising up from the crevice they are inevitably wedged into. A tattoo of a phoenix might work well here. And keep in mind, Skoolers, when choosing your symbolic skin adornment: a little something called ‘collagen’ and it’s effect on skin’s elasticity, not to mention gravity. What may have started out as a fresh and lovely new rose tattoo, (in homage to the Damned song, of course), may become wilted or shriveled by the time you hit age 75. It is for this reason that one rarely sees a tattoo of a bowl of fruit.

One of the benefits of the tattoo as a form of expression is that it affords effortless communication. It alerts others to the tattooed parties’ interests, viewpoints and hobbies. Various youth group, motorbike enthusiast and Satanic logos allow an onlooker to get an idea of that person’s favorite pastimes and decide if they might be compatible. The tattoo is a sort of shorthand conversation starter in a society that has become shut off from directly interacting with strangers, with the exception of ‘friending’ a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook. Pretty handy, I’d say.

too normal even for Jim Rose

But with its vast popularity, has the tattoo lost its edge? It is now so widely accepted and assimilated into society that its shock value has ceased to exist, which is kind of sad. Even that fully tattooed guy, Enigma, from Jim Rose’s Circus got fired for looking too normal. And these days people are using their renting out their skin space as human billboards to pay the rent. Is nothing sacred? The tattoo, once a counter-culture demonstration of expression now finds itself in the form of commercial logos on skin pimped out by giant corporations. The rebel yell reduced to a skin tag-line.
Advertising is in your blood

And while I have no tattoos of my own it speaks not to the fact that I am against them, but more to my lack of decisiveness and inability to commit. My problem is I’m afraid of becoming bored with having to look at the same image for the rest of my days. I worry about the potential of a poor ink job or worse, misspelled words. I don’t relish the idea of having to constantly explain it away to strangers I’ve inadvertently been silently communicating with. No, I think I’m better off sticking to the temporary tattoo until I discover that one thing that can really get under my skin – and stay there.

1 comment:

  1. Loyalty counts! LOLS! Also, you don't have a tattoo? You're in the minority, my friend. I love that Johnny Depp's tattoo that used to say "Winona forever" now says, "Wino forever". Heh. That guy with the puzzle tattoo all over his face? *shudder*.