Search Box

Sunday, May 24, 2009


(On left, Robert DeNiro with temporary tattoos applied to make him seem scary and creepy in Cape Fear; above, Angelina Jolie achieving the same effect with her real ones)

There is no more eloquent way of saying, "I'm not intelligent enough to realize that I might have a change of heart some day" than to get a tattoo. (The very best way of demonstrating this is to have the name of one's paramour inked on.)

Just as a British accent can give an impression of a high IQ (rightly or wrongly), a tattoo emits the aura of a low one (usually rightly).

They're certainly an effective vehicle for social mobility. Cover your body in ink and you travel instantaneously from upper class to lower class. (Or at least, from upper middle to lower middle.)

Tattoos can also be a way of advertising that one is dangerous. Think of the people who get them. Hell's Angels. Latin Kings. The Aryan Brotherhood. In Japan, the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) cover their bodies with them. Russian gangsters use them to tell their life stories (see Eastern Promises). And where do all these upstanding citizens get them? Often, in prison. Gang tats are a clear message that this is not a person to be trifled with. Which, I guess, is the point of getting them.

Of course, these days all sorts of people get tattoos. Baby Boomers grew up associating tattoos with guys from the WWII generation, many of whom sported relatively discreet, Popeye-style, military-themed tattoos. Today tattoos are considered cool again, for reasons that aren't entirely apparent. Do youngsters think if they get, say, that popular armlet tattoo, that people will find them original?

How do you react to a tattoo? Does it make you want to hire its wearer for your company? Have her baby-sit for you? Be friends with him?

Perhaps more to the point, does it make you want to have sex with the person more? (The presence of a tattoo unquestionably does lend that certain air of availability. In fact, young people sometimes refer to tattoos on young women as "tramp stamps.")

I've never understood the concept that tattoos are sexy. I could be with the most attractive woman in the world, but if she disrobed to reveal a tattoo in a private place, I suspect I would immediately be rendered impotent. Luckily, I've never had that experience.

Well, at least not because of a tattoo.

Facial tattoos send the strongest message of all: "I don't care about anything." Or maybe even, "I'm pretty much insane." If you've ever seen pictures of inmates with swastikas on their foreheads, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Should you ever wind up with one of these fellows as your cellmate, prepare to be very, uh, reasonable.

While Googling images of facial tattoos earlier today, I saw several photos of guys with "fuck you" inked across their foreheads (in two cases, where their eyebrows used to be). They needn't have been so specific: any facial tattoo communicates pretty much that same message.

When I heard about Mike Tyson's various early scrapes with the law, I thought, well, it's not entirely his fault, his background didn't exactly lend itself to a bookish existence. When I read about the Desiree Washington rape case, I thought, that poor guy has too much testosterone, he may not have fully comprehended how forceful he was being. When I heard about Tyson's comments to Lennox Lewis about how he wanted to eat Lewis's children, I thought, well, he's just trying to hype the fight. When I heard about the prefight scuffle with Lewis, I thought, okay, he's going to fight him anyway, he's just getting into the spirit of the occasion. When I saw Tyson bite part of Evander Holyfield's ear off, I thought, well, he was understandably chagrined about getting head butted.

It was only when I saw Mike Tyson's facial tattoo that it hit me he was truly disturbed.

When you see a tattoo, you have to wonder if the wearer was drunk when he got it. (If anybody ever dares you to do something, don't do it. It's not in your self-interest.)

When I was in ninth grade, partly out of peer pressure, I "experimented" with marijuana. (Okay, maybe I conducted a hundred such experiments.) Luckily, I carry no visible evidence of all those lapses of judgment.

Tattoos are the opposite. Lapse just once, and you get a permanent reminder.


Anonymous said...

On the subject of tattoos – there are two I would get, if I were to be tattooed – and both are protests, of sorts. The first is the word “FREEDOM” across my back in large letters. Oddly in the 60’s freedom was cool – it was rebellious – break from authority, be free. But today people who celebrate freedom are considered dangerous – potential domestic terrorists, militia members, etc. Today government domination (actually oppression), Obama-style, is cool in the US. The 60’s freedom worshipers were closer to the founding father’s wishes for this country, I believe.

The second would be an ornate Celtic cross on my chest. Christianity takes a constant drubbing in the mainstream media. Hollywood movies almost invariably assault Catholicism and Christianity. The media regularly casts a negative light on Christianity (have you ever heard the major media discuss ‘Christian voters’ in a positive light?). People ride around with bumper stickers depicting the Christian fish symbol with legs and the word ‘Darwin’ in the middle. Would the common desecration of a symbol of any other major religion be tolerated? Not a chance. It takes balls to be a Christian today.

Don’t worry, I will never actually get a tattoo, those are just my tattoo fantasies. - Ed

John Craig said...

My advice is, don't do it. There's just too much potential to regret them later on. if you want to make a statement about freedom (about which everyone seems to have a different definition) or Christianity, make it verbally.

The only tattoos I could see are those commemorating some special achievement. I can understand when people who've made it to the Olympics get those five little rings. Or I can understand when someone who's been a Navy Seal or Army Ranger gets a tattoo to symbolize that. But those are more medals in tattoo form then they are regular tattoos.

Anonymous said...

Around the time I turned 40 I had the fleeting desire to get a tatoo. After giving it considerable thought and doing some research, I came across the following information on the FDA's website.

"Many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact at all. Some are industrial grade colors that are suitable for printers' ink or automobile paint."

I changed my mind immediately. Shortly afterward I had a henna tatoo painted on my ankle at a party. I was surprised at how embarrassed I was whenever someone noticed it. I was relieved when it finally wore off and even more relieved that it wasn't permanent.

John Craig said...

Anonymous II -- Thank you for your comment, and thanks for reading back this far in the blog (most people when they find the blog just read the most recent page or so).

You made the right decision. And you certainly put a lot more forethought and research into it than most people who get tattoos. You also seem to be more self-conscious than most who get tattoos, I've never gotten the impression that somebody was embarrassed by their tattoo, though I may just have been unaware.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind tattoos. As long as they're discreet, not loud, and I don't have to observe them constantly (when I'm with the person who has the tattoo(s).. Small tattoos around the ankle can be attractive. I wouldn't have one due to the pain factor and the fact that if I got sick of the tattoo, it would require more physical pain to get rid of it.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Discreet tattoos don't really bother me, though I see them as just a more subtle way of saying, "I don't have much foresight."