Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Meaning Lies Behind the Tattoo Craze?

Or is it really a craze? Or have I just become my old man, who cannot adjust to contemporary social patterns and practices?
by Charlie Leck

I was with two of the Grandkids this weekend at one of those indoor water park hotels – and so was beaucoup le monde, as the French say. It’s an incredible place for people watching and, so, I did.

After a day of observation, I asked my daughter and son-in-law if they had any thoughts about the tattoo fascination of the current young generation. I read somewhere that it is an effort to achieve marking as an individual.

I want very much to throw up my hands and scream that “I don’t like them!” However, I’m not too sure that this would be true. In fact, there are some of them that are appealing to me. Why those are always the ones near the cleavage of a good looking woman’s breasts is beyond me.

No, really! I’m just kidding! Why do people get tattoos? Do they have a reason? Or is just a moment of temporary insanity? Are they really searching for some sense of identification through them? Couldn’t they just be satisfied with the fact that they have a slightly larger nose than average or very keen, bright yellowish-green eyes?

In fact, there were a surprising number of women with tattoos at the water park. On the back of one or the other shoulder seemed to be a favorite with them, or high up on a thigh. I tried to examine the women, looking for character hints or an instability in the eyes. I saw none of that and, therefore, could not confirm my prejudices.

Some people want to call this phenomenon a defiling of the body. In some cases, perhaps! One fellow at the hotel had tattoos from throat to ankles – dozens of them it seemed – and that seemed a bit like defiling. I hadn't the camera with me at the moment. The amateur psychologist in me wanted to ask: “Are you hiding something, or do you hate your body that much?” Perhaps it is something else! Exhibitionism? A lack of any feeling of individualism – you know, that confidence that we are indeed unique, interesting and individual? Who knows?

Years ago I could encounter a tattoo and feel quite certain there was a story behind it? You know, a failed love affair – or an assignment in Korea – or a stay in prison! An elderly friend of mine – you know, my age – has a tattoo on his hand. He wishes he didn’t, even though it’s barely visible. It’s from a time in the Navy, when he was on leave in some port or other and was bored out of his mind. It’s a small rose that was meant to remind him of something he’s long forgotten.

Down there at the water park, my daughter, using her smart phone, hunted down this poem by Ted Kooser for me…

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist of a shuddering heart—
is now just a bruise on a bony old shoulder,
the spot where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on.
He looks like someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.
                           Ted Kooser from Delights & Shadows,
                           Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

U.S. News and World Report, in 2010, estimated that there were approximately 15,000 tattoo parlors in the United States and that 15 percent of Americans were “sporting” tattoos.

I told a friend – who is 60 or so -- that I was struggling with this blog – that no one seemed to have a handle on the tattoo and why it is so popular. This friend is one of the wisest and most loquacious guys I know. I was sure he’d have a take on the fad.

“No idea,” he said. Then he asked if tattoos bothered me and, if they did, that would be a more interesting theme of concern.

“No, they don’t bother me! It’s just that I was shocked to see so many of them on the under forty crowd, and the size and placement of them. It sent me thinking. That’s all!”

“I’ll email you a photo. You can use it if you want, but don’t attach my name to it anywhere! We’ve never been swimming together, so it will surprise you.”

My email this morning included the photograph my friend and I were talking about – of one of his thighs. A little note said simply: “I was pretty drunk the night I got this!”

Oh, my!

I have no tattoos! Perhaps I should. I wonder if those tattoo parlors offer senior discounts. Let's see! On the side of my neck! A big heart, perhaps, with a flowing ribbon across it. And, on the ribbon, is inscribed the name of "Mildred Ann," my mother!

I guess not! I don't drink that much!

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