Sunday, December 6, 2009

#27 - Tattoos

It was the decade when...

Tattoos got the Tramp Stamp of Approval!

Remember when tattoos were edgy? When having a tattoo marked you as a rebel, an outsider, a fringe member of society with a distaste for authority? You probably drove a motorcycle (or your boyfriend did) and had a penchant for Led Zeppelin and clothing made entirely of leather . If you want to really travel backwards in time, you may have been a sailor, the classic anchor tattoo a permanent record of your years in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Or if you really, really want to go into the annals of tattoo history, maybe you starred in a Mel Gibson film wearing little more than a loincloth and nose ring. (OK, that's 2006, but you know what I'm saying!) What's important about the tattoo is that it branded you as non-conformist and slightly threatening. Having the tattoo mattered far more than what the tattoo actually was. And no one thought a tattoo was art.

As part of the general trend of mainstream culture appropriating fringe aesthetics and commodifying them accordingly, the tattoo underwent a major perceptual shift this decade. The badge of the bad boy became the trendiest of fashion statements. (Of course, the lingering scent of social transgression that for so long defined the tattoo in the collective psyche is the very thing that allowed the tattoo to become and stay so popular, a reality which will persist until tattoos have become so commonplace and neutered by popularity that any association with their original aura of danger will have become totally neutralized. How will we know when this had occurred? It'll be some obvious nuke the fridge moment; perhaps Miley Cyrus will get a tattoo. Oh wait...uh-oh.) The Aughts, without question, have been the golden age of the Tattoo and we have the TV shows to prove it.

Our decade saw no less than three television series about tattoo culture. Inked was A&E's reality series about the curiously legal-firm sounding Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company. Located in the Palms casino in Las Vegas, Inked was too corporate by a half. (H&H opened a outlet of the store at the touristy Orlando Universal City Walk in 2007. A Hells Angel or salty-toothed sailor wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near.) Less about the art of the tattoo and more a standard reality-show soap opera, Inked was a letdown. The show lasted two seasons. More interesting and authentically urban was Miami Ink and it's later spinoff LA Ink. Both series put the art of the tattoo front and center making the intramural drama and bickering more contextually justified. Celebrity clients would swing by to get their new permanent body art. Regular people would share their stories about why they wanted the tattoo they did. Miami Ink's breakout star was Kat Von D, who after being "fired" from the Miami store opened her own parlor in Hollywood and spearheaded the spinoff, LA Ink.

The body was a canvas in the Aughts, and the men and women who practiced the art were modern Michelangelos of the flesh. The work being accomplished now is nothing short of astounding. Sadly, for every beautiful back tattoo done to look ancient Japanese screen painting there are 10 tacky "tramp stamps" that look like a pirate flag or Batman logo. As with any fashion, there is no accounting for taste. And while the idea that in 50 years masses of seniors will be playing shuffleboard with faded and distorted tattoos covering their flabby and sagging flesh is somewhat bizarre (not to mention unappetizing), for now, especially for the young, a tattoo is a must-have fashion accessory, a deep and permanent means of self-expression. Whilst I have yet to feel the itch to defile my own body with a tattoo (I don't, as a matter of course, care for things that I can't get rid of: tattoos, herpes, children, college loans ) it may only be a matter of time before unadorned folk like me are the exception and not the rule.

You AUGHT to remember...


  1. If there's one job skill I wish I'd learned over the last few years, it's tattoo removal. People who can do that will be rolling in the dough starting in the next couple decades.

    Meantime, I take some solace in the fact that younger generations likely won't bother getting tattoos becaus, "That's what Grandma Amber did."

  2. Kat is such an amazing artist. I love the portraits she makes and especially, I love the fact that she respects what she does and won't make a work if she's not comfortable with it. My friend Dave wanted to get the legend " viagra online without prescription " on his back and she totally not accepted it!!!