Friday, 29 October 2010

Think before you Ink or Why I hate tattoos.

At 25, I'm old enough now not to care about what people think about what I think about people and what they think about.

With this in mind, I'd like to launch an attack on tattoos. This is a reaction that has been slowly provoked over many years and it is an issue which I have tormented myself with regarding making a decision about how I feel about them one way or the other. Like a putrid irritable rash, that’s turning all shades of red, yellow and black, I need to medicate and get it off my chest.

But first, a disclaimer.

I like art. I really, really do. I like beautifully arranged and designed images that represent other things and ideas, conceptually and figuratively. I appreciate the natural world and the uncanny way with which it simultaneously reflects and shapes my moods. I suppose that in another, more dignified life, I'd consider myself as an aesthete. However, I'm writing this whilst listening to bad Swedish Indie music and worrying about the overdue electricity bill that’s stuck to fridge with a Butlin’s fridge magnet that was 'bought for me as a gift'. So, right now that term just sounds a bit, you know, unbearably pretentious.

This is exactly how I feel about tattoos.

I have such an aversion to tattoos that when I see them that, at the best, they literally make my skin crawl. At worst my skin runs away from my body screaming in a bloody protest at my eyes and brain that have just readily and so carelessly gazed upon and interpreted such heinous body crime without prejudice.  I genuinely associate tattoos with illness, needles and the mentally infirm. When day dreaming, I imagine that the kind of person that decides that a tattoo is, “oh yes, definitely what I should buy next”, are almost certainly going through a mental breakdown; wayward and spiralling into a jobless, meaningless non-future of depravity and fetid lounging.

I acknowledge that this is a fairly strong reaction to what is essentially just a pretty scar, but it is nonetheless true. However, I do admit that it is perhaps slightly inaccurate. In fact I think that a lot of folk who get tattoos are quite stable and comfortable with their bodies and lives; they’re norms. They are grey and dull people, with normal jobs searching for a way in which to express themselves. So, when the idea of a tattoo presents itself it seems like a perfectly reasonable way in which to enlarge their personality and express an inner creativity that, thus far, hasn’t been nurtured in the accounts department of a company that sells imagined advertising space to media companies that don’t even exist in the real world anyway.

A particular champion of the tattoo is the working man, and by working man I mean the man who works very hard for very little money. Only just enough money in fact to cover a sky sports TV licence, enough lager each week to poison the entire population of a particularly temperate Finnish town and, of course, tattoos. These are the men (and women) that we read about when the interest rate hits a perilous new low or when the price of a Premiership football season ticket reaches a ridiculous new high. Most of the time we don’t believe that they exist but for a while we suspend that disbelief to help us make sense of the world and to, by enlarge, make ourselves feel a little bit better about our own pitiless existence. It’s a bit like believing in fairies when you’re a spoilt child. Those poor, impoverished fairies.
To the working man and the football fan the tattoo is a badge of honour, a statement of tribal belonging and brotherhood. To burn the crest of your most beloved football team into your forearm is seen as the highest form of respect for that fine organisation and of fandom itself. They disregard the fact that this is an entirely arbitrary act in relation to the game of football itself or the club represented by the freshly burnt grooves in their flesh as it really shows that they are passionate about their FOOTBALL TEAM! Not their team of course, the team that they support on Saturdays.

My dislike of tattoos runs deeper than the artifice of cultural expression and engagement with social convention though.
A tattoo’s permanence jars with the very nature of the ever changing human appearance. The fragile, transcendence of the human body is somehow put out of sink with such a thing. Although "tattoos may grow and change with you", when created they are designed and are at their best and will only decline from their peak glory and beauty. Yes, I said it, some tattoos are objects to be admired but they are fathomed and crudely crafted in comparison to their canvas. Opposed to this, for me, entirely is the human body. It is a body that’s schema gains skill and knowledge, yes strength declines over time, but it is a body that retains inert beauty that proffers forth in ever changing ways.

The human experience and the bodies experience is one that retains every image, odour and painful experience that it encounters and it is ever the richer for this.
Do people who have ‘MUM’ or ‘SHARON’ tattooed on their arms have serious memory defects or are they desperately insecure about their own conduct towards the underwritten when they were still alive/living in the same house/talking to them.No. They just, simply haven’t thought it through.

Firstly, we (and I speak for all of us here) don’t care how much you love your wife or mother if they were still alive or tolerating you. This is not information that we need. Secondly, if that person/animal means that much to you then surely you don’t need a septicemic time-bomb as a visual aid to remind you. Finally, do you really want to remember all that painful stuff like when they died/cheated on you/left you for another woman/sold your BMX for beer money?

So, if you really want to turn yourself into a colouring book, then go ahead. Just don’t forget:
Colouring books are for children and nobody understands your pain or even really cares.


  1. apart from yakuza / ukyio-e tattoos on the backs of smokin japanese babes. those fuckin rule

  2. I have never understood the perverse appeal of a girl that smokes.