Menckens Ghost

More About: General Opinion

In a tattoo state of mind

When Nehru jackets were in style, I had one.

When bell-bottom pants were the rage, I had a pair.

When I was growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood, I wore the attire that marked my social class.  I didn’t have enough wisdom, education, self-confidence, or life experience to question why I was doing what everybody else was doing.

Later, when I was a corporate-executive weenie, I dressed the part and wore wing-tipped shoes and a suit and tie, although I hated the attire and had developed enough introspection by then to realize that I was conforming to the norms of my occupation and social class so that I could make a good living.

So how does that differ from the current fashion trend among a large segment of the American population of being covered in tattoos from head to toe?

Well, one thing that is different is that tattoos can’t be donated to Goodwill, as I did with my old Nehru jacket. 

Nor can tattoos be discarded, as I did with my blue-collar attire when I realized that the attire would typecast me and narrow my prospects.

Tattoos are for life, especially the so-called “body art” that is virtually impossible to erase, even with expensive and painful laser treatments.

Take the twenty-something dude who walked into a restaurant in Tucson, Ariz., a city where tattooed people outnumber lizards but are uglier.  At first, I thought Dude was disfigured from a burn.  But as Dude got closer, I realized that a grotesque tattoo covered half his face.

Maybe he was a genius, but I doubted it.  Maybe he was a millionaire, but I doubted it.  Maybe he was avant-garde, but I doubted it.  Maybe he was a winner and not a loser, but I doubted it.  It was more likely that he was just unthinkingly following everyone else in his social circle, or tribe, just as I had done as a boy in my old blue-collar neighborhood--and just as indigenous tribal people in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Amazon, and in New Guinea don’t question why they put bones in their noses.

Of course, the man with the face tattoo can do what he wants with his face--and future.  Still, I wonder if he and the millions of other Americans with tattoos covering large swaths of their skin have thought through what they have done to themselves.

They have typecast themselves for the rest of their lives and likely consigned themselves to being bossed around by bosses without tattoos.

What happens when the tattoo fashion becomes out of fashion?  If it takes decades for this to happen, the tattoos will become as wrinkled and sagging as the epidermis they are attached to.

By contrast, when today’s silly trend of wearing a scruffy beard ends, a razor will be all that is needed to erase the embarrassing evidence of having followed the unthinking hirsute herd.

It was a similar situation in England in the 1790s, when the trend among aristocratic women and aristocratic wannabes was to wear huge wigs in wire contraptions in which their own hair was intertwined, reaching heights of two and a half feet.  The even slept with blocks of wood under their head so that the hair tower was not mussed up.  When the trend ended, they simply stopped wearing the wigs, finally washed their hair, and went back to using a pillow at night.

Is there a deeper meaning to today’s tattoo trend?  Are tattoos an example of how easy it is to get Americans to emulate what they see on TV, in movies, and in professional sports? Are tattoos a reflection of diminished economic opportunities or of single-parent families with missing dads?  Are they an expression of anger at the system? 

Why do people wear them?

My belief is that most tattoo wearers don’t ask themselves such questions about tattoos or much else in life.  They just follow the herd.  

They also remind me of how I used to follow the herd.

And that’s my real reason for disliking tattoos.  



Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at



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