When Nehru jackets were in style, I had
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.