21 August 2010

On Tattooing, with apologies

I’m going to make an extreme statement for which I am certain to be soon sorry. Knowing I will regret much of what I will here say, I feel nonetheless compelled to utter thoughts that ought to interest no one⎯not even myself. However, I’ve been carrying these feelings for awhile and raising them only occasionally in conversation with trusted friends, but I suspect that they are best now unloaded, as it were, and give my psyche room to develop other absurd concerns.

Lately I am finding the more recent popularity of tattooing and piercing very violent and unattractive practices. Personally, I don’t like attach any aesthetic value to these tattoos, and I certainly could not imagine subjecting my body to such assault. Taking out splinters with a pin characterizes my willingness to put any sharp implement against my skin. But injecting ink (sometimes in multiple and bold colors) seems hardly a pacific or painless exercise. I read somewhere that in some cultures withstanding a tattooing represents some mark of courage and maturity⎯exhibiting an ability to withstand physical pain. In our Western society, the willingness to inflict pain on the body is a sign of either sado- or masochistic tendencies, and is a practice upon which society usually frowns. Hamlet asks, who would fardels bear when one could her quietus make with a bare bodkin? But I look about and people are pricking themselves with these bodkins with some frequency and I cannot understand why? Doesn’t it hurt? And some of these designs (more today than yesterday) are elaborate, sometimes covering large sections (sometimes whole sections) of the body.

I have heard that many consider tattooing a form of art, and I suppose indeed, it might be considered to be so by some, though definitely not by me. And though the work seems intricate and stylish, though often it seems even skilled, these designs (?) effected on the skin of living human beings turns what might be interesting into some bizarre exhibition. And I cannot understand (the key words in this screed thus far) why choosing to wear the work of someone else on ones own body is attractive or important. I suppose a decision to tattoo ones self might have some personal import, but the practice itself, carried out, would still offend me viscerally. Okay, one wants to wear art, but perhaps a t-shirt emblazoned with these designs might suffice, though not all designs and not in all venues.

Many of the designs are somewhat simple, and some are inconspicuously placed; some, I am certain I never see at all, though I suspect they serve some purpose about which I would prefer not to know. However, the ones I do see are very much in view⎯on arms, legs, on chests, and on the smalls and larges of backs, on shoulders left and right, and on heads and necks. And then are the tattoos that are elaborate designs that cover the body parts and are inked in strong, bold patterns and colors, leaving no skin unmarked, and I feel assaulted by the broadcast volume and the demand to view. Just yesterday I saw a tattoo done circling the left ankle—almost like an ankle bracelet, but this appeared not at all delicate and off-setting, but was inked in black and appeared to me in drawn in the image of barbed wire.

I experience these tattoos as a form of violence: these bodily displays remind me at times of the t-shirts I hate to stare at but which demand that I do so—like the ones which have blazoned across the chest “Do not stare at my chest.” These tattoos demand to be seen, and though I need not look, why else are they so obviously visible? What if I wore on my body a piece of clothing with say, a Picasso nude screen-printed on it, wouldn’t someone object. Certainly such attire would not be permitted in a school building. And these tattoos enter a space too brassly and ostentatiously; there is little subtlety or serenity about their presence. They are a voluble distraction.

But then, perhaps I am grown jealous at my own invisibility.


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