Wednesday, September 27, 2006

underage or overly ignorant?

In my last post, I forgot to mention an interesting tidbit that I learned from a tattoo artist I met in Rotorua named Elton. We were hanging out in a trendy café across the street from his shop, Globus Gallery, and he happened to mention that New Zealand law states that persons of any age can acquire tattoos and piercings. A parent must accompany anyone under the age of 16, but in many cases this is no hindrance. Elton has even tattooed children as young as 5! This got us into a conversation about the appropriateness of tattooed minors, and gave me a flashback to a post I wrote for Modblog only a few months ago.
I wasn’t completely convinced that kids as young as 16 were ready for tattoos, but as a result of the highly significant Maori tattoos I had seen while in New Zealand I wondered if perhaps some kids truly were ready. I will forever (probably…) hold on to my belief that if a person is old enough to drive a car and have sex (yes parents, kids these days have sex at about the same time you were starting to eat solid foods…okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea…) then they are certainly old enough to get pierced by a professional piercer. Odds are that if they aren’t allowed to, they’ll do it themselves (read: INFECTION). And what’s the worst that can happen? Parents just need to watch their pierced kids to see if there’s any need to remove the piercing, in which case there will be nothing more than a tiny scar to remember it by. But I digress…
So, I was torn. Are kids as young as 16 ready for the lifelong commitment that is a tattoo? I got my answer this morning while reading The Connecticut Post. In today’s edition, there’s a student-written article entitled “Tattoos, Piercings: Controversial as Ever.” Basically, the authors went around to various high schools in the area to interview other students and get some perspective on the issue of tattoos and piercings. What they found is quite revealing, to me at least.
The teens asked their peers 5 questions regarding mild body mods: Would you get a tattoo? How would your parents feel if you got a new tattoo or piercing? Would you support a friend’s decision to get a tattoo or piercing? What kind/amount of tattoos and piercings is appropriate for a young adult? Does “freedom of expression” in the Constitution cover body “art?” and “How would you react to your own child wanting a tattoo or piercing in the future?”
The answers they received were full of misconceptions. Some kids did get it right (if there is such a thing…but at least they weren’t being ignorant), such as one young girl who was quoted in saying that she would get a tattoo in memory of her deceased uncle. Others were obviously not so thoughtful about their answers, and seemed like they were just pulling stereotypes out of a hat. One such answer was that of a boy from Seymour High School. In response to the question about tattoos and piercings among peers, he said “I’d tell them they’d regret it and [that] it’d be a bad mistake.” The same kid is quoted again later in the article, and with an even more ignorant statement than his first. In response to the Constitutional rights issue, the boy said "Sure, because people can 'express themselves' by showing how often they make bad decisions.”
Well it’s obvious that this kid is NOT ready for a tattoo right now, and probably never will be. I’m sure that he would come to love a tattoo if it had special significance to him, but his closed-minded attitude already predisposes him to never even try it. Although some of the other kids interviewed had more neutral opinions on body modification, I still get the feeling that they don’t understand it as anything more than a fad, or something that only rebels and impulsive people get.
“…a tattoo can tell you a lot about someone.” I wonder if this student is referring to tattoos in general (a generalization about tattooed people), or each individual tattoo (a comment on the story a tattoo can tell). I also see the word “regret” used a number of times in response to the various questions. If these kids think of “regret” when they contemplate tattoos and piercings, they are most definitely not ready. Sure, some of us enthusiasts get tattoos that we look back on and think “Wow, I can’t believe I wanted that on my skin,” but I don’t think that true modders understand the concept of mod regret. Mods represent a time in your life, an experience, a person…they tell the story of your life. And regretting life is just plain futile.
I've been contemplating the issue of modding minors for some time now, and this article gave me the unique opportunity to gain some inside perspective on the issue. Mods are an extremely personal choice, which makes generalizations about anything mod-related pretty much invalid. However, one can plainly see from the article that many teens are too immature to handle the concept of permanent mods like tattoos. In many other cultures, kids are taught about the significance that mods can hold, and are therefore prepared to take on the responsibility of choosing and bearing a mod that they will appreciate for the rest of their lives. Perhaps if American kids were more educated on the truly unique concept of body modification, they would make better mod decisions and parents wouldn't have to worry about their child coming home with "SLAYER" scrawled across their chest in ink.

The only time the words "tattoo" and "regret" should be used in the same sentence.

Friday, September 15, 2006

i am not a crook

So I’m finally back in the States, at school, living my normal life, after the most incredible experience I have ever had. My entire journey to New Zealand was filled with amazing food, exceedingly hospitable and chatty people, the most stunning scenery I have ever set eyes upon, and of course some knowledge that I’m sure I couldn’t have acquired elsewhere.
Now the question you may be asking…and the first one my mother asked when I arrived home…did I get any new mods to remember my trip by? Hell fucking yea I did :o) I began considering what kind of permanent souvenir I would get months before the trip, but it was not until I had spent almost a week in New Zealand that I finally knew without a doubt what I wanted. As my tattoo artist, Chriss, and I were cruising among the lush hills and countryside of New Zealand’s North Island, I stared dreamily out the window, trying with all of my might to capture mental images of every spectacular sight we passed. Somewhere along the way, the blur of greens and yellows and blues seemed to clear up for a moment, as we passed a bouquet of my absolute most favorite kind of flower: calla lilies! I shrieked at Chriss to pull over, and he hesitatingly agreed after traveling a short distance more. I got out of the car and ran over to admire the first calla lilies I had ever seen growing in the wild – they were pure white, delicate, with stems that seemed to hold them up upon a pedestal. I knew from that moment what I wanted to represent the absurdly amazing experience that was my trip to New Zealand.
Upon first making plans to travel, I wanted to get a tattoo in the style that I was traveling to research – the Maori moko. Even after finding out that some Maori believe it is cultural appropriation to acquire a moko without some Maori background, I thought a small design with special meaning would be the perfect memento. However, after having many conversations with both contemporary NZ tattoo artist and Maori moko artists, I decided that a moko was definitely not for me. It’s not that I don’t like the style – I saw some of the most intricately beautiful pieces while I was there, and also gained a new appreciation for the use of negative space in tattooing – It was more that I came to have little respect for the way that many Maori conduct themselves. It may not be my place to make such observations, but I’m just recounting my experience – perhaps it was a singular one. In any case, I found the Maori to be quite unlike the friendly, open-minded New Zealanders. While walking down any street in New Zealand, whether it be in a large city like Auckland or a small town by the sea, nearly every person smiles at you or says hello. In contrast, the Maori villages and historical places of interest that I visited held rude, bitter, sarcastic Maori. The Maori men like to maintain their “mana,” which means power and is exemplified by a stone-faced expression. Even after breaking this initial image, those Maori who led us around their villages spoke sarcastically and made obvious jokes behind the tourists’ backs. We were even forced to participate in “the Maori version of the Hokey Pokey,” which was an obvious attempt to humiliate the visitors. I realize that it must be difficult to have people gawking at your normal day life every day, but the tourism business for Maori in New Zealand is booming. For them to hate the tourists is to hate their livelihood.
There were many other examples of disappointing behavior on the part of some Maori, which I will choose not to mention – I don’t want to offend any Maori by suggesting that they are all the same, which I am certainly not attempting to do. I will, however, mention that the opinions regarding cultural appropriation varied greatly depending on a who I spoke with. The Maori who were involved in the business of tattooing tourists and other non-Maori were completely open to the idea, but anyone else was completely opposed to it. I felt as if it was another way to take advantage of the vast amount of tourists who visit NZ each year. Oh, and how does one know whether or not they are of Maori descent, you may ask. Well the NZ government has decided that anyone who is 1/16th Maori is considered to be Maori and therefore has access to various scholarships, health benefits, and other advantages that New Zealanders do not enjoy. Finding out is as simple as handing over NZ300 for a DNA test, and voila! I don’t think I’d be particularly overjoyed to be part of a people who previously practiced cannibalism and genocide anyways…
I feel so bad to be recounting my experience with the Maori in this way, but I can’t deny the events that happened over there! I know you guys crave the truth anywhoo...
I'm struggling to catch up on the week of schoolwork I miss while I was in NZ, so it's been hard for me to get a blog in, but Friday is finally here and I had a few minutes before a enjoy my first night out since leaving the land of the long white cloud...I'll be sure to post again soon - I learned a lot and need to do a lot of research once I get some time! Butttt before I leave you I have a few pictures for show and tell today:
These are, in order: A Maori ceremony that concluded with the Hokey Pokey: Maori Style!.......; A traditional Maori meal, called a Hangi, it was steamed in a hot spring (kinda cool....); An overview of a Maori village, called a Marae; Some traditional Samoan moko tools, made of boar tusk; The gorgeous calla lilies of NZ - I have about a million more pictures of lilies from all over the island :o) ; An apprentice from Moko Ink in Auckland, giving himself a moko to represent his apprenticeship, and to get some practice non-liability style (note the gorgeous moko on his arm).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

land of the long white cloud

Well I've been here in New Zealand for a little over a week now, and it's been...well...breathtaking. The views, the people, the food...have all been spectacular. As for my moko research - not so good. Don't get me wrong, I've done a ton of research including interviewing contemporary New Zealand tattoo artists and visiting a real Maori village, but I've been kind of disappointed with what I've found. I'll explain more when I get back home and find some time to blog it all out of my system. As for now, I'll just tease with a few pictures that only hint at the beauty that I've been surrounded by for the past week and a half.