Monday, September 17, 2007

laser tag.

Why get a tattoo? It's the classic question, asked of myself and probably all modders at some time in their modified life by the non-tatted crowd. It's also the question one should ask oneself before taking the plunge and acquiring that first piece of inked art. What significance does this permanent decoration hold for me at this point in my life? How will I reflect on the decision to get it in the future? What will my children think of it? Will it still delight me, will it still excite me, when I'm 64?
After answering all those questions and probably more, we finally find ourselves mentally prepared to enter into a world of beauty, exhilaration, and unfortunately stigma. And if we've been honest with ourselves in answering those questions, it will have been a decision that provides a lifetime of aesthetic and spiritual pleasure, no matter what else is lacking in life. I know that my next tattoo goal (I call it a goal because as a college student I don't have the funds to get it just yet!) will involve the concept of ambition. It's not that I have a lack of ambition, but it's a quality that I believe will help me live a successful and contented life, no matter what. When I'm down in the dumps, have failed, been embarrassed, lost hope, I can look to my tat and know that as long as my ambition still stands strong, there will be better days.
But what if you decided to acquire a tattoo that ends up representing a time in your life that you would rather forget? What if every time you caught a glimpse of the design you would cringe knowing that it reflects a negative aspect of your life? I can think of two examples of such inked adornments, one of which involves a friend of a friend. The kid came to my school a plainskin, no visible mods at all. He unfortunately ended up leaving school before the end of his second semester, suffering from severe bouts of depression as a result of a relationship gone sour. I think there were other elements that contributed to his early departure, but the relationship situation seemed to have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
After he left school some friends of mine remained in contact with him, but I had kinda forgotten he existed. That is until one day when he randomly happened to come up in a casual discussion about tattoos. I came to find out that he had acquired about 5 new tats since leaving school, one of which was an inscription of the date he left. I can't recall exactly what the others were, but I believe one was related to the girl he was so grieved to have lost.
I was just shocked. It was beyond me that someone would want to have such negative, depressing images permanently inscribed upon his body. I conveyed this feeling to my friends, and they understandably defended their boy, pointing out that perhaps he was using them as a reminder to "do better next time." Somehow I doubt that this was his reason for, or would be the result of, getting the tats. I just couldn't understand it.
So, back to the question at hand. What is one to do upon growing up, changing, maturing, to find that the design that seemed so perfect only years before has become a disturbing reminder of shitty days past? Well, since the symbol would be inscribed in your skin, there would be 3 options available to you. 1) Accept that the past has past, and move on, transforming the tattoo into a reminder that you have begun to take the right steps in life. 2) Hate the piece, and let it fester on your body and in your mind as a constant reminder that you fucked up. 3) Get that shit removed.
Now, on to the second example of regrettable tats. Imagine living in a relatively dangerous environment, fending for yourself, trying desperately to survive with dignity in a world where no one seems to care about you. For many young people, gangs seem like the perfect alternative to a family that has far more to be concerned about than spending quality time with and properly raising their rebellious teen.
Everyone finds their niche in the teen years, may it be as the prepster, the sports star, or in this case, the badass. But, as I have personally experienced, teen cliques and categories tend to have about as short lifespans as the fashions they temporally coincide with. Unfortunately for gangsters, getting a gang tattoo removed is a helluva lot harder than pawning the varsity jacket you dropped $200 on.
Now, before I go any further, I want to highlight that the stigma attached to tattoos isn't a cut and dry concept. If you're a professional with a small, common tattoo, even if it's visible, you're probably fine. No discrimination there. Maybe some sideways glances from older coworkers, but no penalties. Okay, so let's say you're a professional, but with a screaming skull tattoo on your neck. Extremely visible, slightly offensive design. No you're in iffy territory. Most places probably wouldn't hire you unless you actively addressed and fought for your place at that company. And co-workers? Some might be intrigued, but others would likely shun you. Working in a creative field? Especially if your seniors are relatively young, most any tattoo will fly. Girl with a small, pretty, feminine design? No real social stigma there. Guy with a tribal or a cross? Totally normal. Old war vet or navy man with vintage wrinkly inklies? Totally fine; I mean, they went through a helluva lot more shit in their lives than most people can even fathom, so we let them be even when they make an uproar in Applebees about the potatoes being too heavily seasoned. Yes sir, right away...
My point is, under the right circumstances, a tattoo can be either shocking and deemed totally inappropriate, or the subject of people's interest and admiration. Unfortunately, yet understandably, gang tattoos are in a category all their own. Well, maybe prison tattoos can be counted in the same group, but the association is essentially the same. No one wants to hire, date, or attempt to better an ex-gang member, because to these people, gangster once=gangster for life. When your body is inscribed with the symbol of a violent, immoral, drug slinging clan of youngsters, the choice to get out of that lifestyle makes not a bit of difference to society. They still see the outside, the public body, not the private decision and incredibly mature state of mind it takes to remove oneself from such an all-encompassing lifestyle. One should be elated to have escaped such a life, but with this transformation comes a whole new set of incredibly distressing and frustrating obstacles to overcome.
That's where programs like Clean Slate come in. Along with providing low cost or free gang tattoo removal, such programs offer counseling and job services to ex-gang members looking to start fresh. Numerous similar programs exist throughout the United States, many of which provide the tattoo removal in exchange for a certain number of community service hours - an appropriate form of compensation for individuals looking to turn their lives around. I personally think this concept is awesome, especially because the normal price for tattoo removal can run anywhere from $250-$850 per session, and professional tattoos typically take about 6-10 sessions to be as gone as they're gonna get. Try financing that with no job, and no possibility of getting a job. It's quite the paradoxical predicament.
Some motherfathers think such programs are a waste of our country's money (see the quote in the 5th paragraph from the bottom), but others recognize them as a brilliant way to help those who want to help themselves, and in turn make for safer streets.
Anyway, the next time you're thinking about adorning your body, think more about the implications and underlying associations the design will hold for you than the design itself. The tat you want may look purdy, but so did the Care Bears lunch box you used to tote around. Some things just don't stand the test of time - hopefully my quest to maintain ambition isn't one of them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tat Consumption...yum yum!

So after fiddling with my class schedule for an irritating two days, I'm finally enrolled in the courses I intend to keep this semester. School has been, well, school...all the usual chilling, working, homeworking, erranding, and all that shit that starts out as fun but becomes a boring routine sooner than you'd hope. Fortunately I'm still in the semi-fun phase right now, which I'm taking full advantage of while it lasts.
Despite my hatred for any kind of classic literature...okay I don't hate it, I'd just rather be writing or reading some psychology...I'm forced to take a Shakespeare class this semester. As it turns out the professor is pretty cool (and pretty hot...she's a 20 something redhead with milky skin and cherry red lips), so I'm not too upset about it - I mean this is the only class that stands between me and my English major so what the hell.
Anyway, the play we're starting out with is Titus Andronicus, which, once I got reacquainted with Billy boy's topsy turvy use of language, is pretty damn interesting. It's a revenge tragedy, which means swords, infidelity, and lots and lots of death. Sweet. To top it off, the professor decided we would benefit from seeing the modern movie version of the play, which was just as gory and dark but, ya know, you can SEE it. Sweeter.
So in the play, the Romans have just defeated the Goths and captured their Queen and her sons. One of the sons is killed immediately when they get to Rome as a sacrifice, and the other two and the Queen are allowed to live as slaves. The Roman emperor, this guy Saturninus, decides he has the hots for the Gothic Queen, Tamora, and basically forces her to marry him. Lalala, all kinds of stuff happens, murder, betrayal, revenge...then comes the rape scene. Tamora's two still-living sons decide they want to have their way with Titus Andronicus' (the warrior who led Rome to victory against the Goths) only daughter, Levinia. So this is where it gets interesting...I swear I'm going somewhere with this...
Goths are supposed to be barbarians. They live in little makeshift tent villages, and the general consensus is that they're crazy and animalistic etc.etc....So no surprise that come time for the rape, we see Tamora's sons disrobe to reveal elaborate blackwork tattoos. Then a few scenes later we see Tamora's naked body, also bedecked with inked designs. Everyone else in the movie is totally pristine, flawless white skin...oh yea except for the Moor, aka the black dude. His face and body are covered with scarification patterns. And he's like the devil in this play - he basically sets up people to betray eachother or even to be killed by one another, then he laughs about it - he's a pretty sinister dude.
Now, I'm not gonna go crying to mommy about this one...I mean, what's the point? Despite the fact that negative stereotypes about tattooed people are known to be outdated, negative portrayals of them in the media apparently die hard. Look at movies - bad guys are the ones with the tattoos, not the hero or the hot chick. Oddly enough, even a character as corrupt and shady as Mama Morton, the prison matron in the musical Chicago, is too righteous to don tattoos.
Now look at advertisements. We all know that 'sex sells,' and these days the sexiest ad bodies are flawless - apart from the ink (real or digital) that sometimes graces their taut, glistening flesh. I can't ever recall having seen a flabby body inscribed with a tat in an advertisement*, so the message is clear - hot bodies are made hotter (or at least more marketable) by tattoos.

Oh, by the way, did you know that each of us sees about 3,000 ads every single day?

So what can we deduce about our culture's attitude toward tattoos from movies and advertisements that feature them? They're obviously the mark of someone deviant, rebellious - basically a badass. But on the other hand, they're a sexy accessory worn by only the hottest of the hot to sell anything from pricey purses to the most covet-worthy jeans. The result? Impressionable teens who are being subconsciously trained to desire body art because it's portrayed as something that's darkly sexy. Eh, not so bad an image compared to the traditional Western conception of tattoos. I guess consumer culture got a little hungry and finally decided to eat up that box of Tat-Os that's been sitting in the cupboard for, oh, only a couple hundred years.
With this recent popularity of mods in the media, it's quite the wonder that body modification is still being banned in some circles. I guess old folks have always been kinda pop-shy. Anything hip and new is worthy of their suspicion, especially if they have the power to try and stop the fad from catching on. 'Cause that might be dangerous...somehow....
Okay kiddies, thanks for reading. Check back soon for a post on gang tattoo removal programs and perhaps some other pertinent schtuff. Gobble up 'dem Tat-Os now, but just be sure you'll wanna be eating them for the rest of your life, even if they're past the cultural expiration date.

*a particularly good article by a witty modified lawyer who also runs the Needled blog, one of a few that inspired me to start my own.