For a long time I was agnostic about tattoos. I understood their tribal value in many cultures and subcultures, including bikers and hobos. But consumer society and the attendant rise of modern celebrity culture have turned me against tattoos. It is a kind of writing that I don’t fancy.
All tattoos are necessarily co-authored to varying degrees. You may come up with a design and hire an artist to ink it. Or you may have no concrete idea but invite the artist to help you conceive an image and then ink. The best tattoo artists are not just masters of their machines; they are paragons of patience, empathy and vision.
I have chosen to resist their charms. I believe that going unmarked is the best mode of existence in the 21st Century. Punks talked about “the blank generation” back in the 70’s but going unmarked is something else – articulating your thoughts and your stories through media that allow you to separate the work from the artist and to manage your life with maximum control. Literature seems to me to still be the best medium although JD Salinger hid out for good reason.
Your revolution should not be broadcast on your skin. Tattoos and the personal meaning of tattoos have been made trite by the ubiquity of tattoos. Thoughts on skin quickly become empty commodities severed from their context or authors. What is rebellion? What is resistance? What is “pain as strength”? For me, tattoos, no matter how well-rendered, signal a paucity of cunning and character. Interior complexity in a well-manicured, well-guarded consciousness is the most important weapon you have in the game of life. Tattoos give away your strategy. They mark you. Not as a badass or a survivor but as an amateur who wants it both ways – to tell your story openly on your body but not have that body and its stories judged as ugly. Literature is a mask, a shield, a portal that allows you to make your witness to the world while keeping the world at bay. And guessing who you really are.