The End of Tats
I have a tattoo. It was a totem to make a traumatic event in my life more permanent. I didn’t want anything ostentatious and I didn’t have a lot of money, so I did it in a single color. It includes a simple Chinese symbol.
It’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. I honestly don’t care if I have the tattoo or if it fell off. It’s had no effect on my life. Unless my memory fails, I won’t need the reminder of the crappy event that it represents, either.
At the time, prior to the turn of the century, memorializing and totemizing was important. I needed to feel like important things needed more permanence. Plus getting a tat was kind of original. It made you somehow more unique, like a characterization that you controlled. For me, it remained hidden. For others, maybe a little bit of ink could peek out and you could still article at that law firm or think about a run for office. It was like a secret commitment to yourself not to be a sellout, as you proceeded to sell out.
Now I have a 10-year-old. She thinks tattoos are stupid. Usually the ones that she sees are colourful sleeves that glom a whole bunch of imperceptible things together like a cartoon hallucination. Plus, everybody has one. People are annoying about them. You can’t just have a tattoo. You have to show it off. Where you put the tattoo is as important (if not more important) than what the tattoo actually is: god forbid you put ink on the small of your back or the top of your foot. Of course, I still think you’re making a pretty bold prediction about your future prospects if you put some ink on your face, scalp or neck.
When I got my little back tattoo, there was no A&E television show about the artform. There was no social media, either. Sailors and prisoners got tattoos. And there was a strong chance your tat would end up being a disaster. I have a friend who got a circular tattoo on her breast that subsequently became egg-shaped. I have another who got a colour tattoo but the colours were so light, they became splotchy and ran into each other. Now everybody knows all the horror stories because they live forever on the internet. In the late 90s, it was just urban legend.
So why are tattoos doomed? Well, they’re not. There have always been skin markings and there always will be. But fixie-pedalling baroque pop lovers with their rolled-up farmer shirts (rolled up to expose their full-colour sleeve of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and perfectly-rendered Heath Ledger as the Joker, sitting around a table playing Parcheesi) will spawn a generation of tattoo-haters.
The generation we’re raising today will have just a slightly different view of permanence than their Gen X and Y parents: you don’t long for something permanent in a life with no guarantees. Nope, permanence is so easy you should be shit-scared of it. Imagine every little thing you do recorded on a phone and made permanent from the time you are born. Our kids already know how to manipulate iPhone images and share them by the time they’re three years old.
This is a far cry from the Polaroid generation. Sometimes pictures didn’t turn out, and that was it: no picture. Christmas album ruined. Plus film was expensive and developing the film more-so. And so what if you accidentally had a nip slip while taking a snap with your Kodak Ektralite? You’re just going to give the kid at the PhotoMart a little thrill, if he even catches it. In the analog age, people didn’t know how to act when they were getting their pictures taken.
Some people never did get their pictures taken. When I had dyed hair and led a grunge band, I’m sure somebody took my picture. At least I think someone did. I’ve never seen a picture of myself from the time I was 21 to maybe 23. A kid nowadays probably doesn’t go a week without an image being taken of them. Maybe no one cared. That was certainly an attitude we all shared in the 90s.
The Selfie Age kids aren’t made to feel insignificant. They’re the centres of the universe! They don’t require more permanence. They need a break from it.
That’s why tattoos are about to lose their place in the zeitgeist. There’s certainly nothing underground or alternative about them anymore. There’s nothing tribal about them. We don’t need to feel something that lasts forever: it takes about three seconds to create an image that could be shared worldwide for eternity. So why get one?
No, seriously. Why? Tell me why you think tattoos will be as popular in 2025 as they are in 2015.