Your Tattoo in 50 years (February 25, 2006)
Here is a photo of my grandfather Hiram in his living room with me and my brother, circa 1971. He was 70 years old. Can you see his tattoos? During his U.S. Navy service in the Far East (China) in 1919-21, he'd picked up a few trinkets like a Chinese lock and Chinese coins, and also some very impressive body art: Chinese dragons and American eagles.
Though we were fascinated by these relics of his exciting youth, we rarely got to see them; you will note the long-sleeved shirt in the photo. As a result of the large tattoos on his forearms, my grandfather wore long-sleeved shirts his entire life. We only got to see the dragons and the eagle on his chest when he went swimming, which was rare.
Like the deafness brought on by his proximity to the destroyer's 5-inch guns, not everything from that exciting youth turned out to be positive--including the tattoos. Try, if you can, to imagine how dated the fashions of 1920 seemed in 1971. Now imagine how dated the fashions of 1971 seem today. Now imagine how idiotic and foolish the fashions of today will seem in 2036.
While it would be easy to dismiss the current craze for tattoos as just another dumb fad that will fade with time, it may be symptomatic of a darker phase in American culture, one in which externalizing one's character reigns supreme. Want to express your masculinity, daring, rebellious spirit, great love, etc.? Well how about doing something truly difficult, and keeping it to yourself, rather than fall for the ersatz bravado of a tattoo? What's truly difficult is restraining your inner demons, being a steadfast, unselfish parent, learning a demanding trade--challenges which reveal a few hours of pain getting a tattoo as trivial and trivializing.
There is one exception to that: tattoos in memoriam to those killed in Iraq: Tattoos Honor Marines Killed In Iraq and Help the Survivors ( Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2006). Maybe if more Americans had tattoos reminding us all of the personal cost of war, we as a nation would be more aware of the sacrifices made by those in uniform, and what's at stake in this ongoing war.
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copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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