Going to the beach nowadays is to visit a tattoo exhibition.
Tattooing used to be tantamount to sticking a label on yourself saying “low class” or “no class.” Then it became a question of brash versus demure tattooing. Now it seems almost a rite of passage.
One local blogger (Heather Fazio) even said she does judge tattooed people – she trusts them more. “They’re not afraid to be who they are.”
Even if “who they are” is a low-class freak show?
Sorry for that. I believe in self-expression, really I do. And in every individual’s freedom to do their own thing, even if someone else – including me – disapproves. (As long as no others are harmed.)
So if you want to decorate your home with paintings of big-eyed tots on black velvet, you’re welcome to do that too – but don’t expect me to applaud this as high art. I have a right too, to make aesthetic and cultural judgments.
You can call this “judgmental” as if it’s a bad thing. But what do we have brains for, if not to make judgments? We make them every minute of the day, about everything. It’s being human. And it’s fine, as long as I don’t try to impose my judgments on you.
Often people wear tattoos, and clothes, to be different, nonconformist, to set themselves apart from the common herd. Ironically, such trappings become uniforms themselves when adopted by part of the herd. Your nonconformism must conform to the currently reigning nonconformist ethos. It’s often really a lack of imagination. There are enough conventional ways to be different that it’s hard to be truly unconventional. Today, having no tattoos may be unconventional.
Tattoos could be beautiful. In principle. In practice, they’re mostly ugly. The fact is that human flesh just isn’t a very good medium for artwork. Maybe I could imagine a kind of advanced high-tech tattooing that would overcome this and produce truly vivid and aesthetically arresting images.
But instead what we mainly get are what look like smeary blobs. Also tribalistic markings (like for sports teams). Or messages that are often inane, or even sometimes in Chinese – on non-Chinese people – being “who they are?”
How often I’ve said to myself: “Nice looking gal there – too bad about the disfiguring tattoo.”
And don’t get me started on all the nose rings, eyebrow rings, rings in the pierced whatevers. Jewelry is supposed to beautify. Earrings, necklaces, bracelets can do so. Nose and eyebrow rings, not so much. Of course, standards of beauty can be culturally determined and can vary from place to place and from time to time. We’re often told in Africa fat women are adored and thin ones shunned. What makes a necklace beautiful and a nose ring ugly to me? Is it just culture, and fleeting? Well, whatever the cultural and even psychological roots, it’s my aesthetic opinion.
To which I’m entitled, just as you are entitled to uglify yourself with tattoos and piercings.