On Tattoos as Social Indicators

Let me start off by saying I have a tattoo. I got it almost ten years ago when I was barely 18 and first off on my own. It was something that fit in nicely with my “punk rock” attitudes about myself and was a way for me to lash out against my Mormon upbringing.

I drew it up myself and had it represent something that actually meant something to me. No drunk tattoos here. I thought it would be a good reminder throughout my life. It isn’t. Most days I don’t even remember it’s there, even though it’s on my left bicep and visible to me every morning.

Most guys get a tattoo thinking it will look tough and masculine. They think of the full sleeves worn by the blue-collar badasses, the in-your-face attitude of early punk rock, the subtle tats that end up being in your face like Rusty from Oceans 11.

99% of the time it looks terrible.

All the hardcore/punk/rockabilly kids just turned into emo hipsters. Their tats are feminine and accentuate how girly they are in attitude, style and body.

The cut guys who have the physique to pull it off just end up looking Jersey Shore. The tattoos that were supposed to set them apart end up being a part of the spray tan/Ed Hardy uniform

And everyone else just ends up looking lower class.

It’s interesting to read Charles Murray’s thoughts on the stratification of white society. My own personal experience is that the upper-middle class Gen Y kids are embracing the cultural rush to the bottom of the barrel. Where Murray talks about how the lower classes used to emulate the upper classes and the upper classes practiced modesty so all in all things appeared relatively equal, we’re seeing a complete shift in the opposite direction. The attitudes, actions and opinions of the lower classes are being embraced as more authentic, more real, and therefore more valuable than the boring conservatism and traditionalism that made the Western world great.

I personally see this stratification just getting worse. As the Baby Boomers start to step out (more likely be forced out) of power, those of Gen X and Gen Y who were on the fence about embracing the lowest denominator will turn around and accept the value of the traditionalism eschewed by their parents. I don’t think there will be a majority, but there will be enough that it will be recognizable.

As those who were on the fence join the reactionaries in embracing what we used to be, those who fully embraced the attitudes of the Boomers will continue in their downward spiral. And with that separation we will begin to see clear demarcations of what person subscribes to which philosophy.

My opinion is that tattoos will be one of these areas. Even if a person is a poorer, blue-collar auto worker, if he subscribes to the attitudes that made the West great, he will start to avoid trying to look like the rebels who really have become the mainstream.

Those of us who have them will probably start to regret them soon.