One of my favorite commercials of all time is one in which a man and a woman, presumably his girlfriend, are in a tattoo parlor. The tattooist is in the process of doing a tattoo on the man’s bicep that is supposed to read “I love Donna.” The tattooist, mid-ink, tells the man how much the tattoo is going to cost him. Unfortunately, the man doesn’t have enough money to cover the whole thing, so the tattooist stops abruptly, leaving the man with an arm that reads, “I love Don.” Understandably, the woman gets very upset and storms out of the parlor, despite the man’s begging her to stay. It looks as if the tattoo cost him not only the contents of his wallet, but his pride as well.
As a society, it seems that we are obsessed by tattoos. Some people find them to be expressive. Some people think that they are distasteful. Some people see them as a trend and nothing more. Whether you have tattoos, want tattoos, hate tattoos, or are completely different, it is undeniable that they are very much a part of our culture. And despite amazing advancements in laser removal, the tattoo is not going away anytime soon.
Will you be able to see it at work? Will it show in your wedding dress? Will your dad find out? These and other questions like them are important considerations when it comes to the final decision: to ink or not to ink? Of course, I have considered getting one. In this day and age, who hasn’t? I think that part of the attraction of the art form to me, as well as many others of my generation lies in its permanence.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the French philosopher Descartes. In his famous Meditations, he states, “Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakeable.” This idea, the incessant desire to find one thing that will last forever, that it without end, is what I believe is at the root of the ink epidemic.
With so many changeable things in this world- family, career, health, relationships- it is understandable that a person could want to have something unconditional and forever. Permanence. A tattoo will be with you forever, even if your boyfriend or girlfriend will not. This is a lesson that cultural icon Johnny Depp learned all too late, after appendaging himself with “Winona Forever,” only to experience a break-up which prompted him to alter his tattoo to “Wino Forever.” Lucky for him, the man enjoys a nice glass of red.
Where does this need for permanence come from? I would venture that it goes hand-in-hand with the need for control. This is an idea we touched upon in class: one of the central themes of Sia Figiel’s novel, They Who Do Not Grieve. While their tattoos serve a different cultural purpose than our own, I think there is an emerging parallel. The importance of control, the ability to control one’s self, one’s family, and one’s surroundings, is at the root of their Samoan culture.
Is our culture so different after all? Let’s look at one example from the text. Why do Mrs. Winterson and her friends feel the need to avoid or regurgitate food? There is a common misconception in our society that eating disorders are solely the manifestation of negative body image. While self-esteem and self-image are definitely factors in this sensitive equation, they are not necessarily the primary reason for a girl (or boy, even) to develop an eating disorder. Instead, it often an unhealthy fixation on one’s ability to control his or her own body. Why the body? Oftentimes, because that person feels as if they are unable to control some other (or many other) aspects in his or her life.
There is a comfort in being able to take control of one’s own life. There is a quiet confidence that results from having power and dominion over something tangible. Just as there is a distinct beauty in attaining something unconditional, there is a certain peace implicit in the “foreverness” of a tattoo.