The Modern World is Going to Hell: A Continuing Series: The Tattooed Vermin of the Apocalypse

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In this series of posts I intend to give rants against trends that have developed in society since the days of my youth, the halcyon days of the seventies, when leisure suits and disco were sure signs that society was ready to be engulfed in a tide of ignorance, bad taste and general buffoonery.

We will start off the series with a look at seven developments that I view as intensely annoying and proof that many people lack the sense that God granted a goose.  I like to refer to these as  The Seven Hamsters of the Apocalypse, minor evils that collectively illustrate a society that has entered a slough of extreme stupidity.  Each of the Seven Hamsters will have a separate post.  The first of the Hamsters is the Tattooed Vermin.

When I was a boy only veterans tended to have tattoos, along with sailors who were usually veterans.  Many of the men would ruefully admit that they acquired the tattoos while drunk and most of them did not seem overly fond of their tattoos.  Tattoos on aging human flesh have never been attractive, as most of those fellows amply demonstrated.  Men with lots of tattoos tended to be restricted to working in freak shows.  Tatoo parlors were usually located in red light districts where they specialized in giving tattoos at cheap rates, with tetanus from inadequately sterilized tattooing needles thrown in as an added bonus.  From this I drew the conclusions that getting drunk in military service was doubtless not a good idea, and that tattoos might be an argument that while men were usually stronger than women, intellectual prowess might reside on the distaff side.

Fast forward three decades.  According to a Pew survey in 2006, 36% of Americans 18-29 sport a tattoo.  In the criminal courts where I have a chance to observe the younger generation, I’d say the tattooed portion of that age group is around 80%.  Often the tattoos are upon the arms in such a manner that only a long-sleeved shirt will hide them, a device I have resorted to when representing  accused felons, who desperately do not want the term convicted substituted for accused and were willing to follow my advice that not looking like a slovenly tattooed thug is best when coming before either a judge or a jury.

Tattoos are all the rage, as shows like Miami Ink indicate.  Criminal youth may embrace looking like a walking art easel more than other members of their age cohort, but the difference is one of degree rather than kind.  I have known young attorneys who spent thousands of dollars on “body art” and then spent thousands of dollars attempting to remove said “body art” when they learned that even tattooed clients tend to prefer that their attorneys be non-visibly tattooed.    Of course with modern tattoo removal techniques, and tattoo removal is a hot growth industry, no one will ever know that the person was tattooed, unless the observer gets up next to the person and is not blind.

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Unfortunately, the fashion for tattoos has afflicted both men and women.  From small tattoos on ankles to full blown tramp stamps lower back tattoos, tattoos are an essential part of  the never-ending struggle that some women engage in today to prove that they can act as foolish and feckless as the most dim-witted male.

The curiosity is why tattoos are so popular.  The desire to stand out, not by accomplishing anything, but by becoming a human billboard?  The desire to fit in?  (“Well all the other lemmings are going over the cliff…”)  Rebellion?  (“Dad will have a cow when he sees this Obama tattoo”!)  Rank stupidity?  (“Purty tattoo”!)

Ah well, perhaps I am taking this all too seriously.  There are worse things that people could do.  That of course brings us to the Second Hamster of the Apocalypse, the Pierced Vermin.  However, I am weary and we will save him for another day.  Now it is time for my nap, and then yummy stewed prunes.

43 Responses to The Modern World is Going to Hell: A Continuing Series: The Tattooed Vermin of the Apocalypse

  • A beauty of a rant, Don. And how true!

  • The most ridiculous tattoo I’ve seen was at the wedding of a young co-worker several years ago. The bridesmaids wore halter top gowns with exposed backs and one of them had a big wolf head tattooed on her back. Apparently she was “into wolves” when she was 16 – 10 years later, she was no longer interested in them, but the souvenir of her adolescent tastes was still imprinted on her flesh. The juxtaposition of elegant satin dress with ugly tattoo was quite striking, and not in a good way. (As a friend of mine who is very “into” old films says, “Would Audrey Hepburn get a tattoo? Or Grace Kelly?”)

    It’s one thing for 16 year olds to imagine that their teenaged likes and dislikes are permanent (if tattoos had been popular when I was a teenybopper, I might still be walking around with my high school boyfriend’s name and a picture of the Osmond Brothers adorning my carcass.) It’s another thing to believe that when you are in your 20’s.

  • Ah well, perhaps I am taking this all too seriously.

    Actually, I think this is the truest statement in your post. ;-)

  • There are other reasons to get tattoos– my mom has a shamrock over her heart, and my sister has two– a pair of tiny Jesus-feet, one on her shaking-hand, one on her first-foot-forward.

  • Et tu Foxfier?

  • Nah, I didn’t even want to get my ears pierced. (Sibling pressure is amazing– sis couldn’t until I did.)

  • Considering your nautical background I am somewhat surprised that you didn’t get tattooed while you were a member of Uncle Sam’s Yacht Club.

  • Celtic crosses– and most anything saint, Catholic or Celtic-related– were declared “gang related symbols” a week after I hit my first duty station.

  • Including Gothic script, and most Latin phrases.

  • Down under over here ;-), tatoos are a part of the indigenous culture. Certain tatoos on the face of men for example, used to indicate his rank and seniority in his tribe.. Women who were looked on as being wise, ahd their own style of ‘moko’, or tattoo, mainly on their chin area.
    Samoans also have tattoo as a definer of rank. Their culture goes a step further with full body tattoo, which is the ultimate indicator of manhood.
    Many of our football players, whether of Maori, Samoan or Pacific Island descent or of European descent have tats, mainly on arms, occassionly facial.

    The problem is that now, much of the tats are done as ‘body adornment’ and have no bearing to rank. Many of the gangs now adopt strong tats as sign of intimidation – trying to indicate how tough they are.

    Many of the older Maori and Samoans are annoyed and insulted at the way traditional tattoos have become so fashionable, and the significance of the art is dumbed down and demeans their culture.

    On another note from another time, I also had mates in the navy back in the 60’s and 70’s who had a variety of tats – some of the more interesting included a fox tail down the back, with the fox obviously hiding in the ‘fox hole’. :-)

  • Quite a few American Indian tribes used tattoos in similar ways Don. Tattoos that are part and parcel of an entire culture I have no problem with. As for sailors and their tatoos, I believe the fashion started in the Royal Navy when it came into contact with Polynesia in the Eighteenth Century.

  • As a woman, I thank God that I didn’t ever get drunk, lose my mind, and get a tattoo. I really don’t get the fascination with them.

  • Enjoyed the rant, Don. As the survey numbers suggest, there are different generational perspectives on this, but there’s something to be said for the artistry of a well done rant. What fun is griping if you can’t do it with style?

  • I was just warming up John Henry for the one on body piercing!

  • When I was in the Navy, the Boiler Tech Chief advised that, if you wanted a tat, don’t get one until you have settled on the exact image. Once you have decided, sleep on it, look through the books again, and, if you you still can’t imagine a tat other than the one you settled on the day before, get it.

    I didn’t get ink until about three years after leaving the Navy. I was hiking the AT and took a hitch-hiking detour to West Point. There, in that boneyard, among those monuments to generals I had never heard of, was a simple Celtic cross. There was something so sublime that I took a picture. The image stuck with me and I kept returning to the picture over the next few months. During the summer, I found a parlor with the right creds and had the image inked on my upper-arm.

    Not all ink is pathetic, my friend.

  • Think of it like marriage…but with the “massively bad idea, poorly thought out and entered with no reasonable notion of what they were getting into” statistics going the opposite way.

  • “Not all ink is pathetic, my friend.”

    Get back to me in three decades G-Veg, assuming I am still around.

  • If I don’t get up off of my settled rump and exercise a bit… there will undoubtably be serious “sagging”… Not buxom blond sagging, but, still…

  • Best tat ever:
    one of my grandfather’s Army buddies.

    A little lawnmower on his arm.

    Each morning, he’d shave his face, then a strip of hair on his arm, behind the mower……

  • You might consider that there’s some selection bias going on in the tats you observe.

    Perhaps there are a large number of perfectly ordinary-looking people around you who have tattoos that you don’t get outraged by, because the tattoos are small and unobtrusive or concealed by everyday clothing.

  • “Perhaps there are a large number of perfectly ordinary-looking people around you who have tattoos that you don’t get outraged by, because the tattoos are small and unobtrusive or concealed by everyday clothing.”

    What I don’t know obviously can’t outrage me bearing. I wish all tattoos were like that, and that people didn’t inflict their body pictures for me and the world to be forced to observe.

  • There was a psych study back in the 80’s that showed that people with more than one tattoo had increased behavioral/psych problems. I don’t know if anyone ever reproduced their results. Don’t know if anyone even bothered to try.

  • What I don’t know obviously can’t outrage me bearing. I wish all tattoos were like that, and that people didn’t inflict their body pictures for me and the world to be forced to observe

    I guess that ties back to Don the Kiwi’s point about the tattoo culture down under…

  • Phillip-
    Sounds like a “no, duh” study– just because so many folks with behavioral problems get tattoos. Given that they’re illegal in some countries, and disapproved of by many religions here in the US, and that it can easily be boiled down to a form of self-damage… same thing as with major piercing, or scarification. Shoot, if you assume one in a hundred of the sample were in gangs, that would blow the stats out of the water! (Actually…I don’t know if gangs did tats in the 80s. I was frankly more interested in Sat morning cartoons at the time.)

  • Don’t remember the details of the study after 25 years, so your critiques may be valid. Just pointing out that if a person has more than one tattoo there is likely to be more psych problems. That would go along with Don’s observation that more of his clients having tattoos.

    I don’t know if its obvious either that having one tattoo is not so big an issue (the drunken sailor not repeating his mistake) but having more than one tatto is a problem. But working back to Don’s point, if more people are having tattoos these days, is that because more people are having psych problems, or has the image in society of the body and its use/dignity changed over the years? I might say the latter.

  • I agree– when my mom was a girl, she was allowed to wear jeans to do the morning chores…but only under her skirt. When she got to college, it was a big deal that she was wearing slacks and jeans and not a lot of skirts.

    Now, it’s odd for a girl to wear skirts all the time. (Odd as in comment-worthy, not odd as in freaky.)

  • As a member of a younger generation, I disagree. Tattoos are cool!

    Back when I had piercings, my parents made me take them out in church. Parents don’t seem to care about that anymore. I don’t mind either. The only thing that bothers me are the girls at Mass in what looks like underwear. I always tell them that they forgot to wear their pants again.

  • “Tattoos are cool!”

    That you have fallen to the blandishments of the tattooed vermin of the seven hamsters of the apocalypse surprises me not one whit restrainedradical!

    “Parents don’t seem to care about that anymore.”

    This parent certainly does! Piercings do function as a useful idiot detector however, present company excepted I am sure.

    Now you’ve got me curious restrainedradical. Do you have any kids, and if so, are they teenagers yet?

  • No surprise. Get back to me restrainedradical when and if you have kids and little restrainedradical is closing in on 14.

  • “…and little restrained radical is closing in on 14.”

    These days try ten.

  • I read somewhere that tattoos are popular with the young because it is a substitute for coming of age rituals that we no longer have or require our youth to attend…the pain associated with the process is part of this “ritual”…this actually makes some sense to me…my son’s first tattoo was self inflicted and must have been uber painful to boot – his second tat was a “mom” banner inside a heart….which made me go “awwww” even as I was freaked out that he was irrevocably marking his body …there are worse things I suppose and in his case those worse things came and broke both our hearts…so the tats in a way were prophecies of bad things coming down the road…hindsight is twenty twenty….sigh……

  • Okay, when do we get the second hamster?

  • The Pierced Vermin should slouch his way onto the blog in a week or two.

  • I just read Pierced Vermin and had to return to read about the tattoos. I work as an RN with many younger nurses in a major metro hospital. Many of them have tattoos and most are covered by their clothing. Honestly, rarely do I see one that I think looks good or attractive. They get them on vacation in Vegas, Mexico. etc. I’m sure a few adult beverages were consumed before the decision was made. Some are creepy looking and randomly placed on ankles, rib cage (ouch), inside wrists and on and on. Also, I’ve cared for patients with tattoos on almost every inch of their skin. The themes were frightening and hellish. I felt like I should sprinkle a little holy water on them.

  • We live in a bizarre world Ruby, and it is getting more bizarre by the mmoment, and nurses and attorneys get to see more than their fair share.

  • Ruby – had I been Catholic at the time my son got his tats I would have sprinkled him with holy water if I had thought of it…His name is Janos…please pray for him….thanks…

  • The thing I find odd is that, as fascinated as people are with tattoos, they’re equally contemptuous of any sort of temporary tattoo. Yet that seems like the perfect solution, especially in a society where everything else is temporary. Get “Ruby” painted on your chest with something that’ll wash off in 3 months, and you’ll probably be broken up with her by then anyway. Or keep adjusting the position of your dolphin tat as things sag.

    It’s just pretty weird that a society that accepts temporary marriage will call you a chicken if you don’t want your body art to be permanent.

  • I have always had two reasons for not getting a tattoo: (1) I could not think of anything that I knew would be an absolutely permanent representation of who I was, save for signs of my faith which should have been lived, not just worn; and (2) I am a complete coward who loathes and fears needles.

    The degree to which Reason #1 is merely a rationalization of Reason #2 even I don’t know, so feel free to think your worst. :)

    But having married a woman who *did* find such permanent self-representations and chose to wear them as part of herself, I can say that there *are* those out there who adopt tattoos responsibly, meaningfully and unashamedly. My wife is a writer, and her largest tattoo (an upper-arm work which can be covered conveniently) comprises two quotes written in a spiral: “Be neat and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and creative in your work” (Flaubert), and “Listen to stories; it’s always polite, and sometimes it improves you” (The Ramayama). This permanent artwork is a vital touchstone of her memory and identity.

    As with all else, tattoos can be a symbol of something permanent and meaningful, or a record of one’s impulses and bad judgement; it takes knowing the person to know which, but judging by the mere appearance is not always the wisest course.

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