Friday, June 24, 2011

Are Tattoos Still Taboo

 I was in a prominent electronics store the other night admiring the "new toys" when I noticed 1 of their employees. Nothing unusual about that right, they swarm around you as soon as they see you, except this employee had a visible tattoo. The tattoo itself was just a simple tribal one on his wrist. By the looks of it, it was a couple years old judging by the fading. Other then the tattoo the gentleman was everything you'd expect from an electronics store. Which made me wonder...
Are tattoos still taboo. I remember as a a child thinking a person with a tattoo meant he was a tough guy, a biker,or somebody that had been in jail. Now, "several" years older and myself also tattooed I have a different outlook, well several outlooks...
Mostly I feel tattoos are an expression of self, or at least should be. A tattoo is permanent. Yes technology has made them removable. But for the sake of argument they're permanent. So if you decide to get 1, you need to ask yourself some questions
1. Why do you want a tattoo
2. What does the tattoo stand for
3. What to tattoo
4. Where to put the tattoo
5. Who to do the tattoo
To understand tattoos and the art of tattoos lets look back at it's history. The art of tattooing has been around for centuries. Some scientists believe markings on the "Iceman", a mummified human dating back to 3300 BC, where tattoos. If that be true, that would be the earliest.
Tattoos can be found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies dating back to 2000 BC (The eastern world was using the art of tattooing long before the western world. But My focus is on the western world) Tattooing was rediscovered by Europeans through exploration which brought them in contact Polynesians and American Indians who had tattoos at the time. Many explorations brought back native people to "show off" what they had found.
One of the first and most popular was Prince Giolo "Painted Prince", a Polynesian man brought back to Europe by William Dampherin in 1691. Then another Polynesian man known as "Omai" was brought back in to Europe in the 1700's by Captain Cook. Soon after that the upper class where getting tattoos hidden in discrete locations.
What kept tattooing from the mainstream was the pain, time and cost it took. Until Samuel O'Riely patented the first electric tattooing machine. Which closely resemble Thomas Edison’s electric pen which punctured with a painted needle. With this invention it allowed the time and cost of a tattoo to go down. Allowing the average man to get one, while the upper class turned away.
Prior to the electric tattoo machine though, tattoos where still gaining popularity. But not in your typical social circles. It was very popular in the circus, which is credited to Jean Baptite Cabri who was extensively tattooed while living with the natives in Maruesas before going to Russia. For the next 70 years almost every circus employed a tattooed person whether be there main attraction or as part of their freak show. Some circus' even hired tattoo artists, so their circus could use their art as a way to attract more customers. 
As time grew on so did tattooing. The American birthplace of tattooing goes back To Chatham Sq., New York by Samuel O'Reilly. While not yet popular in the states tattoo was very popular in Chatham Square the wives of tattoo artists were sometimes used as walking advertisements. Where instead of makeup, tattoos were used as blush, lip coloring, and eyeliner. With World War I tattooing saw another spike in popularity with many people getting tattoos to represent bravery or wartime icons.
In the 1920s during prohibition and the depression, the tattoo industry saw a huge change. With shops opening up around New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey and other locations. Primarily close to Navy yards. But with growth, came controversy. Though most shops had sterilization machines, few used them. Newspapers started reporting stories of blood poisoning, hepatitis and other diseases after which health violations were issued, forcing shops in New York City and surroundings to shut down. Making it very difficult, if not illegal to get a tattoo in New York City. And also started to give tattoos, or people that had tattoos of bad reputation.
The tattoo industry suffered and hid in the shadows till run the 1960s when the attitude towards tattooing changed. Much to the credit of Lyle Tuttle who was good at promoting tattoos, along with himself and several celebrities; Janis Joplin, Cher, Henry Fonda and others. Several magazines and TV stations went to Lyle to get further information about tattooing and where the art came from.
Which brings us to tattoos in today's society. Is having a tattoo still taboo? There are many styles of tattoo, tribal, Celtic, art. Many popular locations arm, chest, back, lower back. Along with many different reasons, personal, group, remembrance.
But the question still remains it is still taboo? Do we as a society still look at a person that has tattoos as a “bad-ass” or a “thug” do we see them as artistic? Or see tattoos as trash? Do we see the tattoo at all?
Would you hire person with tattoos? Most will say yes, as long as you can't see them. Why is that? Do we still look at a person with tattoos as freaks that belong to freak show?
In my opinion tattoos are no longer taboo, but is still a strong opinion for some. Most don't have a problem with them, but would prefer their daughter not marry a man that has a sleeve tattoo. Employers will still hire you, as long as the tattoos are sleeve up and can be covered while working.
But with understanding and time I think it is being accepted, the understanding of why some people would want a tattoo.
Many people started out with “I don't know I just want one” Then they got the “itch”, the desire for more. For others it For others it is remembrance of a loved one, or an important time in their life. For some it is art, and then there's the ones like me. All those reasons plus an expression of self.
My first tattoo was a 8 ball bomb on my upper pelvic bone. The symbol 8 ball bomb itself was something in my past but not the reason I got the tattoo, the reason was rebellion. That tattoo is hidden by a bathing suit but it was my hidden rebellion against my parents and against society, since tattoos were still considered wrong.
My second was Barb wire on my arm. This was my rebellion showing through. I knew my parents wouldn't agree with it Nor would society. And I was proud of that. But, my parents understood me. They didn't like it, but they knew me and didn't think any less of me. In fact the only thing I really remember them saying is, “you know you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery now.” I think they were joking because we weren't just Jewish. They didn't like the tattoo, but they understood me
My third, my upper left arm is the Yin Yang symbol with tribal around it and it has a dual meaning. I like the Yin Yang symbol and its teachings, plus I was telling people, “yeah I know you don't like the first two, that's why got another one.”
The fourth.... aahhh yes the ring tattoo. I got this one because at the time I could not wear rings because of work, but wanted to show the world that I was happily married... We're divorced now, but I don't regret getting it, but would advise somebody to get a ring tattoo, or tattoo somebodies name on yourself
Fifth, a Q with a crown on it. The Q was for my first name the crown was symbolizes “King Quinn” Long Philosophical story I won't bore you with.
Sixth was a Scottish rampart over my heart for my Scottish heritage.
My final one, okay maybe not my final, is on my back. A cross between Celtic knot work and tribal with the trinity knot in the center and 2 Scottish thistles at the top edge which barely pokes above my collar just enough for people to see and wonder. this again is for my Scottish heritage
I wrote earlier about the “itch” that somebody gets after getting the first tattoo. A lot of people get this itch. I know I did. But there's something else I experience while getting the tattoo I go into an almost tranquil state. A truly totally relaxed state. The pain, on some, was still there. But I felt at peace. I could hear the phone ringing, people talking, but none of it sunk in. Just a very peaceful state of mind...
Well I started writing this with the topic of “Is tattoo still taboo” and thought it would be about two pages long... I'm on my fifth page now so I think I'll close it off
So is having a tattoo still taboo. I don't think so. I think society accepts it, a personal objections still exist. But with understanding and time, tattoos will become just another form of art, or design.

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