“My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.” Johnny Depp
I once knew an American woman who owned a car wash in Paris. She liked gangster movies, and she talked like a real American gangster. The f…k word came up at least twice in every sentence. She smoked tons of French cigarettes, drank Vodka like water, and drove even more reckless than the most reckless Parisian taxi drivers. And, last not least, she was tattooed. That contributed to her reputation of being rebellious.
In the old days only exceptional individuals like this woman, sailors, circus artists, and criminals had tattoos. But tattoos are not modern. They have been around since more than 5000 years. The old Egyptians used to ink their slaves. But it’s only during the last 25 years so called ink art has become enormously popular. Why? Before dealing with this question it’s helpful to differentiate between body modifications and beautifications. Such things as plastic surgery, breast implants, and gender change belong to the first category. Whereas tattoos, body building and piercing are seen as beautifications. But people don’t get tattooed in order to become beautiful.
Most people want to express with their tattoos a self identification. Simplified said, they want to show you with their tattoos significant visual signs of themselves. If I would see my zodiac as an important aspect of myself, and if my birthday would be somewhere between the 23rd of October and 21st of November, then my zodiac sign would be scorpion. Therefore, a symbolic scorpion on my body could signify this aspect to you. Prisoners and gang members are tattooed for the same reason. It’s important for them to be identified for what they are.
Another reason to get tattooed is related to love and passion. The classical example is the sailor who went to a harbor pub in Shanghai, where he after a couple of drinks fell hopelessly in love with a girl. Convinced to have found the love of his life our sailor stumbled in the early morning to one of the countless tattoo studios in the harbor. There he got what he wanted: an anchor combined with the word “love” on his arms.
Many tattoo studios are nowadays for good reasons located in the neighborhood of night clubs. It’s in the nature of the sake that one is more willing to put the name of people one loves on the skin when drunk. This does not necessarily mean that young mothers were drunk when they who got tattooed with the name of their babies.
Besides, do you know what you can do when someone you passionately loved got killed in a road accident when driving home drunk from a night club? Well, such an event must not necessarily be the end of your passionate love. You could pour the ashes of the deceased’s remains into tattoo ink, and have it on your skin while listening to: “Stupid in the Dark” by Xiu Xiu.
It is common standard to agree upon that tattoos are fashion statements. One assumes that people want to express their “personal style” through some form of body art. But that’s a misunderstanding. Simply because the expression: “personal style” is a contradiction in terms.
A style, let’s say in architecture, painting, or music, has always some common characteristics. Everything personal, on the other hand, is generally opposed to all kind of commonalities. Consequently, it’s not possible to have style, or to be stylish, and at the same time expressing something personal. It’s either the one thing or the other.
Now, do you think people in North Korea are tattooed? Or could you point at any personal differences when it comes to the external appearance of North Koreans one can see on TV? The answer is a clear no. They all look the same, and all of them are dressed in the same way.
This means that every North Korean individual is incorporated in an ideological style movement rigorously designed from above. I don’t want to bore you with social anthropology and ethno-psychiatry, but human societies can only survive if people have the opportunity to differentiate themselves from each other. Ideology is diametrically opposed to individuality. And what happens to a society if individuality for ideological reasons is declared as a taboo? Then there is only one way out. North Korean people are doomed to commit collective suicide. That’s the reason why they are so much in love with Kim’s nukes.
When it comes to fashion we have to understand that fashion is not just fashion, but, unintentionally, a human survival strategy. Life is meaningless without fashion.
Fashion provides us with the necessary tools to appear attractive and interesting for each other. All of us would suffer from a terrible inferiority complex without fashion. We would be like the North Koreans. There is, however, a trap in this principle. The key word here is “originality”. In order to be eye catching for others, our fashion statements must express originality.
In the old days tattooed people expressed their originality through their body art. But what about nowadays when almost everyone is tattooed? When tattoos have become a normalcy then it is totally meaningless to be tattooed Regardless of their aesthetic aspects, it’s simply not possible anymore to view tattoos as attractive, interesting, or original. On the contrary, they have become as breathtaking as North Korean uniforms. To tell the truth, there is no difference anymore between Johnny Depp’s tattoos and the magnets on your refrigerator.