Monday, June 24, 2013

Tats for Dads

Went to the pool the other day with my daughters and saw lots of dads with tattoos. But of course the James Dean type of tats don't seem to be in evidence anymore. The swollen biceps sticking out of a rolled shirt with a cigarette have been replaced by sagging guts and rounded shoulders and man boobs and the elasticity of skin under siege from one burger too many and certainly ten beers too many. The generation that embraced tats has entered their thirties and forties and some in their fifties and the blue smudged ink now resembles party streamers that got wet and soggy and the ink ran out all over the floor...except you can throw the streamers away. Tats are here for good.

And then as you watch these dads of flabby arms and protruding abdomens with their barbed wire tats now resembling deflated donuts you wonder where did this come from? Why did suburban college educated white young men and women go under the ink gun and come out with tattoos that were once relegated to men who worked in gas stations and lifers in the marines. True it was exported out first to rock and roll stars and part and parcel of the total fuck you persona and then Dennis Rodman did for tats in sports what Obama did for politics...he took it one step further and said you could be cool and be your own person and still be the best.

But this doesn't change the basic question...why did the white middle class suburban corporate warriors get tattoos that now make them look like Ward Cleavers gone bad? These are men and women who are now the mainstream of middle class conservative moms and dads and yet this little spurt of rebellion...this ink. And so then it sort of hits. It is the button down mans way to rebel. It is a safe statement against mass culture without the risk. They do not have to go out and throw the dice and be a writer or a rock star or an actress and risk starvation or homelessness and live the starving artist life. No. They can get a tattoo and declare I am different and my daring do to stapled ink under my skin proves it.

But of course those days are over. The statement is still there but it has been maligned by the fact that just about everyone has a tattoo. Conservative men in suits sport Mickey Mouse on their ankles or a hiding four leaf clover on their ass. And what does it mean now? Nothing. Like the wild fling that goes back into the memory banks and never spoken of the tattoo is something from another time. Another life.

And so the ink is there now. Sheening under the sun and pool water. Badges of honor for a recklessness never really taken on. A rebellion never embraced. Just a glimmer of ink for a time when the road less traveled was at least acknowledged. After that there is always laser surgery.
Rocket Man...the American Dream upside Down

Books by William Hazelgrove