TLC has a new reality show this summer, Miami Ink, about a group of tattoo artists.
I've never seen the show, but I've seen the promos dozens of times. These guys, the artists, they are walking canvases. Some of their clients are similarly covered in ink. Great vats of it, apparently.
Tattoos aren't even the slightest bit naughty anymore. They're the New Millenium's equivalent to pierced ears. Even the most prim and uptight mothers-of-preschoolers may have a tattoo or two, usually discreetly inked at the small of the back. And since these moms don't wear super-low-rise jeans, you'd never know the tats are there -- until they show them off!
Since tattoos themselves are mainstream, the only way to shock with them anymore is by the sheer volume of ink you're sporting. I once saw a family at Target: mom, dad, 2 moppets. Every one of the mom's limbs had ink, but the most startling tattoo was on the upper part of one arm. She had portraits of her two kids. In, you know, permanent ink. I thought that was a little different but it all made sense when I saw her husband. He had on a typical AZ outfit: shorts, muscle T, some kind of footwear that precluded socks. Every single square inch of exposed flesh below the neck was covered in ink. He was Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man come to life.
The guy's an artist, no doubt. Those portraits were very well done. But I have to admit that I don't understand the desire to ink or be inked. I've seen gorgeous tattoos, and even flirted on and off with getting ink over some of my many scars (and was talked out of it by my dermatologist, who assured me the pain of tattooing over extensive scar tissue would be extraordinary.) I've seen huge, painstakingly-wrought masterpieces, literally carved in blood, with great love and skill, into living tissue.
It always comes back to that, for me, the "living tissue" aspect. When you get your kids' faces tattooed on your upper arm at, say, 27, you're young, your skin and your muscles are both toned and firm. But what is that upper arm going to look like when you're 47? How about 67? (flap-flap-flap) How grotesque are those little moppet-faces going to look, then? And dude, that chest-spanning dragon looks phenomenal now, when you're sporting six-pack abs and awesome pecs. But what happens when you lay off lifting for a month or two? Those outstretched wings are gonna start to droop, man.
Perhaps these people do think about how they'll look, 20 or 40 years down the road, but that's not the vibe they throw off. They're going to live fast, die young, and leave corpses that look so great a cottage industry will spring up to harvest the skin art and preserve it: Tattoo Taxidermy, the latest in funeral home services! Or maybe they'll be investing heavily in laser tattoo removal. Or maybe they'll revel in the way their biology combines with the tattoo artist's skill to create a work that inexorably ages with them, and they'll joyfully contemplate the subtle changes that time has wrought.
Somehow I don't think they expect any of these things. Tattoos suggest a type of magic, the reverse of Dorian Gray's: the ink remains, fixed and permanent, a moment frozen in time while the body ages around it. But we forget that while that ink is permanent, the canvas is not.
Consider the canvas, people. Consider the canvas.