Why get tattooed?

Examples of social decline, especially in the UK

Why get tattooed?

Postby Elliott » 31 Jul 2011, 22:47

The good doctor has written about tattoos, quite a few years ago. I want to ask the community what they think about tattoos.

Do you have any yourself? How do you feel about them on other people?

For myself, I find tattoos instinctively offensive. I consider that the person is effectively saying the following:

  • I'm a rebel
  • Don't f*** with me
  • I'm downtrodden, or at least "with" the downtrodden
  • I'm open-minded about all facets of human existence
  • My real identity is unsatisfactory

By "real identity", I mean an identity that has been built (through learning, experience, and effort) or bestowed (by nationality, class, religion etc.).

I believe that people no longer find nationality, class, religion etc. "enough", therefore they feel compelled to "buy" an identity by siding with the underclass, the downtrodden. Since tattoos have traditionally been associated with the downtrodden, they're an excellent way to suggest allegiance with these people. In moral terms, "anything" is better than to be siding with the mainstream. In psychological terms, the person doesn't know who they are, so they get tattoos to "end" the identity crisis.

I know one person who was always talking about getting tattoos and eventually did so, for whom the above description is fairly apt. She was a lower-middle-class English girl. She didn't like being female. She felt no pride in being English. She thought the class structure was a sham. So her identity was not one she enjoyed. (Unsurprisingly, she was very interested in art regarding identity.) It seems inevitable that such a person would turn to subculture. She had always been into grunge and emo stuff and eventully, a little too late I thought, she got tattooed at the age of 26. And then the second tattoo, then the third...

So why do you think people get tattooed? Is it significant, in itself?
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Gavin » 01 Aug 2011, 11:54

Interesting post. I think you are correct in your analysis.

Tattoos are all part of modern trends (like liberalism generally) to try to appear to be very individualistic while actually, inadvertently (and ironically) following the herd.

I often say that the most radical position one can adopt today is that of conservatism. This position takes true courage (Dalrymple has written before, indeed, of its "heroism"!), because a conservative is sure to be in a minority in almost any social situation, and likely to be asserting positions which require argument and evidence, as opposed espousing relativism.

Tattoos are also badges of downward aspiration, of course, since they are historically associated with criminals. Even a high achiever might get a tattoo to broadcast the message "I don't think I am any better than you - whoever you may be". Ironically, of course, they are at the same time making a statement of some kind of moral superiority in their (falsely) claiming to be non-judgemental.

Tattoos also look somewhat menacing. This partly because of their criminal associations, partly because of their typical content, and partly because of the mindset they indicate. That mindset is one which says "I don't mind undergoing some pain for a fairly frivilous reason", "I don't care what you think", "Look at me" and "I think only for the present" all simultaneously.

While the above will apply to many people who get tattoos, some no doubt actually genuinely find the tattoos attractive. With those I just have to differ.

See associated thread Why do people get piercings?
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Michael » 02 Aug 2011, 17:57

"Self expression is fine, so long as you have an interesting self to express"
-Roger Scruton


I'm not certain that tattooing and body modification in general is symptomatic of siding with the underclass by 'buying an identity'. For many people I have known it is actually a way of fitting in with your own (very middle class) peers. There may be an element of siding with the underclass or identifying with them, but this is cloaked in a larger idea about 'authenticity' (one of the most poisonous concepts ever to migrate from philosophy to the mainstream, along with 'equality' and 'social justice'). The underclass are held to live authentically by living closer to their lusts and vices rather than engaging in some form of 'inauthentic' politeness. In the same way Native Americans and other currently or formerly primitive peoples are thought to be authentic in a way the tattoo owners own culture is not - witness how many tattoos are of pseudo-tribal designs. This may just be my experience as a North American.

At the heart of all of this, I think, is the abandonment of the idea of 'character', that our goal in life is not to be 'authentic' (whatever that means) but to rise above our animal natures, a point Andrea made admirably in the post about higher culture. We are not here to be what we are but to be better than what we are, to strive for high attainments in body, mind, and soul. It has been replaced by the cult of authenticity. As Dalrymple recently observed, the modern world is the triumph of Rousseau, who posited that human beings were basically good and were made evil by civilization. If you think this is the case, then you seek your role models outside of contemporary civilization.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Paul » 02 Aug 2011, 20:28

Yes, why have tattoos departed from being anchors or erm, whatever they were to tribal symbolism/patterns? Michael sees lots of Native American patterns whereas we Brits surely see lots of Celtic patterns etched on the skin. Though there is also a penchant for Oriental hieroglyphics and those strange 'tiger stripes', as I call them.

I asked a young lady a few years ago why her boyfriend had 'tiger stripes' tattooed on his arms. She laughed (in a 'oh you're so out of touch' kind of way) and said - "they aren't tiger stripes silly........... they're 'Tribal' " :?

"Tribal?" says I, "But he's English, is he not, not black African?"

"No, no - they're Celtic tribal."

"Oh really, I see. Which Celtic tribe do they represent then?"

There the conversation ended. Touche.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Paul » 02 Aug 2011, 22:22

Yes, thinking more of my own post I've observed the following:

At least the tattooed American and British peoples display some geographical/historical and cultural (is it?) knowledge and affinity. Celtic patterns for the Brits, Commanche and Cherokee symbols for the Americans (I presume). Should we applaud them at least for this, any straw being worthy of clutching? I'm not sure where the Oriental patterns and tiger stripes come into it, but we'll leave that for now, there's hope in there somewhere. :?

But seriously, all (well most all) these tribally and tigered people could not answer or explain:

1. What Celtic actually means or is about.

How much would you like to wager that some of them muse over the connection to a certain Scottish football team? Hilarious, in a gallows humour way.

2. The name of any Celtic tribe, chieftain, area of the country in respect of.

3. That tiger stripes aren't a Celtic pattern or otherwise representative of Celtic art.

Where did these tiger stripes originate btw? Who was the first ruddy fool to have them tattooed and then display them?

4. Any Celtic tradition - Gods, observances, rituals, etc.

The situation might be more exemplified here in the UK than in the US. Surely the tattooed in the US are more educated then their British counterparts?

Dear me - I don't have to remind you that a Captain of the national football team once trotted out of the tunnel at Wembley sporting a mass of tattoos and .......even a Mohican haircut! Hey, I've just realised, what a mingling of cultures. The man could be an Icenian Cherokee Naturalist with a dash of Oriental mysticism.......who plays football and eats curry.

Far more disturbingly, a recent captain of the English cricket team descended the pavillion steps at Lords sporting the same type and number of tattoos. The end is nigh.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Gavin » 26 Jan 2012, 21:37

A brief but interesting article about tattoos in the Telegraph.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Damo » 30 Jan 2012, 21:59

NSW police officers will be banned from having visible tattoos under a sweeping reform of the force's public image set to begin this year.

..... a draft policy, being prepared for Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, is in the final stages of approval and recommends banning all visible tattoos on serving police and new recruits coming into the force.



Tattoos could rule out a career in police
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Elliott » 30 Jan 2012, 22:30

Here in Britain we do the opposite.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Damo » 31 Jan 2012, 15:28

I'm surprised they haven't used the excuse of multiculturalism to not only encourage police officers to show their tattoos, but also to encourage those who have none to get some done.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Gavin » 25 Feb 2012, 19:17

In the area where I now live, almost everyone is tattooed. And I really mean 9 out of 10 people who you meet. It doesn't matter if they are male or female. They have tattoos up their arms, over their stomachs, on their backs, on their ankles, everywhere.

I think they look very vulgar, and some of the people are vulgar too - but some are not. Some are "salt of the earth" folks, some very hard working: running their own sandwich shops, working in bars etc. I am on good, friendly, conversational terms with them. They're nice working class folks. If I get to know them better I might one day even be able to ask why they got the tattoos. I think they will say they just liked them.

Thus, I think this is indeed very much a tribal thing. Though these are decent enough people, they are not inlined to think for themselves. This is their tribe, and this is what their tribe does.

I should add that though these people are, I think, good, and they are not workshy, this area has very high unemployment and the ones of whom I speak are perhaps the exception to the rule. And while I can have a good, and genuine, chat with them while purchasing things, common ground may quickly run out were we to interact for an extended period socially. Strangely, however, in this town which is 99% white they are the first to agree with me about the impracticality of multiculturalism, while a typical London liberal would object to my view. Perhaps this, in turn, is because the London liberal also has their tribe.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Damo » 10 Apr 2012, 13:23

Yang Enna, a 22-year-old television producer in Shanghai, said: "English tattoos are just more special. They are very trendy and they say something about my personality.


I'm sure your tattoos do say something about your personality but it's not what you think.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... ttoos.html
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Gavin » 10 Apr 2012, 13:54

It certainly does say something. It makes you wonder what idiocies and misspellings are tattooed on British bodies in Chinese characters so that the wearers can think they look "cool". Such a sheep-like and unimaginative thing to do. It actually reminds me a little of the way sheep are marked by their farmer, come to think of it.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Elliott » 10 Apr 2012, 14:04

What I'm increasingly finding now is that people whom you would expect to be quite sensible and well-raised sport tattoos, almost indiscriminately, as if they feel they simply have be tattooed if they are going to be taken seriously. Yesterday, I was in a restaurant and the pleasant (though not terribly attractive) waitress seemed quite middle-class, quite civilised etc., until I saw she had tattoos on each of her wrists and behind both of her ears!

Honestly, it's like a horror show...
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Caleb » 11 Apr 2012, 02:09

Elliott: When my wife and I were in Iceland of all places, a waitress in a small town had a Chinese tattoo. It meant something suitably esoteric such as "noble heart" (though sometimes, they don't even make that much sense). Whether it's a word or a picture, I'm not really sure that I'd want to reduce myself to such a simple thing, as though any ontological understanding of me could be summarised by "gracious dragon" or an equivalent picture. Really, is that what these people are, easily distilled to one little cliche?

Elliott: I got a laugh out of you describing it as a horror show. Increasingly, it is. The irony for me is that it's the horror of the banal masquerading as originality.
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Re: Why get tattooed?

Postby Elliott » 11 Apr 2012, 21:28

I agree with you, Caleb. But what really disgusts me is the look of tattoos, that an otherwise unsullied young body can suddenly be stained, and permanently. I can't understand how people can view that as a good thing. To me it is inherently disturbing.

I also hate the idea of people getting "it" done to them. I remember a few years ago reading about some marathon tattooing event where 100 people were going to get tattooed (by the same guy) in an hour, or something like that. For many of these people it would have been their first tattoo, their first degradation. All these people, in a line, waiting to be "done"... it seemed to me like cattle going through a process to get stamped one after another, permanently, so that they would never be individuals again. I found the idea quite profoundly disturbing.
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