Selling tattoo culture sells its short
By Gina Gail
Though a full sleeve of fairy tale and storybook tattoos covers my arm, I’m hardly the kind of girl who gets inked to piss off her parents or society. When moms pull their children close at the grocery store, the directions to Neverland on my wrists remind me that I am the sole dictator of my own fairy tale. Those uncertain of how to react sometimes ask questions. This is better than assuming I only listen to hardcore music or that I bare all for an alt porn Web site under a name like GinaGailGruesomeface. “Did that hurt?” or, “how will you get a job?” are inquiries I hardly mind. But I was bothered when a guy at a party asked, “I like your tattoos! Is that ink permanent?” I assured him my tattoos are permanent, instead of “little beads of ink that go away.” Later that night, I tried to figure out the need for temporary ink and it dawned on me: tattoos are suddenly “cool.”
The increasing social acceptance of tattoos is a largely positive and progressive movement. I understand that without this acceptance, most tattooed individuals would find their employment options limited. But seeing something permanent and meaningful relegated to impermanence and trendiness makes my skin itch more than a five-hour sleeve sitting.
A tattoo’s permanence is usually an enormous part of the overall appeal, but this permanence can be intimidating. Freedom2, Inc. offers hesitant individuals a solution in the form of Infinitink, a removal formula with only one laser treatment and minimal scarring. Most inks require multiple laser treatments for removal and therefore leave more scars. The company’s product Web site, www.infinitink.com, tells consumers, “there’s something about making a permanent decision that just seems hard. But what if you could get a tattoo today and have it removed later?” Then, the site continues, “your choices are unlimited, they’re infinite.”
While some may believe this product offers “infinite” possibilities to people afraid of permanence, it actually offers the opportunity to make an infinite number of poor decisions. If the tattoo is not permanent, why not get your significant other’s name on your arm? After all, if your lover leaves you, Freedom2 makes the tattoo’s removal seem as simple as returning your ex’s hoodie. Infinitink makes it easy to walk into a shop, pick a Flash Art design, and get tattooed without a consultation or a custom drawing; it eliminates the time and effort needed to design even the simplest of tattoos. I find such ink utterly antithetical to one of the most basic concepts of getting a tattoo — the real commitment required to go under the needle. Tattoo artist Rob Lambert of Angry Banana Tattoo Co. in North Syracuse, N.Y. refuses to offer Infinitink to customers. The absence of Infinitink bottles in his shop reflects his belief that this product is not the answer to uncertainty in tattooing. Either plan and commit or don’t do it at all.
But impermanent ink is hardly the only culprit. Television shows such as “Miami Ink,” “Inked,” and “L.A. Ink” brought tattoos to the living rooms of viewers nationwide. Now, we see sparrows tattooed on tee shirts, purses, shoes, and even polos. And now, tattooed vixen Kat Von D is considered “hot enough” to make Maxim’s 2008 “Hot 100.” Kat Von D’s image of inverted glamour attracts the public eye — men want women who can be beautiful but badass, and women who don’t want to be the girl-next-door find the contemporary tattooed lady appealing.
Kat’s own shop, television show, and limited edition makeup line project glamour onto a subculture that was anything but. And it doesn’t stop there. Camel caught tattoo fever, placing tattoo-inspired art on Camel Wide cigarette packs. Even Captain Morgan used “a little” ink to market Tattoo Rum. Tattoos are now a commodity to be purchased, used, and discarded at the consumer’s discretion.
The trendiness of tattoos is due largely to this commercialization, one of the ultimate pet peeves of many tattooed individuals. Clothing racks and accessory cases bulge with tattoo-inspired apparel — from affordable brands sold at Wal-Mart to brands such as Ed Hardy by Christian Audigier, Affliction, and Sailor Jerry. It’s possible for anyone to have a tattoo for a day.
Ironically, the higher-ticket items cost the same as a small tattoo and generous tip, like Betsey Johnson’s tattoo-printed bags or long sleeved shirts available for $165. Tattoo-based fashions convey the idea of “buying the lifestyle,” when in reality, a tattoo shop is hardly Abercrombie & Fitch. The lifestyle itself — the planning, commitment, and die-hard love of the ink — is not for sale.