Rolling Circle Press

Mill Valley, California

Art or insignia?

  • Published on May 09, 2014.
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Me get a tat? No way.

Wait, I take that back. Suppose I went on a drunk and woke up in a whorehouse with “Death Before Dishonor” spangled across my chest and only a dim memory of what transpired before. Then OK, maybe. Because I gave myself to a wild Dionysian impulse and let the devil take the consequences! At least the impulse was genuine, even if completely idiotic.

But as a program contrived to self-consciously make a personality statement, no. Expressionist black spikes on calves and shoulders, or Yakuza-style Koi carp and Kabuki heroes with threatening eyebrows, or rising sun rays radiating from around a nipple, or the Oriental script trailing down the back of the neck that makes the waiter in the Chinese restaurant burst out laughing? No again.

In contrast consider pandillero gang iconography – eyeballs tattooed on the eyelids like the Argus monster of antiquity, the dark-eyed babe in a strapless dress on his deltoid (she’s still waiting for him on the outside, if only in his imagination), the teardrops on the cheek, the “MS-13” in huge Old English script like diploma lettering on his pectoral. These are not the mannerist fashion statements of a first-world metrosexual. No, they are a desperate assertion of group identity, a brand without which the tattooed one’s survival is at risk. Not body art. Insignia.