There’s a piece by Bidisha circulating on Facebook. In it she complains about tattoos. ‘Nearly all world cultures have had tattoos,’ she writes. ‘They represent adulthood rites, warrior marks, artistry and beauty, tribal identification, victories won, journeys undertaken. They have represented both belonging and marginality; individuals on the edge, pillaging, hustling, grifting.’ Now? Now everyone’s got them. Footballers. Vulgar people who smoke tobacco out of roll bags. Tattoos is over. Because The Guardian said so.
There are two literary clichés about tattoos. 1) People get drunk and get tattoos which they later regret. 2) People get tattoos of Japanese characters that turn out – arf! – not to mean what the people think the characters mean. This article is in fact a study in cliché. It is contained within the Guardian cliché subgenre of ‘This popular thing, that you thought was cool, is actually stupid and/or evil and this is why.’ There is yet another cliché – the cartoon of future nursing-home residents comparing ill-advised body art. Says Bidisha: ‘My generation will be at the NHS at 80 getting our gammy legs seen to while doctors try to find a vein under the faded, stretched, misshapen detritus of our unartistic body art; a postmodern mash-up of badly translated Chinese words, bungled Latin quotes, dolphins, roses, anchors, faces of favoured children or pets, and Japanese wallpaper designs.’
Oh I don’t know. I think my generation will have problems enough in fifty years without fretting over a badly dated anklet. God knows what the world will be like by then. And really, if a permanently painted area of your skin surface is your biggest regret, you’ve done pretty well (or badly, if you look at it another way). It could be that what you want now won’t be what you want in ten years. But have we not demonstrated that the fantasy of the perfect body is like the fantasy of the perfect society – a lie, a glammer, something destructive. Who leaves a beautiful corpse these days? Who survives a world of UV rays, dust particles, sharp edges, long hours and junk food? Learn to love one’s imperfections. Particularly the self-inflicted ones.
‘Our bodies are coinage,’ said the poet Stephen Dobyns. ‘Spend it. Fling the coins upward, hear them jangle on the street.’
‘It took fourteen hours! I fainted three times’