Recently I went to the doctor’s office for a check-up. As the nurse wrapped the blood pressure cuff on my arm, I noticed she had some kind of tattoo on the inside of her right wrist. It appeared to fall onto the tasteful end of the broad spectrum of tattoos, but still it was jangling and discordant — like hearing a hockey player speak with a British accent or meeting an accountant who snapped his gum and had his hair fashioned into spikes.
Body art is one of the most ancient forms of human expression and individuality. Different human cultures have often featured tattoo art, piercings, and other forms of ritual interference with normal body appearance — like using rings to stretch necks or wrapping female feet to keep them appropriately dainty (and crippled). But as civilization moved forward, extensive tattoos were relegated to harpoon throwers and sideshow attractions.
It’s odd that such practices have had a seeming resurgence in modern times. I suppose I can appreciate the impulse to get a tattoo that attests your devotion to a particular individual or branch of the military, but I can’t understand what would motivate 21st-century Americans to cover their bodies with writhing snakes, angry eagles, barbed wires, and skulls, or put a bolt in their nose, a ball through their tongue, or a ring or chain through other tender body parts.
When I see people with ornate body art I wonder what deep back story might be at play that would cause them to endure the countless painful needle pricks, skin cutting, and other forms of self-mutilation needed to produce their current appearance. They seem to be making a sad cry for attention that they would not receive otherwise — and I confess that I draw inferences about their neediness, their judgment, and their impulsiveness.
Elaborate tattoos and nose studs might be fine on NBA players, punk rockers, and unisex hair salon workers, but I don’t think I’d vote for a presidential candidate with an ear ring and face tattoo.