Go read this article about tattoos and youth culture.
Overall, author Paul Robertson ends on a positive note:
Next time you see a young person with a tattoo, why not ask them to share the story behind it? You might be amazed at what you hear… and be better off for it.
Now back to the beginning. There were a couple fundamentalist red flags that went up as I was reading it the first time.
Every generation has had a mark that distinguished it from previous cohorts. […] So what is left to make this generation unique when they are looked back on by history? They will be the generation remembered for creating the most personal form of media there is-a permanent story painted on young bodies.
What? Creating? I can’t believe he just said that. Popularizing? Maybe. Creating? C’mon…
And the abundance of tattooing will be this generation’s primary distinguishing characteristic? No doubt it’s on the rise, but is it the defining trend among today’s youth? I sense that what’s going on is that Robertson knows that it’s vital for the older generation to meet the youth where they’re at, and that’s why he recommends trying to engage the stories behind the tattoos. But he has a little bit of reactionary thought that creeps through. The author writes the article with the tone of one who has come (is coming) around, as one who maybe wasn’t quite so tattoo-tolerant in the past. So it would make sense, and it’s forgivable, that a little bit of that reactionist past pokes through.
Many of today’s youth will look back on this decade and remember it, not with fondness, but hesitation as they recall their struggles to simply survive. They will remember words such as divorce, separation, fatherlessness, abandonment, abuse and blended families. In many ways they are a generation who lost their most special place in that thing called family.
“Struggles to simply survive” … makes high school sound almost post-apocalyptic. It’s true that the family unit has diminished in value, and that such a change no doubt affects the quality of life for today’s youth. But is it a survival situation? I don’t know. Again, did maybe a little overstatement sneak in?
Is Robertson’s exploration of reasons for getting tattoos a little narrow? He names these:
Young people get body art for many reasons. Some do it because they want to fit in, while others succumb to peer pressure. Many are a testimony to the power of media to influence our choices. For some, it is a mark of shock and rebellion, while tattoos make others feel sexier. Some simply see tattoos as works of fine art to adorn their human canvas.
The media? How does the media influence us to get tattoos? Sure, I can’t think of an instance where they’re portrayed negatively, but I’m also unaware of intentionally pro-tattoo messages in the media.
Anyway, back to the other reasons. The ones Robertson lists are tied to some sort of sadness or emptiness. The forgetting of Christ’s unconditional acceptance, that weakens us to the forces of peer pressure; the neglect from loved/admired ones, that leads to a craving for shock value and to rebellion; the falsely perceived need to feel sexier; a view of creation as something dull that isn’t intrinsically beautiful. I won’t deny that people do really feel these emotions, and that they’re perfectly valid reasons for getting a tattoo, when you take God out of the picture. We do live in a fallen world, and things like this are bound to happen. I guess I’m sensing that the author feels that tattoos are only ultimately birthed from our struggles as a sinful people in a fallen world. The 3 stories Robertson gives reflect this reasoning too: fathers that weren’t there for their kids, disowning and regretful mothers, ruined friendships, cancer’s ravaging of a family member, devastating injury, sexual abuse, etc. But what about those of us with tattoos for whom God is very much still in the picture?
I believe that the theologically conservative (or fundamentalist or traditional evangelical) view doesn’t look favorably on tattoos because of an assumption that tattoos are essentially birthed in sin.
Well, Robertson is forgetting something: Celebration!
Celebration is a legitimate –dare I say “superior”– reason for getting a tattoo. It marks a milestone.
Far from sin, my tattoo is birthed in a sacrament. Anina and I got matching ones on our Maui honeymoon. The significance of the grinning Tiki statue is multi-layered. Obviously, it’s a reminder of our honeymoon, the joyous first few steps away from the starting line and into the lifelong marathon called marriage. Tiki-dude is also a reminder of a big part of the pathos of our marriage. The Hawaiians really do know how to live. If you “live aloha,” your life is slow… content… easygoing… flexible… fun-loving… spiritual.
So I was disappointed the author didn’t acknowledge positive reasons for getting tattoos. Was it an honest omission? Or does the article at best reflect the views of someone who never really left the old school, of someone who still doesn’t agree with getting tattoos but at least realizes the importance of appear accepting of those that do have them? We may never know…