Thinking About Tattoos

Back in 1989, when the Re/Search book Modern Primitives appeared, I was living in Seattle and saw the ripples it caused. Within a few very short years people who weren’t ex-cons, ex-service or gang members were wearing barbed wire and Celtic design tattoo bands around biceps and calves, and a healthy smattering of California’s finest tattoo artists had set up shop in the Emerald City.

Nowadays I’m back in England and until last week I worked a few hours a week in a corner shop. Both there and in supermarkets- everywhere, in fact – I’ve been quite amazed at the number of men of all ages with tattoos. There was a customer in his 20s, with a shaved head and menacing manner, with a scorpion on the side of his skull and a teardrop under his eye (and yes, I know what the latter is meant to signify). So many with tattoos on their necks. Women with them inside their forearms, on their backs, feet.

The speculation in the 90s, as the percentage of tattoos among white folk shot up, was that it was a need to belong, to feel part of a tribe. That was 20 years ago and tattoos are now more prevalent than ever, certainly in England. Is that sense of identity so lacking that the need to tattoos has become much greater? Does this explain the fact that so many EDL members seem to be tattooed in pictures (they all also seem to have shaved heads, but that’s another topic), this urge to belong?

Modern Primitives dealt not only with tattoos but also piercings, although (in England, anyway) the fad for them has passed.  That seems strange, given how widespread they became. But why do tattoos remain so vital? I do genuinely want ideas and opinions. If you have a tat, why did you get it? Do you want more? What do you think is the reason so many have/desire them?