Sunday Queries: Tattoo You
Does anyone know when, why, and how tattoos became a necessary cultural signifier among a certain set of 20 and 30 somethings? Sometimes people going into their 40s. This cohort can be roughly described as hipster to varying degrees and tends to live in major metropolitan areas but not always. Bourgeois-Bohemians in many ways. Sometimes just bohemians/
There are days when it feels like I will be the last person in my age and culture cohort in San Francisco-Brooklyn who does not have a tattoo and has no desire to get a tattoo. I seem to see and hear about a million tattoos in San Francisco and conversations about getting inked or needing more ink.
I admit that tattoos is one area where my cultural and ethnic Judaism kicks into overdrive at least for my own body. There is a commandant in Leviticus that prohibited mutilating the flesh. This has traditionally been seen as a prohibition against tattooing. Perhaps it is because the Romans tattooed their soldiers and Jews took up against tattooing to mark themselves as non-Romans. Of course, Jews and many other people were tattooed by the Nazis for identification purposes in the death and concentration camps during WWII. In my mind it would be an insult to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust to get tattoos as a Jewish person.
I might be a minority thought about this. My hometown is a heavily Jewish suburb of NYC. A few years ago I was home visiting and picking up some Pizza. I saw a young guy showing off his big Star of David tattoo and he was telling his friends that he was “reclaiming” tattoos from the Nazis. My only thought was “how can you reclaim something if it was never part of your culture to begin with?”
So tattoos were not that common if present at all as part of my youth. I don’t remember anyone being tattooed in college either (1998-2002). Sometime in the mid to late aughts I just began seeing lots of people around my age with lots of tattoos and this seems to be a trend with no sign of abating or ending. What caused the sudden surge of tattooing? Is it Dita von Tease? Because it somewhat feels connected to the whole neo-burlesque, neo-rockabilly, neo-mountain man section of hipstersdom.