Frank J. Batavick | Columnist
Back in the late 1970s when I was working at Maryland Public TV, an instructional TV producer was taping a math series for middle schools. He had the scriptwriter compose a rap song for one of the programs to teach the process of multiplication. When classroom teachers were asked to critique this program before its broadcast, they expressed concern about the use of rap, worrying that it was a fad that would soon date the series.
Almost forty years later, the top ten songs of the week still feature rap artists and “Straight Outta Compton,” a biopic about the late 80s rap group N.W.A., was one of last year's highest grossing movies at over $160 million and counting. So rap was certainly no fad and is now well implanted in our culture.
I guess the same can be said for tattoos. For the past two decades I have been patiently waiting for this cultural phenomenon to burn out, but today it is stronger than ever. An April 2015 Pew Research Center survey on tattoos revealed that 36% of adults from ages eighteen to twenty-five have at least one tattoo. The figure climbs to 40% for adults twenty-six to forty.
The estimated 21,000 tattoo parlors in the U.S. rake in an astounding $1,650,500,000 a year. (That’s no typo. It’s well over a billion dollars.) It all adds up. The average cost of a small tattoo is about $45, and an elaborate, arm and back-filling, mythological-themed, in living color illustration runs an average of $150 an hour—no small change. Not to be petty, but you have to wonder how some of our local street people can afford their pricey skin art.
And what’s the motivation for getting a tat? Twenty-nine per cent do so because it makes them feel rebellious, 31% say it makes them feel sexier, and 43% think that getting a tat with “a personal meaning is the most important factor.”
When I was a kid, tattoos were the province of the sailor and the soldier returning from foreign duty. They were usually bestowed after a night of drinking with your comrades, and there were many stories of guys waking up the next morning surprised at their new embellishments. The themes back then were pretty simple— anchors, eagles, U.S. flags, hearts, a woman’s figure with a girl friend’s name, and, of course, the ubiquitous “MOM.” Today virtually any image can be requested, from movie stars to elaborate 19th century Japanese prints, and the quality of the draftsmanship and ink is exceeding high. In our challenging economy, there are probably more than a few art school grads thankfully wielding the needle.
As may be apparent, I am not a big fan of tattoos, but have come to accept such adornments as wristlets, ankle tats, and even the above-the-buttocks tramp stamps. I know of a young couple who had wedding bands tattooed on their ring fingers in place of the gold metal variety and I find that charming. I draw the line at anything that defaces a person and that, I fear, they will be sorry for when middle age sets in, if not before. Sleeve tattoos (those that cover the arm like a long-sleeved shirt) and face tattoos fall into this category, as do full body tattoos that rival a carnival sideshow attraction. I’ve observed a few women with tats that march up their arms and land on their faces, encircling an eye. I consider these a grave mistake in judgment that they will someday regret and/or have to pay a small fortune to have removed.
Here’s an idea: What if patrons could choose an ink that slowly fades over the years? This innovation would help avoid eventual embarrassment and ensure that the Mount Fuji above one’s navel doesn’t morph into a diorama of the Grand Tetons over time.
I am not always a Bible literalist, but I do think it interesting that there are those in society who rail against same-sex marriage because of Leviticus 18:22, but offer no objection to tattoos despite what Leviticus 19:28 proscribes (“Do not… put tattoo marks on yourselves.”) That sounds pretty clear to me.
None of my three kids has tattoos, but I should steel myself for what my six grandkids may do when they come of age. I just hope they realize that sometimes beauty really is skin deep.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.
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