Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Skin Graffiti

It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen up to that point in my life. National Geographic magazine showed people in Africa and Asia stretching out their lips and ear lobes by inserting larger and larger wooden disks into slits they’d cut into their own flesh. They believed the mutilation made them attractive and that astonished me. I couldn’t believe people would do that to themselves on purpose, but there they were.

How could they talk with those big disks in their lips, I wondered. As for the long loops in their ear lobes, I wondered if they every got them snagged while walking through thick jungle. That would hurt. So, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed some American guys at the Lovell dump last summer with stretched-out ear lobes just like I’d seen as a kid. It’s been fifty years since I read those National Geographics, but I never thought I’d see Americans doing that to themselves. If I ever did though, I’d expect I’d see them in Portland or Boston, but in Lovell, Maine? I didn’t know the guys, and maybe they were just visiting. I hope so.

So what does it mean when Americans mutilate their faces? Is it a sign of cultural devolution? The decline of western civilization? Or, am I just a right-wing bigot who refuses to celebrate diversity? I’ve been having trouble with this sort of thing ever since men started wearing ear rings, and that was when? Thirty or forty years ago? I’ve gotten used to ear rings on men since but it took a while. When I first saw them, I figured a man with an ear ring was announcing his homosexuality. Then someone gave me a slogan to help me understand: “Left is right and right is wrong,” it went, meaning if the ear ring were in the left ear the guy was straight. I pondered that, but I figured I’d just avoid all men with ear rings no matter what side they were on. To me they announced: “I’m confused.” Now I can accept that some otherwise-normal men wear ear rings. I can deal with them the same way I would if, say, they had an Obama sticker or Kerry/Edwards sticker on their car. I see them as misguided, but maybe not completely hopeless.

I suppose I should apply the same magnanimity to people who pierce themselves in their lips, tongues, nipples and other more intimate parts of their bodies which, hopefully, I’ll never see, but I can’t. For the time being, I shall continue to avoid those people. Maybe I’ll change my mind some day, but I doubt it. One thing about piercings: they can heal up. People do strange things when they’re young and foolish that they grow out of when they mature. Heck, I was a Democrat once. Stop sticking metal into your body and the holes will close.

Some people like getting tattooed when they’re young. “Tattoos are permanent proof of temporary insanity,” someone said once and that still makes sense to me. Another said, “Why would you put something in your skin that you wouldn’t hang on your wall?” I guess tattoos are not permanent anymore, but I’m told it costs a lot of money and some pain to remove them with lasers. Some of my father’s WWII friends had gotten tattoos overseas. It was the mid to late 1950s when I was old enough to notice and ask the men why they had done that to themselves. None were proud of them. All said they did it when they were drunk.

It was in National Geographic again that I first saw facial tattoos on Maori tribesmen in New Zealand. I’d gotten used to seeing them on the arms of my father’s veteran friends, but the facial ones threw me. I wondered why anyone would do that to himself. It wasn’t until I was visiting someone in jail that I saw facial tattoos on Americans, and I guess they’re getting fairly common in prisons. They’re off-putting to the observer and I guess that’s the point. On convicts and violent gang members, they’re definitely signs of civilizational decline.

If the tattooed don’t die young, they grow older of course. Many grow horizontally after a certain age and that distorts their tattoos. Can’t say I ever saw one I thought was attractive, but the tattooed obviously thought so when they stayed still while someone else stuck needles into them repeatedly. Tattoos get fat and wrinkly along with the rest of their bodies. After so many years, they’re just faded skin graffiti that somehow diminish the dignity of old age.


Nathan said...

Tom, you sound like a crotchety old man who will next be yelling "Get off my lawn, you darn kids!" You see someone doing something you can't comprehend and automatically assume there's something wrong with the person. I don't understand tattoos and piercings either (for the record I have neither), but I have no problem with people getting them. There are people who in my opinion go too far, but I don't see it as a sign of the downfall of our society.

Anonymous said...

I hate tattoos! I am a born again Christian and my body is the temple of the holy Spirit. I should never desecrate that body. I have met several born again Christians who got tattoos before they accepted Christ as their Savior and they sorely regret it because of the image it presents to others. Just go to the food court of a mall and see the desecrated bodies.

Nathan Pitts said...

Tom, As always you seem to write about something I have been thinking about. I too read those same National Geographic magazines and pondered the ignorance of those who did not inhabit the "civilized world" at that time.

My wife and I have discussed this often and have heard a lot of these folks say that they are "making a statement". What we have not figured out yet is just what this statement is saying. One possibly of course is: "Can you see how stupid I am being?"

Of course that is just an assumption on our part. Those jailbirds with those famous two-four-letter-words tattooed on their knuckles always have impressed us. At least the artist had learned how to spell to some extent!

We have concluded that, for most, it is a life long rejection of civilization as we know it. Mr Tyson, being not far removed from the animal world, judging by some things he has done in his life, is certainly proof.

Those who willingly seek ignorance, usually can't help but find it.


Anonymous said...

Well IF you are a born again Christian, you are certainly not showing a proper Christian attitude. Christians dont hate, they love and pray for those they think are doing wrong. If you believe your body is that holy why dont you walk around nude and show it off, it would seem hypocritical to do otherwise. Or you are just making a lot of noise claiming to be something you will never be. I really dont care but you should come up with somehing better than this.
I have no tatoos and my body has enough holes in it, This is my choice but I dont need to tell the world how wonderful I am because of it.
And to you HP, I love your closing line.

Eric said...

"I figured I’d just avoid all men with ear rings"

Good idea, god forbid one of them gets near you and gets their gay cooties on you....homophobe. lol

I'm not a fan of tattoos or body multilation either but I don't get all worked up about it. It is so commonplace nowadays that everybody and their mother have them. Cripes, even Sarah Palin has an ankle tattoo. It is getting to the point that it is radical for a 18-29 year to NOT have tattoos. "Whoa, dude, check it out...that guy's skin is completely inkless....what a freak!"

And what about other widespread body mutilation like boob jobs and nose jobs and siliconed lips, etc. The decline of civilization? People have ALWAYS been doing body multilation, so why is cultural deevolution NOW? Do you think these things out before typing statements like that?

"Is it a sign of cultural devolution? The decline of western civilization? Or, am I just a right-wing bigot who refuses to celebrate diversity?"

Well, if those are my only three choices I'd definitely say the answer is the last one.

Anyway, who cares? I gues some people are just way more uptight about the rest of the world thinking and acting like themselves.

Where is your libertarian spirit, Tom?

Anonymous said...

ONe comic had a sailor with Betty tattooed on his arm then striked out then Wilma, then that was striked out, then Amy, and so on...

As stated, I can't see the rational behind it. THings change but you can't in a sense

Anonymous said...

Tom, I always wondered why those pages on the National Geographic were stuck together. Another riddle of life answered.

I can just picture those Wanksta's working at MacDonalds and asking you at the drive up window; "Would you like to THupathize that order Thir"?

And Skippy, Yah you, the one who attacks anyone who is Christian, He/she was not saying he/she hates "People" with Tattoos. The phrase was; "I hate Tattoos". Let me give another example;
I hate Liberal attacks on innocents who express their own opinion without attacking the "Person". But I don't Hate that Person who does such an Ignorant thing, even though I'm of the opinion that it exposes their ass.

Now do you understand? People have the right to do such things and I have the right to laugh at it and express an opinion on it. And you have the right to not invite me to your "Holiday Tree Party". Here's your sign!

Name withheld for fear of being put on the Obamma watch list.

Tom McLaughlin said...

There seems to be a correlation between skin graffiti and the kind we see on buildings. When I'm in a strange city and wander into a section with lots of graffiti on vertical surfaces, it's likely to become more dangerous. I would also smell urine, see trash strewn about, etc. Likewise, when I see people with lots of piercings and tattoos - especially the facial variety - I keep my distance.

Those pierced and tattooed people are free to celebrate their diversity of colors and metals, just as I'm free to avoid them and their neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

Tom, you did not say you avoid "people with lots of piercings and tattoos - especially the facial variety " you said you avoid "all men with ear rings".

Why make the lame attempt to sidestep your homophobeness? Who are you trying to kid?

Anonymous said...

It must hurt to have tattoos I don't like the thought of having needles in my skin.

Anonymous said...

It also must hurt to be a homophobe. I don't like having rocks in my head.

Brian said...

Tom is a HISTORY teacher?!?

One would think a history teacher actually do a little research on the HISTORY of tattoos before saying such things as:

"Is it a sign of cultural devolution?"


"they’re definitely signs of civilizational decline."

A little research would have shown him that tattoos have been a part of civilization for as long as history has been recorded. There is evidence of heavily tattoed people from ancient Egypt to the vikings and on and on. How Tom can state that something that has been around all this time is a sign of civilization decline is beyond me. It is like saying that clothes, or wine, or spears, etc are signs of civilizations decline. Coming from a history teacher....unreal. Our poor school children.

Anonymous said...

if you're a teacher at school, you should probably put in your two weeks asap.

you are nothing but a hypocritical republican who has a horribly narrow mind and hate for things you dont understand.

anyone claiming to be christian needs to go back and read the bible, i'm not a christian and i know that they are supposed to love everyone, funny thing being as im not christian... i still love everyone.

i even love your sorry soul, tom.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Gee, thanks.

Yeah. I'm a public school teacher and an out-of-the-closet conservative who thinks the left is not only crazy, but dangerous. I publish my opinions and I don't hide them from my students. Neither am I intimidated by leftist harpies who hurl the usual charges of racism, homophobia and bigotry in my direction.

It doesn't work anymore, harpies. You're the little boys who cried "Wolf!" Nobody takes you seriously. You have to try something else. How about rioting like your compatriots in the UK, France and Greece?

Must be hard to see your savior, President Obama, in such precipitous decline. Must be tough to lose so badly only two years after you thought you could take over the world. Tough to be a leftist with stale ideas, huh?

Anonymous said...

A little tattoo of your wifes initials in a heart or a some little earings on your ear are fine. But wouldn't a ring 3' in diameter hurt just a little? And why would you cover a perfectly fine face in satin black ink?

All I know is you won't be seeing me with one of those anytime soon.

Brian said...

Poor Tom. After getting charged with not researching the history of tattoos before making comments that make no sense when history is accounted for, what does he do? The usual...ignore the charges and attack "leftists".

I wonder how Tom would react to a student of his that did the same and turned in a history paper that flew in the face of historical facts only to start berating others when given an F.

Anonymous said...

"Must be hard to see your savior, President Obama, in such precipitous decline."

I know, it is kind of embarrassing that Obama's approval rating is only about 10 points higher than Messiah Bush when he left office. If he ever sinks as low as the Almighty Palin in approval ratings then the end is near...

Anonymous said...

Do you really think Tom is going to acknowledge his ignorance of history, be it tattoos, body multilation or anything else?

No, historical facts do not jive with his hyperbole about civilization's decline, but so what? That is the way of the extremists on the right, ignore conversations that contradict you and keep repeating the mantra until it is accepted as "fact".

And why not (if you have no scruples), it works. 10 years of tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy still leads to an economic breakdown? So what? Keep repeating that tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy are what is needed to fix the economy. What, it has been tried and failed? So what!

Keep up the mantra!

Jim said...

"10 years of tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy still leads to an economic breakdown"

President Bush signed 2 pieces of legislation regarding federal income tax rates that reduced tax rates for ALL tax payers.

1. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001

2. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003

A history of of federal tax rates:

Those who repeat the 'tax cuts for the rich' or 'tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy' mantra expose themselves as part of a misinformation campaign and/or ignorant of history.

Also, a reduction of federal income tax rates is not what lead to the "economic breakdown" that has occurred over the last few years. I suggest you study topics like the 'Housing Bubble,' 'Mortgage-backed Securities,' and 'Sub-prime lending.'

Anonymous said...

Economic History Shows Clearly that Tax Cuts for Rich Hurt the Economy

Right-wing politicians and pundits carry on repeatedly about how wrong it would be to raise taxes on the rich in a time of economic downturn. Wrong.

Just because you repeat something over and over doesn't make it true. In fact there is a body of empirical, historical evidence that proves clearly that tax cuts for the rich not only do nothing to spur economic growth - they actually do substantial damage to the prospects for economic growth.

First let's look at the proposition that high taxes on the wealthy stifle economic growth. In the last century, marginal tax rates on the rich were their highest during World War II - when the wealthy were called upon to help finance the war effort. During World War II, the tax bite on wealthy Americans was close to punitive (the highest bracket was 91%). But that didn't hurt the economy; far from it. By war's end, Americans were rolling in cash. The average weekly pay rose 83% between 1940 and 1945. Many families had their first discretionary income.

In fact, this period - and the expansionary fiscal policy that helped finance the war - led to the longest sustained period of growth in American history and created the American middle class.
Or we can turn to the tax policy of the Clinton Administration. In 1993, President Bill Clinton proposed a budget that raised taxes on the rich. Republicans predicted that its passage would lead to economic doom. They argued that the Clinton tax increase on the rich would lead to economic stagnation and unemployment. Instead, of course, the Clinton Administration created 22.5 million jobs, of which 20.7 million - or 92% -- were in the private sector. His economic policy eliminated the Federal deficit and left his successor - George Bush - with budget surpluses projected as far as the eye could see.

So history tells us pretty clearly that increased taxes for the rich don't hinder economic growth. Now let's look at historical evidence that the opposite proposition is true - whether tax cuts for the rich actually promote economic growth.

To see the fallacy in that argument all you have to do is go back to the Bush Administration. For eight years, George Bush and the Republicans lowered taxes for the wealthy and cut back the regulation of big corporations and Wall Street - all based on the premise that these two policies would benefit the economy.

The results are there for everyone to see.

Robert Creamer

Anonymous said...

Tom must love it when we get off topic from his historical ignorance.

GBA said...

The next time you copy and paste an article advocating the absurd premise that high taxes lead to economic growth try to avoid using those written by Democrat strategists like Robert Creamer.  Robert Creamer is ultra-leftist ideologue and a convicted felon.  His expertise is certainly not economics but rather pushing his leftist agenda.  

"Creamer, 58, a prominent Chicago political consultant, was accused of swindling nine financial institutions of at least $2.3 million while he ran a public interest group in the 1990s."

Creamer pleaded guilty to one count each of bank fraud and failure to collect withholding tax. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped several other counts.  

His lawyer, Theodore Poulos, said he hopes Creamer can avoid prison and serve whatever sentence he receives in a halfway house or under house arrest."

Anonymous said...

GBA - try saying what is wrong with the facts in the column instead of attacking the message. What, you can't do that? Oh, I get it.

Anonymous said..., attacking the MESSENGER is what that should have said.

GBA said...

To the anon who gets his economic info from a Democrat lobbyist and convicted felon, I'd be happy to refute your asinine article. 

"Economic History Shows Clearly that Tax Cuts for Rich Hurt the Economy" is the premise of ex-con Robert Creamer's article.  This is simply not true.  Here are a few excerpts from an actual economist which refute your ex-con's premise.  

The following is from Daniel Mitchell who holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. (source:

The Historical Lessons of Lower Tax Rates

There is a distinct pattern throughout American history: When tax rates are reduced, the economy's growth rate improves and living standards increase. Good tax policy has a number of interesting side effects. For instance, history tells us that tax revenues grow and "rich" taxpayers pay more tax when marginal tax rates are slashed. This means lower income citizens bear a lower share of the tax burden - a consequence that should lead class-warfare politicians to support lower tax rates.

Conversely, periods of higher tax rates are associated with sub par economic performance and stagnant tax revenues. In other words, when politicians attempt to "soak the rich," the rest of us take a bath.

-Across-the-board tax rate reductions in the 1920s reduced the top rate from 71 percent to 24 percent. The economy boomed, growing by 59 percent between 1921 and 1929.

-In 1930, Herbert Hoover raised tax rates from 25 percent to a maximum of 63 percent, and Franklin Roosevelt boosted them to 79 percent later in the decade. The 1930s, to put it mildly, are not remembered as one of the American economy's better decades.2

-Across-the-board tax rate reductions introduced by President John F. Kennedy reduced the top rate from 91 percent to 70 percent. These lower rates, along with substantially lower taxes on savings and investment, are associated with the longest economic expansion in American history.

-The Johnson surtax, enacted in 1968 during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, combined with the inflation-induced bracket creep of the 1970s (subjecting taxpayers to higher rates even though their real incomes had not changed), resulted in a decade of stagflation.

-Reagan's across-the-board tax cuts ushered in America's longest peacetime expansion, helping to create 20 million new jobs and pushing incomes and living standards to record highs.

-The tax rate increases imposed under George Bush(41) and Bill Clinton, as outlined below, are associated with the slowest growing economy in 50 years and a decline of more than $2,000 in the average family's income.

Anonymous said...

GBA, I think it would do you good to investigate further instead of latching onto one column that is twisted to your liking. Here is one for you to check out:

Your column dealt with taz cuts across the board as what I am talking about is tax rates for the filthy rich.

Tell me - how did Bush's tax cuts for the rich work out?

Anonymous said...

I didn't imply the cuts were for the ultra rich only. But the fact remains that Bush DID cut taxes for them (and everybody else too, but that is beside the point).

So, back to the question...the ultra rich got the tax cuts that are supposed to boost the'd that work out?

Why was the economy fine during the era of 91% taxes for the rich?

Also, one might think that the richest people in the country know a little something about money. I wonder why the two richest (Buffet and Gates) think we'd be better off if they didn't get the tax cuts.

And no matter how happily you tried, nothing that you pasted refuted the facts of Cramer's article in the least.

Anonymous said...

This can be argued for ever but there is no indisputable evidence either way. There are always other factors on an economy (the fed acting to curb inflation under reagan, booms, wars, etc, etc).

Anyway, this thread is supposed to be about tattoos.

Anonymous said...

Wow lol reading this honestly made me laugh.and being in this little situation i was in made me laugh.
I stumbled accross this when i was looking up pictures of rejections of like piercings and such because im about to get A HIP PIERCING(: and i saw a picture and was like wow, and i saw more pictures and then i ended up reading this..."attempt" of a blog.
Yeah, ill give you kudos for saying your opinion, but seriously tom, your a history teacher, before you say anything, you need to look up the history of tattoos and piercings. and if you havnt noticed, back in the day, men did wear earrings, waaay before they became popular these days, and you have it wrong apparently about men having their ears pierced, stop sterotyping for one, When punk was around, they had their ears pierced, rappers and such had their ears pierced, normal every day men probably had their ears pierced too, but were they homosexual? no they werent. Ear piercings are a fashon to anyone, it doesnt matter if their gay or not.How old are you now? and your putting others in catagories?
Me, I gauge my ears, just to piss you off and get a rise out of you i could say that my ears are completely stretched out but theyre not. Im at a size 6 rightnow.Why do I gauge my ears? because its something that I like to do, its something everyone likes to do, we dont do it for attention or because theres something wrong with us. We do it because we like to do out of the ordinary things.and those pictures you have posted, those are people who arent like everyone else, i mean yeah they have the same piercings and what not but theyre all different, and why grab pictures of people with that size of a gauge? do you have something against people like that? or do you chose them so you can talk crap and be so negative about them.
havnt you ever heard, dont judge a book by its cover? well look at what your doing. I dont know how old you are or anything but this is stupid, your opinion is stupid. your a history teacher and yet you dont know the history of tattoos or piercings.

for Nathan Pitts, you and your wife are idiots. "making a statement" isnt anything to the world aymore. Everyone who says that has made their statement by trying to be like everyone else but yet have differences. we arent being stupid, its something that we like, and if you havnt noticed look at half of the people around you and see how many people have the balls to gauge and be out of the ordinary. I would LOVE to be your guys' daughter (:

and honestly if you all are getting butthurt about tattoos and stuff, you might as well stay in your homes because everyone has them these days.

You people need to broaden your horizons on things that people like and understand its something that people like

you all sound like my freaking grandma

Unknown said...

yes i am tattooed and pierced. 7 tatts and at one point 30 piercings. I'm now down to 10. 3 piercings are in my lip and 4 in my tongue. I could not disagree with you more, but I defend your right to say your opinion. Thank god this pierced freak that you would avoid has only been hit buy one roadside bomb, and survived multiple firefights. I am glad my piercings had no effect on my steady hand.

Matthew 7:1, "Judge not that ye be not judged."

rayne1988 said...

you sound boring, you probably dont have much of a life, seeing as your writing about peircings and tattoos on the internet when you yourself dont have any, i have my ears stretched and 2 facial peircings and 9 tattoos so i was reading online about them but maybe if you dont have any peircings or tattoos you shouldnt be posting because if you have no experience,..whatever you say is irrelivant anyways people will always be judgmental its just the way it is but reading this post made me laugh a bit ..mind your own buisness if you dont understand keep your opinions to yourself its not everyones elses fault that your brain hasnt progressed yet, maybe instead of waisting your time on here you should see a doctor,..or a shrink to help you better understand

Tsuchan said...

Tom, beware of applying fixed interpretations.

Piercings on a male does't mean somebody is gay. I kind of wish they did... it would be great to be able to immediately identify other gay guys. This right-ear/left-ear thing only holds true as long as it's universally followed. And these days it's almost universally ignored.

But I understand that you don't want to mix with people with piercings and tattoos, because what they really are is a cultural statement. "Crochety old men" (as Nathan's comment said) wouldn't want to mix with people who value diversity and freedom of expression; and vice versa. It's "birds of a feather", isn't it. (But to be sure, that doesn't mean you'll have to break all contacts with your grandson when he gets his lip stretched and face tattooed... society works much better with a level of mutual respect.

About tattoos being "temporary insanity"... I'm sure that's often true: in the past many tattoos have had regretful owners. But there are so many of us who will never regret tattoos - it's part of who we are. Call it "permanent insanity" if you like. (^_^)

You said that tattoos become distorted with age, and that tattoos destroy the dignity of old age. I would say that bodies become distorted with old age, it's only your preference that says that it's only dignified to have wrinkly old skin when it doesn't have wrinkly old ink on it.

My regret would be immense if I reached old age knowing that I'd missed all my chances to live my life with permanent ink and piercings. Some men my live their life with a short-back-and-sides haircut and look back with no regret, while others will bitterly regret not living their hairstyle dreams before baldness sets in and the opportunity is lost forever. We're all different.

By the way, I must have been about 4 years old when I happened to see a programme on my grandparents' black and white TV equivalent to your national geographic experience. Tribal men in a far-off land were sticking skewers through their face. The same thing that horrified you, captivated me. It was like the revelation of what I knew I loved. Oh, so many years before body piercing was "invented" and I could do it myself. And I had to do it at any cost to friendships, career prospects, life itself. What I want to say is just ... we're all made differently.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Tom.

I'm sure you know that there are more things to worry about than how people choose to look.
It's not for you, which is completely understandable. I don't have any tattoos either, just several ear piercings. Am I rejecting society? hardly. It's simply an aesthetic appeal.
Civilization is really different to everyone. There are many different types too (I recommend "Civilization and its Discontents" by Freud, you should learn more about civilization before you say people are trying to reject it)
Honestly, people follow the beat of their own drum. Some dress to impress, some dress to scare and intimidate. What would you say about us goths with our black outfits? It says nothing about who we are, except that we are honest with ourselves and what we like, and not conforming to societies standards. If you like the way something looks, you can't help it.
Civilizations thousands of years ago had piercings for aesthetic purposes, as well as a form of defense. The more intimidating you looked, the less likely the other side would mess with you.
I find it's really important to be able to understand where everyone comes from, in order to truly make an intelligent comment. What's the point behind angering many people just for what they look like? There are other ways on getting out your opinion so people better understand you and not want to beat you down with a piercing/tattoo gun. A little eloquence wouldn't hurt either.
It's okay if you are very conservative, and there isn't a problem with you stating your opinion and expressing yourself; however when it crosses the line from a harmless debate with ACTUAL facts, and starts offending people, you then have to accept the consequences.
But then again, you could have tried that and taking Machiavelli's words of wisdom, simply just made people fear you instead. MMMmmm... nope... wrong quote. Fear is different than discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Nice article you cuntrag