Tats: Journey from Sub-Culture to Pop-Culture

Tattoos have existed to adorn not only ourselves and our past, but they are sure to put a mark on our future. The notion of decorating one’s skin permanently has taken own its own life-force and infiltrated popular culture, asserting itself as an influence all its own. Whether people are using tattoos to express personal spiritual beliefs, rock icons, or tribal identities, there is no doubt that the mere act of placing ink just below the surface of the skin has affected the way we view ourselves as individuals and as a collective. The most familiar place for the majority of people today to begin looking at the roots of tattoos would be men in the service of their country. At times when the majority of populations had a more conservative outlook on life regarding sexuality, religion, politics, and personal expression in general, tattoos had made headway in the hands of service men going off to wars and protecting their country. Tattoos first emerged in wide numbers as military and navy people alike were getting tattoos, typically somewhere on the upper arm, to mark the division or infantry that they served under. While this type of marking did not exist as a type of personal expression per se, it did begin to pave the way for tattoos to be something that represented personal identity.

As we know them today, this element is what has contributed to the popularity of tattoos in mainstream culture as individualism became of greater and greater concern. However, the tattoo stretches its arms back further than this. Tribal cultures across the globe used permanent markings on their skin to identify the region from which they originated, the tribe they belonged to, or even for ceremonial purposes. Unlike the more sterile and modern methods that we use today to create tattoos, these people were using a form of sharpened reeds dipped into hand-made inks. We see the influence of this type of methodology today among prison populations where access to proper equipment is simply not possible. Tattoos also have their influence in less permanent measures, informing the designs of Henna patterns that are used in far Eastern cultures in association with their religion. This idea gained popularity quickly and made its way westward for those individuals who just cannot bring themselves to put something so permanent on their body. Today we see images in tattoos that reflect cultural icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, or many other movie stars and musicians. We also still see religious imagery as well as patterns and text influenced by ancient cultures.

So all in all, tattoos have not strayed all that far from their roots. People are also still using tattoos as a way to identify themselves with certain sub-cultures, or those that have not gained mainstream appeal. These can vary and tap into wide bases such as indie-rock, punk-rock, hipsters, or steam punk. However you can see trends among the imagery, placement of tattoos, such as sleeves (those tattoos that completely cover the arm) and even the sheer number of tattoos. We are seeing tattoos being used for full body transformation. This implementation is certainly a symptom of more contemporary thoughts concerning the practice. Such use of tattoos has also elevated the practice to an art form in some cases, which has changed the type of imagery being used as well as the people that are giving the tattoos. There has been an influx of visual artists into the field that are shaping the future of tattoos. The art of tattoos has never been a stagnant one and there are sure to be changes in the future, as we as individuals change.