So you want a tattoo. You have your eye on one of those impressive tribal armband tattoos. They are nice. But whatever tattoo you chose, you want it to compliment you. Not insult or demean you. Tattoos are as old as mankind. Ancient Egyptian tattoos found on 5,000 year old mummies predate the pyramids. But ancient tattoos weren’t just for adornment or self expression like today. They often served more practical purposes. They often had a spiritual significance, ancient warriors used them to declare their military affiliation and rank. On civilians tattoos denoted social rank and importance, or lack of same. For example, the Greeks placed tattoos on their slaves that broadcast the fact that the bearer should not be accorded the rights of a freeman and was in fact another person’s property. While Greek spies used tattoos in espionage to smuggle coded messages in plain sight.
This tradition of practical tattoo use survives to this day in gangster culture. Gangsters desire to permanently mark themselves to show absolute devotion to their gangster family, and hopefully to strike fear in their enemies. Even though the gang-bangers know police find tattoos better than fingerprints, and unsurpassed for identifying them in a noninvasive manner at a distance. And despite the fact that wearing one gang’s tattoo in another gang’s territory could get the wearer killed. Again, traditionally tattoos can show devotion.
But how would you like to pick out a striking tattoo design, commit it to ink as your “forever statement”, and only then find out it that it holds you up to ridicule, or is gang related and exposes you to sudden death?
For example, one of the most popular guys at my gym is a black guy I’ll call “Pete.” His nickname is “Lucky.” Lots of us have tattoos and so when Pete announced he was taking the plunge we congratulated him. Tribal armbands are very popular in our crowd and he showed a marked interest so we assumed that would be his choice. But the personal choice involved in the tattoo selection is part of the allure so we made suggestions but didn’t interfere or press him on his choice.
We should have.
No, I take that back. With personal choice comes personal responsibility, and Pete choose to do no research. Nor did he elect to ask satisfied tattoo recipients for recommendations of a skilled, responsible professional tattoo artist though he was surrounded by satisfied, and experienced tattoo customers. Both of these are vital prerequisites to getting a tattoo. No, Pete chose an “artist” who had set up shop in a booth at a local carnival and Pete caught him on the carnival’s last night in town. You can tell where this is going. Pete proudly informed us the new tattoos on his biceps said “Lucky.” in Chinese. He knew that’s what the Chinese characters said because that’s what he asked the artist to draw, and so he was wearing them now in ‘forever ink.’ It fell to one of our number, a PhD in Mandarin Chinese studies to break the news. The tattoos actually said “Monkey.”
The carnival was long gone. But it left a really nice guy feeling like a clown.
Even if the “artist” who took advantage of our friend was still available, and repentant, there is little he could have done to fix the problem. Some people will have a tattoo artist tattoo over an objectionable tattoo. Possibly blotting it out, (often producing a real mess), Or obliterating it by making it part of another bigger unobjectionable tattoo.
Depending upon the artist’s skill level this could simply produce a well-intentioned mess. But Pete could go to a doctor who specializes in removing tattoos with chemicals or lasers, which is usually painful and always expensive, quite often requiring several treatments. That is much more expensive than the tattoo, and still not always effective. That’s about all you can do about a bad tattoo, but then the commitment and permanence involved in tattoos is part of the allure for most, making those prerequisites I gave you earlier, of over riding importance.
Tattoos were once frowned upon by polite society, and seen as a designation of the lower classes. They could keep you from being hired for many desirable jobs, which is still the case often today. Be aware your employer may require you as a matter of policy, to remove or cover a new tattoo. But attitudes are changing. Many trendy Hollywood and sports stars proudly sport their “tats.”
So if you want a tribal tattoo do your prerequisite homework. Then decide on a tribal style; Celtic, Aztec-Mexican, Polynesian or what have you. Take your time and try to see samples of everything available before you make a decision. You can see tattoo designs online, in books, and e zines. Remember to avoid another common pitfall, that is that most newbies choose one of the first designs they see.