August 30, 2012

Tattoo Me: A Rumination on a Warrior Tradition

Lance Cpl. Uriel Avendano
Desert Warrior Staff

Warriors of a time past would tattoo themselves to mark a transitional period from childhood to adulthood. Some tribal tattoos were used as a means to denote rank or social status among the tribes. Literally, pride would be worn on one’s sleeve. A footprint of past conquests or a means of identifying one’s occupation, like headhunter or guard. Or divorcée.

Thousands of years later, we’re doing the same thing. Albeit, like everything Marine Corps, within regulations.

General rule of thumb: if someone can see your ink in physical training gear, check with your command on whether or not you’re good to go. Probably true of anything Marine Corps related – if you don’t know, ask.

But yea, tattoos. These days, you’re much more likely to find someone with ink than without. Tattoos have become as much a part of Americana as television.

I should have tattoos, grew up around people who got their first tattoo in the less-than-sterile, stick-n-poke fashion: under age, using a toothbrush, a walkman motor, a battery and guitar string with Bic ink from a broken ball point. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have a poorly drawn souvenir of my adolescence that I would now regret. But I don’t.

Everyone’s got a story behind their tattoos. I don’t really go out of my way to ask a stranger the play-by-play account and meaning behind theirs. For one, I think it’s a little forward. And two, it’s a little rude. At least that’s what growing up around Los Angeles taught me. If someone offers to share a bit of themselves with you, have at it. Otherwise, have some manners.

Over the years, I’ve grown to admire the work of artists like Guy Aitchison, Mr. Cartoon, Mark Mahoney, Nikko Hurtado, Grime, Noon: anything from the bio-mechanical to Dia de los Muertos to the straight up abstract. But I’ve never settled on going ahead with marking myself up.

I’ve  been thinking about it more and more recently. I can spare the change and I’ve got the time. What I don’t have is the idea.

Can’t say I have some deep, sentimental image in my head. I’m not interested in a dedication or in memorium piece. I’m not even sure on the size or how far I’d want to take it. Being in the Marine Corps, I keep the obvious regulations in mind. But, even still, I can’t really pin down what it is I want to get.

As much respect as I have for the heritage behind tribals, I’m just not into them. Good, nevermind great, photo realism is hard to find. Even still, I’d rather have a picture than risk it. There’s been some great work coming out of Japan, but I could never commit myself to something I can’t relate to. Particularly since I think Japanese stuff always looks better in large, out-of-regs scale. Script, in and of itself, wouldn’t cut it.

Opinions on tattoos vary like senses’ of humor. Tattoos are personal, with varying degrees of sentimentality. Some people couldn’t fathom getting anything but a deep meaning piece; others can manage to settle for a laugh. Ultimately, what makes a tattoo worth it solely depends on the person it’s on.

Tattoos, whether for kicks or style, have grown out of the angry teenager phase with America. They’re no longer at the forefront of what it means to be a pseudo-American Badass. Tattoos now encompass real personality.

Are they a reflection of a person? A significant reflection? I imagine you’d have to talk to the person to find out. Tattoos only say so much about a person. The extent of it, in most cases, being that the person was willing to commit to something. A post-birthmark, if you will.

As for me, at this point, I’m thinking something post-modern. Something Sailor Jerry and Quentin Tarantino would think up. What that is, I still don’t know.

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