Richard Cohen asks why people get tattoos (which 40% of 26-40 year olds have) and, after showing how styles and commitments keep changing, poses a theory and an application:
I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes — including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its “look at me!” tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising.
The permanence of the moment — the conviction that now is forever — explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future.
Is that it, that tattoos reflect “the permanence of the moment,” or the attempt to make the moment permanent? I suspect that among the readers here, some of you fall within the tattooed 40%. I am curious about what the attraction is to having your body all carved up with needles to make a picture on your body. I’m not criticizing you. I’d just like to know the meaning of tattoos.