Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

Ink Above the White Collar

by Will Wlizlo


Tags: tattoo, body modification, class, privilege, arts and culture, Good, Will Wlizlo,

necktatWhat happened to the days when only punks, criminals, gangsters, and sailors had tattoos? Now you can’t walk into a Culver’s without tripping over 17-year-olds with butterflies inked onto their ankles. Counterculture fought back and pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable body art: Extreme piercings and dermal modifications became more common—as did the once-outré neck, face, and hand tattoos.

Well, the tattoo may have gone mainstream years ago, but only recently has it become a signifier of privilege. “As ink spreads beyond the button-up,” observes Good’s Amanda Hess, “the visible tattoo has emerged as a new middle-class status symbol—a stamp for those rebellious (and privileged) enough to pull it off.”

Hess is referring, of course, to the perceived unemployability of someone with a tattoo anywhere not concealed by their business casual garb—for example, a skull-and-crossbones stamped on the side of their neck. But Hess explains that those who have ample job experience, who aren’t seeking entry-level experience, or who are among the creative class are less likely to miss out on job opportunities because of visible body art than young workers, service-sector employees, or minorities. “Ironically,” a software-industry sales consultant told Hess, “I reckon I’d have more problems getting a job in McDonald’s than doing what I do.”

In other words: Body modification is now a class issue.

Source: Good 

Image by kvangijsel, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

steve eatenson
9/1/2011 10:44:57 AM

When these people get to be 50 or 60 those tattoos lose something in aesthetic appeal. Sometimes they fade into blobs that look downright ugly. Where does that ink go when the tattoo fades? Has it been absorbed into the body. The colored tattoos contain metals. Do you want that in your blood system? A truly autonomous individual stands alone. He or she doesn't need tattoos to fit in with any particular group. I used to work in a prison. Many inmates had tattoos. Many also complained they had gone back to crime because no one would hire them. Thanks to the disappearing middle class, the middle class is becoming one with the lower class. Maybe a tattoo will help those former middle class folks fit in with their new bunk mates from the lower class and gain acceptance.