In 1939, Groucho Marx sang “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” in the classic Marx Brothers’ film “At the Circus” (enjoy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4zRe_wvJw8). In 1939 as well as in 1977 when the Muppet Show had Kermit singing the song to a bedecked Miss Piggy, tattoos were an exception rather than the rule. It violates the Torah (Leviticus 19:28) and the hadith in Islam where tattoos are haram (forbidden). Nonetheless, guys had the occasional anchor or “USMC” inked on their arm and a woman might have a small flower or family name. But tattoos were modest – and tasteful. Tattooed ladies remain a part of “Freak Shows” at the circus (or reality shows) even now. As recently as the 1960’s and 70’s tattoos were associated with bikers and criminals. In Japan, only the yakuza (the crime syndicate) has tattoos. In China, tattoos are taboo. In Europe, tattoos are still very unpopular. And then there’s America.
I got on the train yesterday and a young couple gets on and sits down. The guy’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Both arms and both hands were covered with tattoos and his legs were similarly adorned. Tattoos crept up the back of his neck and around toward his throat. Not sure how you view it but to me it’s pretty weird. But you see this new body decoration frequently. Walking freak shows (just like the circus I remember). Men with tattoos covering their arms, necks, torsos, legs. Even facial tattoos. And there are tattooed ladies.
According to a recent article by Miriam Jordan in the Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2014), 71% of young people today are now ineligible to join the military (see http://online.wsj.com/articles/recruits-ineligibility-tests-the-military-1403909945). The reasons? Bad grades, obesity, criminal records, ADHD (and other issues), drug use, and now under a new regulation – excessive tattoos. Great. Makes you feel proud. And safe.