Those of us laboring in the advertising business can learn a lot just by looking around.
Once upon a time, tattoos were a joke, like the one about the guy on his wedding night who discovered “Property of Hell’s Angels, NYC” indelibly inked on his bride’s behind.
When I was a kid, the only tattooed people were sailors, hookers, parolees and circus people, and most of the tattoos were smallish and made some kind of sense: “Mom”, “Betty”, an anchor, a rose.
That’s all changed. Tattoos are ubiquitous, often very large and most of them make no sense at all; a crown of thorns around both ankles and gibberish on both arms seem to be the favorites.
The tattooing lunacy started its pernicious infiltration of the general population about thirty years ago when wannabe avant garde chicks started getting small tattoos: a butterfly on a shoulder blade or the Rolling Stones’ tongue on an ankle.
Now a tattoo is usually an in-your-face badge of something or other, rebellion, probably. (Ever notice that rebels tend to look, dress and act alike?)
The other day, Mike Tyson appeared for an interview on Fox News with his bare face hanging out, weird indelible tattoo and all. There’s not enough time or space to mock him adequately.
Tattoos on dozens of professional athletes (and ‘way too many college jocks) resemble nothing more than the graffiti that once defaced every NYC subway car. Often, the tattoos appear to be Chinese characters that, for all we know, translate as “I am a doofus.”
These people are decorating themselves in order to make some sort of “look at me” statement. And we do look at them, the same way we look at a dog walking on its hind legs.
Every now and then, someone like Will Smith pops up in a TV interview. My first inclination is to laugh because of his earrings, diamond studs usually, one in each ear. That’s actually subtle these days.
Sane people rarely pierce themselves anywhere but their ear lobes but some sad cases pierce their tongues, cheeks, noses and, I’m told, genitalia, in order to accommodate what’s euphemistically referred to as body jewelry.
Professional photographers tell me that they hate shooting pierced/tattooed models since the body marks dominate the pictures and distract viewers from the photograph’s message. Maybe that’s the point of outré decoration – to distract people from the message that the decoratee is an empty vessel.
Guys have been wearing their hair long and in pony tails for a while, since the sixties, at least. It’s okay, nothing more than an affectation that, unlike tattoos, they can grow out of, except for gray haired and balding older guys whose pony tails say nothing more than “Despite my advancing years, I remain immature in a desperate attempt to remain hip.”
A lot of football players grow their hair exceptionally long, and demonstrate that they have too much spare time by sitting for hours to have it braided into what looks like dozens of the lanyards little kids weave in camp. Then they wear it flopping out the back of their helmets all the way down to the top of their names on their jerseys. All of them, along with their legions of less talented followers, are apparently under the impression that conformity is the best way to stand out.
These phenomena might explain a lot about the odd commercials we see these days. They’re targeted at people who are so empty and so emotionally needy that normal common sense doesn’t make a dent.
I’m thinking of high end commercials for, say, cars that focus on things you can do in any car and low end commercials for things like vodka, beer and soft drinks that feature people doing things nobody ever does: chasing cheetahs, aiming beer labels at a football field to influence the outcome, or hanging out at a P. Diddy party with everyone full of good cheer and stone cold sober.
The commercials are tattoos. And they’re brilliant.