Richard Cohen Regrets my Tattoos for Me


Richard Cohen wrote a ridiculous, no good, very bad column about tattoos for today's Washington Post. I've excerpted the most polemical parts of the piece to give you an idea of his thesis:

Tattoos are the emblems of our age….The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.

About 40 percent of younger Americans (26 to 40) have tattoos. About 100 percent of these have clothes they once loved but now hate. How can anyone who knows how fickle fashion is, how times change, how their own tastes have "improved," decorate their body in a way that's nearly permanent? I don't get it….

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….

[T]he tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy.

For those of you who lost count, here's a quick list of Cohen's claims: Old people tattoos are thoughtful, discreet, and better than young people tattoos, which are ugly, tacky, thoughtless and never tied to a group identity; one will feel roughly the same way towards one's tattoos several years after getting them as one does towards one's clothes several years after they have gone out of style; and the mentality that leads a young person to get a tattoo is the root of America's eminent economic demise.

Wow, Cohen sure knows an awful lot about tattoos for someone who doesn't have any. His knowledge of economics is far more impressive. I'll refrain from defending body modification culture, which is as diverse and fascinating as the people who comprise it, because Cohen's lazy stereotyping doesn't deserve an extended rebuttal. And while I'm tempted to deconstruct his tenuous parallel between Social Security, the illusion of permanence, and tramp stamps, I will instead respond with a sampling of the statistics that would have forced Cohen to abort his column in the conceptual stage, or at least find a different whipping boy for his economic frustrations, had he bothered to do his homework:

How do people without tattoos feel about those with them?

Many Americans who do not have tattoos said they think that people with tattoos are less attractive (42%), less sexy (36%) and less intelligent (31%). They also think that those with tattoos are more rebellious (57%). In contrast, only 29% of those with tattoos think they are more rebellious.

Do people regret getting tattoos? A majority of Americans with tattoos (83%) do not regret getting them, while 17% do feel regret. The survey found that regret for getting a tattoo was highest among tattooed Republicans (24%) and among those living in the South (21%). And, the reason cited most often for feeling regret about getting tattoos was "because of the person's name in the tattoo" (16%).

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for regretting my tattoos for me.