Sunday, 28 September 2008

The Mainstreaming of Tattoos

This is a dangerous topic for me to write about because I know and love far too many people with tattoos not to offend anyone close to me. But I'm going to write about it anyway.

There are a number of things that annoy me about the proliferation of tattoos. Not all tattoos, mind you. Some people make very clear and very significant statements with their tattoos. These are scary people.

Firstly, tattoos are ugly. Really, really fucking ugly. All of them. Even yours. You may beg to differ, but then this was once the point of tattooing, confrontational ugliness. That's why they were the sole preserve of the violent: the underbelly and the warrior. Maoris and Yakuza have at least had a few hundred years to develop their design ethic, you have a catalogue or at best a third attempt at improving your own scrawl. I don't even have a problem with making ugliness a personal stylistic affectation. In that regard, I actually enjoy the aesthetic variety that results from people shucking conventional taste. The problem is that the fact of their ugliness has failed to dawn on most of their wearers. No, you once-gorgeous leggy gazelle, your left buttock dolphin is not cute. It's a bumper sticker on a Jaguar. It's a graffito on a cathedral. It's fluorescent highlighter on an illuminated manuscript. Feel free to make that choice with your body, but don't expect me not to call it vandalism. No tattoo is as beautiful as the human body and the combination is not the sum of its parts: it's the average.

Secondly? Pretentiousness. You are not Chinese. You don't speak Chinese. Why is a Chinese ideogram that most likely means "fried noodle" more deep and meaningful than the same word (or at leat the word you intended) in your own language? Do you think that inscrutable foreign things are automatically magical? You are conflating being mystified with mystical, you stupid fucking idiot. You are ultimately deeply ordinary. You are a middle class westerner. You have an ordinary job, an ordinary house or apartment and an ordinary retirement plan. What does your tattoo say about you, exactly? That you're so cuh-razy you went out and... got a tattoo? Bravo, you and every other semi-suburban imaginary class warrior wearing long sleeves in summer so as not to rock the office boat. How deeply radical of you to wear the uniform of family-safe radicals everywhere.

Third: poor taste. I don't mind kitsch. Kitsch is a the comfortably trite and nostalgic, and we all need a bit of that from time to time. But your once-favourite ironic-retro cartoon character stretching and fading on your pimpled right deltoid is not comforting. It is the ticking clock of your spiritual and biological doom. Your self-designed tribute to your favourite hobby or animal may, in fact, be art - it's just really bad art. I partly blame the internet-aggravated society of unconditional self-esteem and unwarranted self importance for you surrounding yourself with a clique that only ever echoes your own sentiments and has you convinced that your opinions and tastes are both impeccable, as opposed to being the childish crosshatched line art adorning the back pages of schoolbooks everywhere. And the guy who works the gun, bless him, is Leonardo. That's why he works at a tattoo parlour.

Fourth. Willfully addled, dishonest justifications that do you no credit. You've always wanted a tattoo? Really? You're now what? Thirty? It's not a big coincidence that you're only now getting one and your tamely edgy social echo-box all got tagged over the last year or so.

It's a fad. It'll end. I'll be right and you'll be out the price of the laser therapy you need to remove your distorted pelvic butterfly. The one that appears to be a recently hatched bug flying out of your cunt.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Middle

I don't believe in democracy.

It's not that I don't believe it works (although I don't entirely trust mob logic); I don't believe it exists. Disgruntled voters whose party lost always moan about the sad current state of affairs being a product of the stupidity of the average person. This theoretical everyman is strangely never them. What they fail to realise is that when both left and right pretend to balance the pretend seesaw, they only ever add more weight and the pivot sinks or the beam snaps.

Voting does nothing. Are we so gullible that we believe that the Hobson's choice we are offered at the polls is a representative product of our collective beliefs? The world is owned - yes: owned - by a tiny economic and political elite that answer to no-one but their shareholders. And not even them lately. Now they just pretend they have more money to keep their business afloat.

Let's pretend that the parties that we're presented are actually competing for our ballots to attain power instead of merely accruing it and moving it around. I know, I know! I could barely type that shaking from the hilarity. But humour me. Don't you find it amazing how each party "checks and balances" the other and we end up deeper in it every year? We have the left arguing for social freedom, the right arguing for economic freedom, and we get what, exactly? CCTV everywhere, spooks in the communications networks, regulations to prevent children learning about anything that might offend their parents, secret prisons dotting the globe and a neverending series of high-minded wars on nouns and hapless foreigners. This machine operates covertly and independently of party politics, and it's in nobody powerful's interest to dismantle it; they merely jostle for a turn at the controls.

Some people who are marginally aware of this believe that you can ultimately vote with your wallet. No, you can't. The free, organic local enterprise you love is based on and pays insurance, rent, rates and tax to the same Leviathan that doles out sweetheart deals, bailouts and subsidies to the faceless megacorporations we all love to hate. There is no escape. You are bought and sold like cattle. Resistance is not only futile, it's a depressing joke.

Between left and right is moderate?

Moderate what?

The Left

While the right is a safe, unchallenging home to inbred, subhuman filth of the lowest order, the left, with all its vaunted intellect and moral fury, can't even beat them.

I find the right's complaints of the left's elitism tiresome, but by Satan, I find the left's sanctimony, naïveté and complete lack of self-awareness and perspective almost stupefying. Give some pampered middle-class buffoon a degree with all the instructive value of a few days in an encyclopaedia and all of a sudden they're Mohandas Gandhi and you with your ill-gotten paycheque are a machine gunner at Auschwitz.

I love George Orwell, but I remember someone saying that he couldn't blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry. So it is with the modern left. While I feel deeply concerned about the plight of individuals in whichever abject demographic the media feels is profitable to feature in a shocking, award-winning exposé, I really don't I'm morally superior because of it. It doesn't keep me up at night for the same reason that the thermal death of the universe doesn't: there's nothing I can realistically do about it.

Every solution the left offers to assuage their overactive consciences is window dressing. The Kyoto protocol will merely shift the location of the offending smokestacks. Recycling paper causes more pollution than growing and cutting down trees. The lovely organic process of paper manufacture uses more energy than plastic. Growing fuel crops starves children, puppies and kittens. Reducing consumption of imported goods to either protect local jobs or wash hands of sweatshops results in the collapse of developing economies. The frog-eyed infants of Africa that were saved by Band Aid's musings on their awareness of a western holiday are now fully-grown, heavily-armed, rapine thugs macheteing their way to a brighter future free of labia minora, clitorides and other, slightly different Africans.

I also do not think that privileged people are automatically morally inferior. I am very, painfully aware of the level of privilege I am lucky to have been born into, and I am aware that it's fairly near the top of a voracious economic ecology. I call this "luck", and I'm honest enough to believe that I'm so far from even beginning to relate to the people at the bottom of the food chain that I'm not going to pretend I have any empathy for them. I've worn out that gland and it didn't do me or them any good.

The left loves nothing more than to champion the cause of the working man, except perhaps cringeing at his unspeakably vulgar McMansion and Hummer when he makes it into their suburban enclave.

The left is also conscientiously oblivious of the lunatics that populate its fringes. Just like their analogues on the right, the left aggressively stifles dissent. I don't like the right's dismissive catchphrases like "feminazis" or "treehuggers", but it would be nice if the sanctimonious left kicked some of its hectoring embarrassments out of the flock for a change. Where the right has its Hitlers and Pinochets, the left has its Maos And Stalins. And yes, during the cultural revolution and the five year plans, the left did actually support the heroic efforts of Mao and Stalin, much to the chagrin of the few Chinese and Russians who managed to get out of their respective death farms.

The west is guilty of many horrors, to be sure, but what the left in all its handwringing and self-loathing sometimes forgets is that we at least record them, pay lip-service to feeling bad about them and even make token restitution on occasion. We could do better, but don't be asinine and call us the worst.

Where once the left fought against slavery, Apartheid and the divine right of kings, and for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, women's suffrage and the right to abortion, it now fights against simple happiness. Where they once fought against unfair laws, they now fight to legislate their current version of fairness with ever more picayune regulations. Their ideal world consists of a medicated-to-sexlessness, beige-on-grey, heavily-padded cell supervised by an omniscient, omnipotent, entirely benevolent state that protects us from the thoughts of others by euphemising things to obscurity.

I'd gladly pay more tax to keep them locked in it.

The Right

I don't disagree with the right's purported ideals of self-determination, reduced government and rugged individualism. Except they don't actually believe in those things.

The right will insist that it wants the state out of its homes, churches and gunlockers but is ever-so-willing to place surveillance cameras in every bedroom, mosque and uterus.

The right's particular notion of "conservatism" is not a conservative application of state fiat, but rather a belief in conserving an entirely mythical golden age when man was free, strong-jawed and righteous.

I have always maintained that idiocy is evenly spread amongst races, creeds and sexes, but I think it's fair to say that certain groups of people do band together over a common idiotic cause. It's not fair (or even accurate) to call everyone on the right racists, sexists, homophobes, bigots, religious zealots, jingo nationalists, creationists, fascists, warmongers, reactionaries and philistines, but I do think it's fair to point out that most racists, sexists, homophobes, bigots, religious zealots, jingo nationalists, creationists, fascists, warmongers, reactionaries and philistines are in actual fact right wing.

The right believe that they are under siege from everybody who is not like them. Consequently, they blindly follow and excuse the failings of every political candidate who is "like them".

I suppose that it's surprising in retrospect that I never bothered to rant about the Bush administration now that it's finally, mercfully drawing to a close. Despite their spectacular incompetence and naked fascism, I don't find them particularly historically exceptional. If you want borderline democide and malfeasance from a US administration, Nixon and Kissinger are the fellows you're after. To be fair, there has never been a good president, and pointing out the particular failings of this particular gang of Nazis is, firstly: too easy, secondly: hackneyed, and thirdly: usually done in rampant ignorance of the failings of their competition.


George Walker Bush plays up his down-home, homily-chawing folksiness to appeal to ignorant, atavistic backwater hicks (I'm a snob) because US electoral law grants backwater hicks more power than they deserve. What's depressing is that it works.

Bush is the blue-blooded son of a New England, Mayflower-landed political dynasty that's already had a president in the family. His grandfather was Adolf Hitler's American banker. He's a spoilt, coke-snorting, dry-drunk brat who poisoned every enterprise he was handed by his festering brood. He has benefited from every privilege available to a human being, including a daddy-bought ticket out of the conscription the right so adamantly believe is a noble patriotic duty. I suspect - and have read things that confirm - that even his rural twang shifts depending on who's in the room. Yet all this oligarch has to do is pose for some ranch-wranglin' photo ops, mangle some English and he has the hicks in his pocket.

You can be sure that if any viable candidate ever rose from actual humble stock, bettering himself through diligence and intellect (this never happens; it's all dynasties), the right would decry him as an "elitist", as though their particular brand of plutocrat didn't regard them as means to a cynical end. Somewhat amusingly, the right - who distrust uppity intellectuals and the "liberal elite" - are quick to point out that their boy is a Yale graduate when his glaringly apparent mental retardation is brought up. I mean, if you're going to be deluded, at least be consistent.

Like I said: it's depressing that it works.