Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tattooed Sneetchville

This one's probably not going to be popular with everyone, but hear me out a minute or two if you will...

To me, Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches is the greatest story ever written. Even though I enjoy the snark out reading The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham to my son at bedtime, The Sneetches is a masterpiece for all ages and I adore it. It serves as a warning to mankind, not only against racism and intolerance, but also greed, pride and vanity.

In the modern age, however, The Sneetches takes on a newer meaning. We've become a society of tattooed sycophants. There was a time when 1 out of 10 people had tattoos. Now that statistic has bisected to an estimated 1 out of 5. Tattoos were originally found on pirates, perverts, prisoners, rock stars, outcasts, the military and thugs. In certain sectors of the world, however, tattooing is a rite of passage and a part of tribal acceptance. In many of these cultures, the tattoo is the mark of a warrior like the native and African tribal paint used for hunting and battle.

Nowadays, tattoos are found on all of the aforementioned groups, plus athletes, actors, pop stars, Catholic school girls, teachers, porn stars, cashiers, hairdressers, wait staff, receptionists, day care providers, bankers, lawyers...hell, even the court transcribers are tatted-up like the criminals marched in before them.

It's gotten to the point of insanity where older folks (largely women) in their fifties and sixties are inking their wrinkled, blubbery limbs. Honestly, what statement do you make if you're a roly poly conservative gal with a square cut bush shrub on your head, horn rimmed glasses, swishy polyester grandma shorts and a permanent anklet of swirls and constellations on your chubby ankle?

Think I'm over-exaggerating? Think again. Next time you're waiting for your order at a Chinese take-out, watch the parade of people coming in. They come tatted in all ages, ranging from fake bronzed, twenty-something, UFC-addicted pimp rollers to swollen and ashy-skinned old farts who obviously went over the deep end in an elder life crisis.

Tattoos, folks, are freaking mainstream.

I'm sorry, but it's true. If you're an NFL player today and you're not inked up, there's likely a team fine for it. The more you can show off from your biceps to your forearms not only gives you cred in the NFL, it calls the camera over to you quicker--assuming you don't have an ass clown good play dance in your repertoire. If you're a hot rising star in the music scene, you'd better have sleeve tats raining down both arms or just quit.

Tattoos are as dangerous and rebellious today as Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," the latter of which was recently featured in a car commercial with a family of suburban geeks and the youngsters' friends enacting the song in a sickeningly sunny, happy-go-lucky fashion. "Crazy Train," mainstream. Tattoos, ditto.

Here is where The Sneetches come into play. For the hipster fashionista element behind tattooing, those without tattoos in today's society are considered safe. Safe, as in starchy, docile and boring. People who tat up believe they're on the cutting edge, but really, the only edge coming into play is the end of that needle pulling on their skin. Problem is, everyone's doing it and it's all delusional, like those star-bellied snobby Sneetches who get taught proper once the Fix-It-Up Chappie rapes them and the non-star bellies for all of their money. There is no individuality to tattooing today, particularly when you can walk into a tattoo parlor and pick out your design like a t-shirt iron-on. Prefabricated, and unless you conceive your own idea, more than likely there's a hundred other people wearing the same body art as you.

Maybe the norm of belonging now is to tattoo yourself. Maybe tattooing is the new conformity. Perhaps we're supposed to file and rank ourselves into the shopping centers where a lot of tattoo artists can now be found in-between coffeehouses and mattress discounters. Tattoo parlors were once considered part of the seedy underground you only heard about when someone contracted a disease from unsanitary needles. Nowadays, there's a guarantee you have 3-5 tattoo emporiums competing for your business like McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC. In other words, people, tattooing is goddamn corporate.

Who better a symbol of corporate than the Fix-It-Up Chappie, who will sell you a star on or a star off, so long as you've let the panic button in your head drive you to "stand out" from the pack. You're being huckstered, gang. Like smoking, people have been given the warnings of future consequences to tattooing and still they ignore them. It's true; old people's tattoos sag and stretch and it's truly pathetic to witness. That will be you in your senior years, everyone. Take it as gospel.

I hate to rag on the tattoo industry since most of those operating the needles can be considered actual artists. Skin art does have a certain allure when the concept is unique and the hand that delivered it stays true. I feel safe is stating 98% of the musicians I sat in front of with my tape recorder in interviews were tattooed. It's part and parcel of the rock industry. Yet there's nothing special to tattooing anymore and it's a stinking fashion parade now. People admire one another's body ink and piercings minutes before introducing themselves to each another and if that's the new way of social bonding outside of the digital pseudo-world, then it is what it is, as the dreadful colloquialism goes. It fits this tattoed population.

Unfortunately, Sneetchville is infested with wannabes who look utterly ridiculous and they dumb down our society in worse ways than reality t.v. does. For the true rebels, tattooing is obligatory, but there's no James Dean principles to uphold when your aging aunt has flowers, butterflies and dragons swooping out from her crinkly, soggy, sunburnt breasts for the rest of us to see--whether we want to or not.

One day, the entreprenurial Fix-It-Up Chappies of the world will rule yet again with their star-off machines, depending on whether or not society goes back to its former denunciation of tattooing. Hopefully by then we'll all forget about belly stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars...

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