Tattoos are as old as civilization itself. Nearly every ancient civilization participated in some form of inking ritual, with the practice not becoming taboo until the Greeks deemed it sign of barbarism to mark one’s body. Judeo-Christian ideology followed this line of thought, essentially deeming the act of tattooing oneself as an affront to God and sure sign of criminality.
Tattoos became associated with pirates who pillaged the seas and the idea carried itself throughout history. In old movies, you can typically spot the “bad guys” by taking note of their tattoos and cigarette smoking. The stigma attached to tattoos in western culture has gradually eroded over time (though not completely, as evidenced by the fact that tattoos placed on a woman’s lower back are often referred to as a “tramp stamp”), as more and more people have embraced tattooing as a means of self-expression and body decoration.
The Pew Research Center reports that in the United States, as of 2006, 36 percent of those aged 18 to 25 and 40 percent of those between 26 and 40 had at least one tattoo. It’s not just gang-members, sailors, and artists adorning their bodies with tattoos; the practice cuts across all different sorts of professions and socioeconomic backgrounds.
While tattoos hold less of a stigma than they once did, generally people get them in places that can easily be covered up by clothing, adhering to general societal norms and professional codes of conduct/dress. So when rapper Gucci Mane was spotted recently with a tattoo of an ice cream cone, complete with lightning bolts and his signature ad-lib “BRRR,” on his face, it raised a more than a few eyebrows.
It has become extremely commonplace to see rappers and professional basketball players (two fields which are dominated by black men) with their entire upper bodies covered in tattoos, influenced by the likes of the late Tupac Shakur and former NBA star Allen Iverson. However, areas of the body that have normally been left alone are the face and neck, as those are practically impossible to cover up. But there seems to be in increase in prominent figures willing to get permanently inked in these formerly off-limits body parts.
A few years ago, Compton-born rapper The Game found himself the butt of many jokes when he elected to tattoo a butterfly on his cheek, which he later covered with an “LA” in the style of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team logo. Lil’ Wayne is the poster-child for rappers with tattoos, as there is scarcely a part of his torso that is left un-inked, and he also sports tattoo tears on his face, which generally signify that one has shot and killed someone or lost a loved one to gunfire.
But I can’t recall there ever being anything quite like Gucci Mane’s (though, for my money, his ice cream cone is not as bad as the man who tattooed the Gucci brand logo on the entire left side of his face). It’s either the ultimate kiss off to society at large or the dumbest thing I have seen in a long time, and my instincts lean toward the latter. I take no umbrage with the idea of tattoos in general, I have two with designs on more myself, but I do take issue with the short-sighted thinking that this represents.
It seems, to me at least, that a lot of tattoos that young people get are done so more out of rebellion and desire to be part of a fad, without little to no consideration given to the fact that tattoos are indeed permanent (unless you can afford laser removal, like 50 Cent or Pharrell, each of whom have had their tattoos removed). Unfortunately, something that can be beautiful and meaningful is reduced to a meaningless aesthetic and ploy for attention. Gucci Mane’s ice cream cone is perfect ammunition for those who would like to ascribe the decision to get a tattoo to people with no real future or aspirations.
And in some ways, getting a tattoo on your face does limit your aspirations. A person of great wealth may be able to get away with it, but anyone who has to punch a clock for someone other than themselves for a living, a face tattoo can, and likely will, greatly limit the jobs which they will have access to. There are still certain standards of decorum that one has to abide by to gain acceptance in our corporate-driven society.
Perhaps Gucci Mane believes he’ll be able to live off rap money forever and never again be required to work a “regular” job. Even if that proves to be true, an ice cream cone on your face still seems like a stupid idea.