Last semester, I was giving a lecture on the history of the Supreme Court from 1953 to present. Toward the end of the lecture, I asked my students if they could name the current Chief Justice. None were able to do so. There were thirty students in the class. This was in a college classroom, mind you.
I was annoyed by the failure of a single student to know the name of one of the three most powerful men in America. But, whenever annoyed, I have a tendency to make jokes to lighten the atmosphere. So I told my students to go to the SCOTUS website next time they were in the tattoo parlor and had a couple of spare hours to surf the internet on their iPhone. They laughed and then I casually asked “How many of you have tattoos?” About twenty students raised their hands, which was far more than I expected.
Asking that question was a big mistake. The next time I walked into class, a young man was asking a sorority girl where her tattoo was located. She lifted up the back of her shirt and showed him a giant tramp stamp across her lower back. It was as sad as it was surprising. Apparently blond hair, blue eyes, and natural beauty aren’t enough to attract college boys these days. She needs a tattoo to let him know that his chances of getting sex on the first date are close to 100%.
Over the last few years, tattoo parlors have been popping up like weeds here in Wilmington. I have always assumed that their popularity was easily explained: Young people just want to draw attention and tattoos give them something to show off. They are just another way of helping young people feel different. Even if most kids have them, theirs can be unique. They can even tell a story.
But the narcissistic and short-sighted component of tattoo accumulation is just half the story. I had an epiphany about the other half of the story as I was talking to a woman we will call Brooke. We’re going to call her Brooke because that really is her name. Brooke was complaining to two of her friends (who are also my friends). She was complaining about the thing single women complain about most often: the boyfriend who won’t respect her even though (maybe because?) she is sleeping with him regularly.
Brooke’s complaint with her boyfriend was that he desired to stay in her bed after they were finished having “fun.” This TMI moment was topped off by a deep philosophical argument: “My bed is an intimate place. Until we’re married, he’s not welcomed there overnight. That’s just too presumptuous. It’s too intrusive.”