...the mistake that the mayor of Osaka and other officials and employees make is to believe that tattoos are evidence of deviancy. They aren’t. They’re now symbols of conformism. Indeed, it is those who withstand the social pressure to get a tattoo, those who see all the endless photos of celebs sporting body art and who still refuse to join in, who are the true deviants today. If a deviant is one who “departs from usual or accepted standards”, then it is the non-tattooed, the unbranded, who are exercising deviancy in the 21st century. In an era when, in Britain, more than a third of 16- to 44-year-olds have tats, when PM's wives sport them, when there has been, in the words of one newspaper, “a massive boom in body art led by celebrities, footballers and other high-profile figures”, it requires Herculean levels of self-possession to refuse to be tattooed. Once, a tattoo marked someone out as a rebel, as an individual who had voluntarily cast himself out of the mainstream; today, when you can’t walk down a high street without seeing scores of branded people, being tattooed is the mainstream. And to not be tattooed, to have what is known as “virgin skin”, is to thumb your nose at the mainstream, to demonstrate your ability to read celebrity magazines and listen to “high-profile figures” bang on about the glories of body art without feeling the need to copy them. To reject body art is to rebel.
I was recently talking about this exact point with a tattoo-less and extremely witty friend who, taking the perspective of an inked hipster, sarcastically asked, "What is your most deeply held conviction, and where is it on your arm?" It seems like that is what it's come down to. For the most part, tattoos today are an indication of bandwagon conformism, a conformism that overshadows the individual's attempt to proclaim to the world his individuality via his unique image, design or whatever.