Thoroughly modern mutilation

Have you noticed how many young people are wearing jewelry these days? I don't mean wristwatches, bracelets, and finger rings. I'm talking about nose rings, lip rings, tongue studs, bellybutton rings, and even baubles dangling from pierced eyebrows. I've heard of several other places that have been pierced and "adorned" with trinkets, but propriety prevents me from mentioning them in a public forum.

In addition, tattooing has apparently become one of the hippest methods of disfigurement since ancient civilizations painted their bodies with the blood of slain animals. I'm not referring to a couple of artful tattoos on an arm or leg. I'm talking about a multicolored quilt of gargoyle-like images that block out every inch of skin, turning the wearer into a human mural painting.

So, what's it all about? Has self-mutilation become chic? Is it the ultimate expression of adolescent rebelliousness? Are contemporary kids just struggling to be different like their parents and grandparents once did? Or, is it because they feel so insignificant and bored with their lives that they need to deface themselves in order to be noticed?

Every generation wants to show their independence from the prior one. Okay, so why not express themselves in hair styles or clothing fashions? Have Mohawk cuts and muttonchops become passé? Are baggy pants and sloppy shirts too yesterday? At least the aforementioned can be accomplished without bloodletting or permanent markings. (Do you know how tough it is to remove those tattoos?) It often seems as though it's a contest to see who can be the most bizarre.

Recently, I saw a TV news spot that included students at a California college. They were complaining about the environment. Every one of them looked like they were auditioning for a part in a horror movie. Thick eye makeup, teardrop tattoos, garish hair colors, and trinkets swinging from every available epidermal space. Obviously, they're unconcerned about the natural visual environment of their faces. Keep in mind; they're attending school that way.
I suppose every child dislikes hearing an adult begin a sentence with, "When I was a kid......" However, when I was a kid, not only didn't I have even a passing acquaintance with a ring or any other piece of jewelry, but I was so busy working after school for enough nickels and dimes to pay for my lunch money the next day that it never occurred to me how much fun it would be to mutilate myself.

In those days, you'd occasionally see a guy with a tattoo on his biceps or forearm, the result of a drunken binge one night while on shore leave from the Navy. Today, many young kids, as well as, shall we say, younger adults, from both genders, are sacrificing every inch of skin to connect a patchwork of illustrations that bears a strong resemblance to the comics section in your local newspaper.

When I was a kid, if I had come home with a ring in my nose, my mother would have...., well, I think you know what I mean. Today, the kids come home and compare nose rings with their parents.

"Whatta ya think, Mom; does this crescent shape go with the curvature of my nose?"

"Well, son, I don't mean to be judgmental, but, I think the curly shaped danglers are more suitable for the kind of nose you have. Especially if you stud your tongue with pearls like I did."

"Dad, get a load of these new tattoos on my neck.  I wanted to give the impression of flames shooting out from under my collar."

"Not bad, son, but cast your peepers on the latest addition to my lower back. I've got most of the Disney cartoon characters in 3D."

I don't know. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just not hip. Not with it. Not cool. But, it seems to me, disfiguring large areas of one's body with multicolored ink or drilling holes into flesh, bone, and cartilage in order to attach shiny metals is a lamentable sign of extremely low self esteem. I mean, it's not exactly comparable to combing one's hair in a bouffant and growing sideburns.

If current trends are merely a step in the evolutionary scale of fashion, what are we in for with the next generation? Tattooed eyeballs? Snakes slithering out of ears? Antlers hammered into skulls? I just hope I'm not giving anyone ideas.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.
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