Remember when we were kids and enjoyed dressing up as comic book heroes and cartoon characters on Halloween? We looked forward with eager anticipation toward those neighborhood costume parties and school theater productions where we could change identities and become our favorite alter egos.
Not that such vicarious fulfillment is limited to late October, or to our juvenile years; I’ve continued to enjoy masquerade parties all my life. One of my most enjoyable forays into self-delusion has been when I created authentic pirate costumes with accompanying makeup and jewelry. There’s just something liberating about the thought of being a buccaneer with an eye patch, dangling earrings and a parrot on my shoulder. The idea of sailing the high seas on the Jolly Roger and winning the hearts of fair maidens as I accumulate a treasure chest of baubles and beads, gives me a sense of adventure that stimulates a primitive gene in my DNA.
Speaking of primordial behavior, some of the jewelry worn by many young people today seems as though they’ve been watching too many horror flicks. Watches, bracelets, and finger rings have given way to 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.
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? Is it because they feel so insignificant and bored with their lives that they need to deface themselves in order to be noticed? Or, is it a genetic impulse, struggling to achieve a sense of freedom that has been practically erased by modern civilization?
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 Dracula 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.
If I had come home with a ring in my nose, my mother would have… well, I think you know what I mean. 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.
Even Johnny Depp, with all of his swashbuckling cinematic flair for Barbary Coast piratical expeditions, didn’t make any permanent alterations to his body. He was merely playing a role, just like I do when I become Blackbeard or Captain Kidd for an evening. Perhaps we all have a pirate chromosome deeply imbedded in our bloodstream. But, it’s important to have limits on our capacity for whimsy.