It was the airport in New Orleans, sometime during the summer of the year 2000. It would be over a year before September 11 would happen. I was late for my flight and had on short sleeves. I wasn’t running, but I was moving rather quickly and anxiously through the airport. Then I experienced something that had never happened to me before; I got searched at security. They went through my bag by hand. One of the TSA guys looked at my arms the entire time, so I knew exactly why I got stopped.
Then the tragic events happened on 9/11/2001. All of a sudden, the shady people with tattoos were no longer a threat. TSA agents had far more pressing and easier to identify people to focus on. Fast-forward about 13 years and I would not only be unconcerned with how the TSA folks viewed me as a heavily tattooed passenger reentering the US from an Asian country, but I would also be having a tattoo conversation with the guy checking my passport at the customs counter. We would be more focused on comparing the full Japanese sleeves we both had, making the two questions he eventually asked me seem trite. The whole exchange would take less than two minutes.
So what happened? The truth is probably a lot of things, but in the years shortly after 9/11 we saw the birth of a new era in the reality tv craze. We saw the rise of tattoo reality tv shows, starting with Miami Ink. The conversations that I had been having with people for years about the fact that tattooing is a legitimate art form, was an open book discussion for all to engage. The shows made artists into human beings with feelings and quirks, just like everyone else. The shows exposed the depth of meaning that people put into their body art. There was a newer and more personal level with which the general public could view and engage what was once a fringe industry and subculture.
This last week I realized just how far we have come when I was at Disney World. I was riding the bus one day and staring at a tattoo of the dog from the old Nintendo game, Duck Hunt, poking out above the collar of the guy’s t-shirt in front of me. It was then that I really started noticing that there were so many tattooed people around me the whole week. There was good, bad and everything in between. There were moms with bad cover-ups. There were biker dads that stood like beacons of tattoo diversity and still make me smile.
I only write this because I think it is nice to pause from our usual concerns and addressing of current issues in tattooing and just look at the milestones of the past decade or so and really marvel at how far we have come. Think about it, were any of your really using a rotary ten years ago? Oklahoma became the last state to lift a ban on tattooing, making it legal in all 50 states now. Tattoo shows begat more tattoo shows. Not to mention this little website you might be familiar with just sort of started and grew to meet the needs of the expanding generation of young artists. Regardless, it is safe to say that tattooing has been and will continue growing.
So I leave this mostly as a call for celebration. Take a minute and marvel, then let us know what else you might add. What milestones in our industry have I missed? And as always, thank you for supporting the Tattoo Improvement Network.