Tattoos: From Subculture to Pop Culture

Categories: Tattoo

Today, 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-25 have at least one tattoo. That’s more than a third of America’s young adults! There has always been a sort of stigma that came along with having tattoos such as being in association with gangs, prisons, and violence. It has always been an annoying stereotype because there are so many people such as doctors, teachers, students who do so much good in the world but have been looked down upon for having tattoos.

Thankfully, those times are quickly changing. Tattoos have gone from a subculture to now popular culture or “pop culture”. Mik Thobo-Carlsen properly states: “Let’s face it, tattoos have burst onto pop culture and have taken over the current media scenery.”

Pop culture refers to the traditions and material culture of a society. In the modern West, pop culture refers to cultural products such as music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television, and radio that are consumed by most of a society's population.

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That’s just the way the world is now, it’s like changing your hair color, it’s something everyone seems to be doing, getting a tattoo.

In Chapter 3-1 of our textbook, it states that “Society is a large social grouping that occupies the same geographic territory and is subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Whereas society is composed of people, culture is composed of ideas, behavior, and material possessions. Society and culture are interdependent; neither could exist without the other.

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” So, tattoos, for example, were taboo in our culture. Taboos are more so strong that their violation is, considered to be, extremely offensive and even unmentionable. The only people we would see walking around with tattoos were sailors and jailbirds or gang members.

Now, it’s like a rite of passage. However, it’s odd because in some countries around the world tattoos are a symbol of purity, religion or social acceptance and maybe the only means for being viewed as “beautiful”. Tattoos have ironically been around for thousands of years as parts of rituals and religious purposes to signify changes in a person’s life and determine different tribes through their body art. If a man or a woman was strong enough to endure the pain, they were extremely respected by their tribe. Today, it’s an expression of individuality and a way to show off their artwork.

I definitely see a “culture shock” with people of older generations when it comes to tattoos. I remember when I first got a tattoo that was in a visible spot, my family and I went to my momoms house and my mom made me where a long-sleeved shirt to cover it up. My mom already knew it would bother my momom. Eventually she saw it and stared at it like I had leprosy. In her day, everyone was all done up with their pearls and high heels and red lipstick that having body art was simply not classy. Not only with tattoos of course but with anything that’s a more modernly accepted thing, such as openly gay people. It’s just different from what people of her generation are used to that it is still a shock to them. It’s also similar to ethnocentrism, when she or other people from different generations think their way of living is more superior to others. However, that’s pretty normal for older generations! It was a different time.

The overall purpose of tattoos nowadays is the fact of its permanent artwork, some kind of self-expression, sentiment, and personal accomplishments. Permanence is a symbolical and bold statement that facilitates claims either made about an individual or social or political issues, a group or organization, etc., becoming even more central with the idea that these marks will last forever. Next, is expression. The expression represents an aspect of personality, art form, or even convey a message. Next is sentiment or a deeper meaning such as death of a loved one, or kids’ names and fingerprints, etc.

Lastly, an accomplishment, such as someone getting the Olympic rings if they participated in the Olympics or received a gold medal, something they’re proud of what they want to show off to the world. People are bolder with their freedom of expression. Tattooing is seen as an art and what a person chooses to represent themselves is up to them. In sociology, norms are social expectations that guide behavior, because art and expression are elements very crucial to tattooing, it’s safe to say that no particular norms are withing the colors or styles of tattoos. However, it is not uncommon for people who have one tattoo to then get multiple “tattoo sleeves”.

Tattooing comes to Hollywood! Tattooing has gradually become such a huge part of society, so much so that the TV industry has jumped and created multiple shows that glamorize the tattoo industry. Besides, tattoo artists are becoming celebrities of a sort, such as Kat Von D, as she has her show and makes several appearances on other TV shows. Everyone aspired to be inked like them as well as other celebrities wanting to GET inked by them. As most of us know, when a new fad enters Hollywood and starts getting into the media, the new generation of kids growing up all look at that like it’s what they need to do and boom, culture change. Instagram has changed the game for tattoo artists. Before Instagram, the only way to find a decent artist is by word of mouth or stumbling across a shop. Now, you can see their entire portfolios via hashtags from all over the world, which has benefited the industry. If a social media influencer or celebrity posts their new tattoo on Instagram, it is seen by millions of followers, therefore, giving their artists free promotions and getting their work out there.

Although we have come so far with tattooing and the acceptance in the workplace and just out in the world in general, culture is always changing. It’s been seen that many people are so quick to get these tattoos because they’re such a popular trend nowadays, however, what happens if they don’t like the same band, they got tattooed on them 5 years from now? Or if they break up with the person whose name, they have tattooed on their heart? I think it’s safe to say that for the unforeseeable future, at least for our generation and next, tattoos will continue to be on the rise. We’re a modern-day society where things are more universally accepted now than ever before.

People love individuality and being artistic and showing self-expression, it’s liberating. Ben Voyer, from the Washington Post, explains this trend a little better by explaining how tattoos have be demarginalized” and have changed so much. They were once a sign of rebellion to be universally accepted and have been a sign of art and self-expression. Now, they’re a big part of pop culture because they have become so popular and the popularity is still growing. “The widespread popularity of tattoos among all social classes reflects the fact that body art is increasingly seen as a product like any other.” Pop culture will continue to reflect the things most important for most Americans and things we will continue to do in our daily lives and is refreshing to see the world change in a more accepting and nonjudgmental way.

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Tattoos: From Subculture to Pop Culture. (2021, Aug 03). Retrieved from

Tattoos: From Subculture to Pop Culture
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