Tattoos may be becoming a more ubiquitous part of our culture by the day, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the relationship tattoos and the artists who create them have enjoyed with the more mainstream elements of society has historically been tenuous at best, and in reality the practice is only just now starting to creep into the public consciousness as acceptable.
In fact, many major cities have until recently imposed citywide tattoo bans, not just in the U.S., but worldwide – and some places are still cracking the whip, causing employees and citizens alike to feel the pangs of tattoo regret. Regardless of personal expression or artistic merit, tattoo artists and the services they render have a ways to go before they’re welcomed with open arms in some circles.
An institutional matter Some extremely popular entertainment attractions are vocal about their thoughts on tattoos. For example, Fox Travel reported that Disney-owned parks in the U.S. allow their guests to display their tattoos, but if the ink in question is found to be obscene or offensive, the guest will have to choose between covering up or shipping out. While there is no hard-and-fast regulation governing what could be seen as offensive or obscene, potential visitors should interpret the ground rule as a general warning and be prepared when it comes time to visit the park.
While Disney’s motivation for regulating tattoos is aimed at protecting the family-themed integrity of the park, other organizations have cracked down on body art for more professional purposes. News affiliate KHON2 reported that the Honolulu Police Department recently decreed that its officers would be required to cover up their tattoos with long sleeves or makeup, regardless of form or content, under threat of disciplinary action. For many such organizations, uniformity of appearance is a virtue highly valued by the higher-ups, and tattoos frequently find themselves on the receiving end of a big red X.
Evicting tattooing from cities Strikingly, many large cities have been very unwelcoming to tattoos for decades, a trend that has only in the past several years started to reverse. A surprising example can be found in New York City. It may seem odd, but this cultural and entertainment metropolis forbade the practice of administering tattoos until 1997. Even more ironic, as NYC24 reported, is that the city that never sleeps is actually widely regarded as the birthplace of modern tattooing, a practice which sprung up in the city’s Bowery district around 1890.
But the industry found itself in the crosshairs of a public health investigation in 1961, when a string of reported hepatitis cases attracted negative attention. Of course, health concerns aside, the general cultural attitude toward the practice was less than amicable at the time.
As the Chicago Tribune reported, one judge instrumental in upholding the ban went on record to say, “The decoration, so-called, of the human body by tattoo designs is, in our culture, a barbaric survival, often associated with a morbid or abnormal personality.”
While tattoo bans find themselves being lifted bit by bit, the war on ink isn’t over. As recently as 2012, the city of Osaka, Japan, actually instituted a new ban on public workers having tattoos, due to the implied connection to the organized crime syndicate the Yakuza. In 2013, a clerk even ended up with a month’s worth of wages docked as punishment for violating the ban.