Quetzalcoatl ADN © Lobata-Chan (Used with permission)
Studying Tattoo Science should be a high school graduation requirement.
Before anyone starts lecturing about how suggestible young people are, or ranting about statistics linking body modification with antisocial behavior, I’d like everyone to get a grip on their knee-jerk reactions long enough to remember one thing: Love them or hate them, tattoos are compelling subject matter. That makes tattoos an excellent vehicle for learning.
What is there to learn from tattoos? Everything about tattoos is interesting! You could discover various art styles, explore cultures around the world, study ancient and modern history, and even learn a few things about the law. And above all, science.
What do tattoos and light bulbs have in common? Thomas Edison. Credit for the first tattoo ‘gun’ actually belongs to a skin artist named Samuel O’Reilly, but his machine was based on Edison’s engraving device. Before that innovation, tattoos had to be applied slowly using hand tools that hadn’t changed much in thousands of years.
When is ‘ink’ not ink? When it’s a solid pigment suspended in a liquid carrier and injected into a person’s skin. Exactly what gets injected depends on the chemical structure of the pigment, but whatever their color, ‘tattoo molecules’ are lovely to behold. (Unless they’re invisible, in which case you might try looking for them under a black light.)
Sure, tattoos are mostly decorative now, but in the future, they could come with a prescription. Patients may take advantage of body art that monitors blood sugar or that warns of an impending heart attack. There’s plenty of precedent for using tattoos in medicine; it seems tattoos were used therapeutically as far back as the ice age.
Yes, Tattoo Science has long been used by police to help identify bodies and catch criminals, but we shouldn’t translate intelligent law enforcement into stereotypes about tattooed people. Such stigma is mostly unjustified, and it’s disrespectful to cultures in which tattooing is an intrinsic part of their traditions. If we’re being totally fair, tattooing can even be seen as a sign of cultural evolution.
Take that idea a little further and you arrive at the possibility that tattoos indirectly contribute to the health of our gene pool ‘in the Darwinian sense’. Then, if tattoos are an ‘honest signal’ of fitness, doesn’t it make sense to find so many educated people covered in ink? While in America it may still be a challenge for someone sporting full sleeves or facial tattoos to find a banking job, in academia, visible body art is no longer the barrier to employment it once was. Smart is sexy, in other words, and one way to ‘make it’ in life is to pursue an advanced degree and get some advanced ink to match.
If all of the above still isn’t enough to sell you on science itself, you might want to consider literature. Many writers have tattoos, and there are many excellent books in which tattoos feature prominently.
Because Tattoo Science probably won’t make it into the curriculum based solely on its merits as a brilliant idea, I also bring a warning for anyone who still thinks high school is no place to learn about tattoos: Stupid tattoos are stupid forever. Before you get inked, get educated.