This Easter weekend saw the Scottish Tattoo Convention take place in Edinburgh, and with it came awards for the best tattoos on show. This included a category for the best Scottish-themed tattoo, won by 34-year-old John Cuthbert with his ‘Taggart’ backpiece, featuring both Mark McManus’ face and the Finnieston crane.
Granted, inking the star of a television drama on your back is a huge commitment. But pop culture references in tattooing are not a new concept. For years, fans of musicians, film and television stars have been paying the ultimate accolade, and pop culture tattoos are now popular beyond recognition; one doesn’t blink at tattoos embodying references to the Super Mario Bros video games, and portraits of musicians — from Bob Marley to David Bowie — on the skin are common sights.
Analysing the psychology behind pop culture tattoos isn’t easy. One could formulate that they were done in the spur of the moment, and mean less to their wearer than more sentimental tattoos, such as family-oriented ones. But don’t be fooled, as they sometimes have a powerful back story to them. Sure, a Bart Simpson tattoo may not look as beautiful as a portrait piece of Princess Diana, but the thought behind both are the same. Someone appreciated them both enough to get them permanently put under their skin; whether as a nod to their childhood or because they simply found it aesthetically pleasing.
The leap from ‘fan’ to ‘tattooed fanatic’ may seem huge, but it wouldn’t shock anyone deeply rooted in tattoo culture. The modern use of the phrase ‘that would make a great tattoo!’ does, however, say something about our attachment to popular culture. Tattooing dates back thousands of years, yet I’ve never seen a vintage tattoo celebrating the work of Shakespeare. A change of culture has resulted in a change of attitude: we are in a disposable age where technology lasts only slightly longer than fashion, and our appreciation of our own skin is in the same boat.
We tattoo more freely than ever before, and that’s okay. It says less about the quality of pop culture and more about the way in which we translate our love for it. No longer will fan-mail or posters satisfy us; every fan is determined to outdo another. Tattoos are the ultimate way to prove ourselves. On a more flippant note, it’s also a way of being noticed. Bands and actors rarely acknowledge a compliment, but tattoos get attention. Social media and news outlets will always notice a bold tattoo featuring a popular culture reference. It’s something we can all relate to.