I’d never heard of Tony Parsons before, but when I first noticed this anti-tattoo screed of his off to the right of some other item, (a Top Ten war movie list by AA Gill, I think, which was actually quite good), I’d hoped I might be in for a treat. After all, everyone knows the finest invectives come clad in British Racing Spleen. What I was treated to instead was a growing sense of discomfiture as I waded through both pages; something on the order of walking in on a complete stranger doing something bizarre and vaguely unwholesome with themselves.
Like anyone easily bored, I’ve a weakness for brash characters with bold and even outrageous opinions on things (the more disproportionate the outrage to the thing, the better). I suspect that’s how Mr. Parsons fancies himself, but he so deeply, deeply sucks at it. I grant that it’s no small feat to take on any mainstay of popular culture, especially the tattoo, considering how almost no-one doesn’t have several; but I, for one, should’ve been an easy sell, as I’ve never thought tattoos elevated anyone’s natural beauty. I’m also no great fan of obviousness, and tattoos are nothing if not unsubtle — like wearing your jacket inside-out to expose a favorite lining. In spite of this seeming accord, Parsons managed to instantly and completely alienate me with his full-blast frighteningly high-proof jaundice that flowed throughout the entire piece.
From the start, Tony wastes no time flipping back his rug to expose some very ugly bugs. An example from early on in the piece: She […] had a flower dribbling down her leg like some bloody anal discharge. Now, honestly, why would anyone resort to conjuring such base mental imagery in order to convey such a terrifically minor point? (Not to mention, I’d been attempting to enjoy some breakfast while reading this; fucker.) Even darker cacophemisms follow with some out-and-out misogyny in what Tony clearly considers his literary money shot: Even the men I know who love a tattooed lady [think] tattoos make [her] look like a dirty slut. Y’know…suddenly, this isn’t really about tattoos anymore — is it?
It’s hard to pick a favorite bon mot, but if forced to, I’d probably have to go with this: Why does covering yourself with crap cartoons give you the moral high ground? And why are the rest of us obliged to like it?
Moral high ground, eh? Reaching just a bit there, Tony? After all, you’re getting paid to lambast a fad which only seems undying because it can’t be retired as easily as your own past indiscretions; people can’t fling their tattoos to the back of the closet like your nylon tangas, or drop them off at a Sally Army hopper after a spring cleaning. And just what is it you’re being forced to take, exactly? Sharing this planet with people who aren’t following the same schematic as you? Yeah, that is rough.
It’s a pity, too, for a good hatred can be good fun. More than once, a well-turned polemic has really helped get me through the day — certainly more effective than any platitudinous tripe. On occasion, rants can even prove illuminating. After all, with heat sometimes comes light. Not so with Parsons; his low-grade hatred burns too hot and puts off a lingering stench with a lumen value of naught. Instead of metering his loathing with precision-aligned spleen vents, Parsons prefers to yank the choke out and mash the pedal to the floor. One could never imagine his words being narrated in a velvety lilt by the late George Sanders — the least one hopes for from any seasoned Brit journo. One instead envisions the author red-faced and snarling , Earl Grey’d phlegm spraying from his snout as he stamps his feet and hurls fragile heirlooms across the room between paragraphs like a ten-cent Elmer Gantry; but, no, there’s not even that much energy here. It’s a lazy repugnance Tony dispenses with, and incidentally, not unlike the worst tattoo in its way — a fatuous overture to all the things he adores: big money, big muscles and small minds that clunk and hiss along the same warped tracks as his own. And that’s another thing: his high-foaming allegiance to wealth and power is scummier and more feeble than anyone with a pair of gonads ought be allowed to be in print. I mean, when he writes things like, For so long the province of the stupid and the poor, tattoos are now sported on people with good degrees and a black AmEx, my asshole literally twinges, and I think seriously about getting it tattooed with Tony’s likeness.
A more elegant tack might have been a denunciation of the quotidian creep in western culture for which the tattoo serves as one of the foremost hallmarks. Hell, I suspect most ink freaks would rally behind you — at least the old schoolers. That’s because the ubiquity of the tattoo has undermined what once seemed like a maker’s mark reserved for the outsider. You couldn’t make a film like The Illustrated Man nowadays, because the tattoo connotes little more than a suburban dalliance with the not-so-wild side; long gone is any sense of menace or intrigue they once aroused. At best, tattoos have been reduced to a trim option alongside other unfortunate frippery. In other words, they’re safe. Personally, I’ve not lingered on or analyzed anyone’s tattoos in years — not even those of friend’s. All I see are random clusters of distortion scattered across the dermal field which my brain then registers as: tattoos. Beyond that, they’re honestly invisible to me.
And how about the ever-loathsome consumerist angle? After all, people shop for tattoos, and they aren’t exactly a cheap form of self-advertisement (though they certainly lack the basic utility supplied by other durable forms, be it clothing or even automobiles). In the late nineties, I was living downtown near one of those trendy ‘urban’ boutiques where I’d watch from my kitchen window the droves of trust fund dorks filing inside to piss away their pennies from heaven. When it came to image, this place was like a John Deere — a real testament to America’s manufacturing prowess. It was a huge space, too — an REI-like one-stop-shop for the cut-’n’-paste crowd who’d been convinced that cool was merely a retail concern. They had it all: tattoos & piercings in back; DJ equipment, 12″ singles, and the latest sneakers up front — all swaddling necessary for marketing themselves to one another. Living next to that homogenizing plant engendered in me a quiet but very real sense of misanthropy. I sometimes wasn’t even sure I wanted to make art anymore. Fucking conformists!
Finally — this is just bad writing! A tautological screed that reads like it was bashed out hastily by some chair-ass’d dweeb a half hour before deadline; a shitty little man squatting in first class with his smelly black nylons kicked-up, brain sodden with endless cups of generic Bordeaux as his bloated extremities clack about the qwerty, straining for one of those classic Parsons zingers! Example: A few lines down from the quote above about tattoos being the province of the stupid and poor, Tony trots out this bilious gem: Tattoos were once the province of the rump of the working class – men and women who made a mark on their body because they would never make a mark on their life or the world. Yet another pale turd flung in the face of the working class, for which Tony must think he’s keeping it real by repeatedly unloading upon, and…it’s nearly the exact same wording as the line above! Talk about belaboring your own vitriol. I recommend researching the concept of attrition, Tony.
One other point: is this really a subject that merits two pages of consideration in a major periodical? I know, I know — it’s only GQ — but Tony enjoys a public stage with a sizable audience, (or so I assume), and this is what he chooses to train his cross-hairs on? An unfortunate but ultimately benign trend? With all the endlessly interesting bullshit taking place around us, it makes me a little depressed. That, and that he or anyone else could fancy this man a writer. He is not. There is no love of letters evident in this slush. Tony Parsons is an unmitigated hack suffering from the laziness and conceit that comes from banking exclusively on one’s brand. I am certain if we were face-to-face, and I called him on the carpet for being the mildewed, status-crazed joke that he so clearly is, he’d turn cataleptic, brandish his CV, (likely as padded as this ridiculous piece), and begin spewing about how much blacker his AmEx is than mine.
Worst of all for me, Parsons has sullied a perfectly good pet hatred by hating it with all the gusto and slobber of a horny adolescent. In so doing, he’s diminished the thrust of my own loathing for a rather loathsome trend, if for no other reason than my not wanting to be affiliated with the Tony Parsons of the world. Thanks, bastard!