Adam Millard - The Illustrated Man
There are so many important things I want to talk about in due course – the pathetic coalition government dragging us back into the dark ages, global warming and the threat it presents to us as a species, and treading on Lego blocks when heading across the landing in the dead of night to use the lavatory – but for now I want to discuss something much more significant, something so controversial, even Joan Rivers wouldn’t make a joke out if it.
I want to talk about tattoos.
Now, those of you that have seen me naked will know that a good proportion of me is inked, and the few that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing me naked, well, sorry about that, but this ship has sailed. My back pays homage to my favourite horror characters – Captain Spaulding, Reagan McNeil, Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Jason Voorhees et al – and the rest of me is made up of zombies, skulls, tribal, and Tim Burton stuff. I often glare at the bare sections of my body with contempt. Sometimes I yell at my right leg,“Why can’t you be more like your brother?” and in time, I know my right leg will fall into line, because this is my damn body and it does what I tell it to (especially now that I’ve been teetotal for three years).
Tattoos were once a sign of rebellion. An argument with your parents and off you went to the nearest parlour to get something garish and offensive scribbled across your forehead. For me, my first tattoo was symbolic, a simple guitar design on my right forearm at the age of sixteen. “Sixteen, you say?” Yes, but I had three hairs on my chin and another two elsewhere, so as far as I was concerned, a tattoo was the perfect way to celebrate my adulthood. It wasn’t a rebellious tattoo, and my mother knew I was getting it. By the time I turned eighteen, I had two more large tattoos. You see, I was about to enter the British Army, and I thought it would make me look tougher than my meek frame suggested. For some reason I confused the Army with prison, and I quickly discovered that it mattered not one iota who had the most tats in the platoon, or if they were even spelt correctly. It’s pretty easy to forget all about your ink when you’re being CS-gassed half to death in a small wooden hut in the middle of nowhere.
When I left the army, I set about collecting as many tattoos as possible. Once a week – usually a Wednesday, because it was fish-finger tea on Wednesday, a simple repast for someone who’s lost a lot of blood – I would put myself through three or four hours of pain, and I would look forward to it, like some sadomasochistic, fish-finger-eating reprobate. My brother (who is now an extremely successful tattoo artist, for which I take all the credit – you’re welcome, bro!) painted me like one of his French girls, and it wasn’t long before a greyscale horror mural filled my entire back.
Was that enough? Could I move on to something else, perhaps piercings, or glue-sniffing? Not on your Nellie. For one, I don’t like needles. But you’ve got sixty tattoos, you muppet! Yes, but there is a huge difference between a tattoo needle and those Zulu daggers they use to extract blood with, and I’m almost certain that thing the dentist uses to administer lidocaine to the gum is the same lightning rod that impaled Father Brennan in The Omen.
Tattoos hurt (yes they do, so stop being a big man/woman and admit it) but they’re incredibly addictive. Ask anyone who’s recently been inked if they would ever get another, and you’re likely to discover that not only would they get another, but they’ve already booked up for it, and the one after that, and they’re now considering a full sleeve and a portrait of David Cameron on their arse-cheeks.
Society’s attitude towards tattoos is changing, too. There was a time when a simple Chinese symbol tattoo (21. egg-fried rice) would prevent its bearer from ever getting a job, a husband, a heart-transplant. Not anymore. If employers strictly enforced a no tattoo policy in 2014, they would find themselves very lonely in the canteen at lunchtime, sobbing into their cappafrappacinolatte, wondering where it all went wrong, and how long it was going to take to clean the toilets that afternoon. Even the Queen has a tattoo – just a small one of Easy Rider-era Dennis Hopper on her inner-thigh, but they all count.
Tattoos are on the increase, but so is tattoo removal. In the US between 2011-12, laser tattoo removal treatment increased 32%. Another survey is being carried out to find out just how many of those removed tattoos were of President Obama. I’m pleased to say that I’ve never regretted a tattoo enough to expunge it from my flesh, but buried deep beneath the large Batman logo on my stomach is a girl’s name. Needless to say, things didn’t work out and Batman came to the rescue. Getting a girl- or boy-friend’s name etched on your skin is asking for trouble. Marry them first, and then if you’re still together twenty-five years later, get a Batman tat instead. Both of you get superhero tats to celebrate your silver anniversary. You’ll thank me later.
Finally, I want to mention something that drives me crazy. And those of you with tattoos will already be sick of this question. “What are you going to do about your tattoos when you’re old?” There is no right answer, and “My tats will be the least of my worries when my arse is hanging out and I’ve forgotten where I’ve put the car keys, or if I can even drive,” is apparently not acceptable. So I’ll leave this image here, which answers that annoying question better than I ever could.
You guessed it, didn't you? You knew that words fell out when I opened my mouth, and yet you still clicked on the link. That, my friends, is the power of social media, and while I loathe those click-bait articles, I often find myself hovering over them, trying to figure out just what happens next to the trampolining cheerleader, or how the deathbed letter from the dying squirrel ends. Usually, the cheerleader ends up in traction and the squirrel runs out of ink, but that's beside the point. What matters is that our interest is piqued enough to click, and that is all these websites want.
Buzzfeed and Upworthy are the purveyors of this method of content marketing, often with headlines such as, "This Dolphin Tried on This Size 10 Primark Dress - What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind!" How can you not be intrigued by such an absurd headline? So away you click, instantly directed to the website to read all about the cross-dressing Flipper. If you're really lucky, the website will then share that link on your own Facebook timeline, saving you the trouble completely. And from there, all your friends will see that you couldn't wait to read about Dolly the Dolphin, and will want in on the action. They click, they share, they too are disappointed by the outcome of the article. And round and round it goes, a shit-covered windmill and you're standing right under it.
Clickbaiting has become such a problem that there are rumours of Facebook - who are so wonderful when it comes to advertising (does this blog support Sarcasm 7.0?) - attempting to get it banned. To which Buzzfeed might say, "OMG FB Tries to Ban Clickbaiting - You'll Never Guess What Happens Next!"
It's all a way of getting us, the gullible internet-browsing public, over to their site so that they can have their dirty, wicked way with us. Whenever I leave Buzzfeed or Upworthy, I always feel violated, checking myself over for sores or itchy spots. Sometimes I sob, "I didn't want to go theeeere! I...I didn't need to know how good the Eskimo was on the bongo drums, whaaaaaaaa!" But by then it's too late. Not even a wipe of my recent History and a hot shower can change the fact that I fell for it yet again.
So, the next time you see a clickbait article - just like the one that got you here - take a deep breath, close your eyes and count to a hundred. By the time you open them, "You'll Never Believe What Happens to this Obese Chipmunk!" will be so far down your news-feed, not even Mark Zuckerberg will be able to find it.
Writer of bestselling "The Dead" Series. Author of paranormal novels, The Susceptibles and Deathdealers, and bizarro novellas Larry, Hamsterdamned!, Vinyl Destination, and The Human Santapede.