Johnny Depp once had “Winona Forever” tattooed on his shoulder but changed it to “Wino Forever” when his relationship with Winona Ryder turned out to last somewhat short of “forever.” Angelina Jolie once sported the name “Billy Bob,” for Billy Bob Thornton, but, since she began a relationship with Brad Pitt, has had it replaced with the global coordinates of her children’s birthplaces. She is also emblazoned with the legend “Know Your Rights.” The British writer Simon Mills likens that to a sign hung in small-claims court.
David Beckham has turned his body into a billboard of Hebrew, Chinese and Hindi characters, not to mention a semi-nude representation of his wife. Victoria Beckham, the aforementioned semi-nude, is graffitied with Roman numerals and Hebrew lettering. As for the conspicuously tattooed Amy Winehouse, her lyrics bespeak an intelligence that someday — if she has a someday — will cause her to wonder why she never gave that day a thought.
Celebrities! Getting tattoos of which Richard Cohen does not approve! Good Lord, whatever shall we do!
But wait, it’s not just Richard wanting to imagine Angelina Jolie’s gloriously demarcated body and David Beckham’s unbelievably sculpted ass (drifts off into happy daydream on both counts). He’s gota larger issue to explore:
The permanence of the moment — the conviction that now is forever — explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future.
Here and there the occasional scold warned that all this was unsustainable. Social Security is underfunded. The government ought to — just occasionally — balance its books. But for a long time, the unsustainable seemed sustainable. The immutable rules were mutable. Virtually the entire political establishment insisted that tomorrow would never come. Republicans joined with Democrats in never calling in a loan. Who says bipartisanship is dead? Not when it comes to fiscal irresponsibility.
Wait … what? We’re in debt because Angelina Jolie has hot tattoos? I know, I know, metaphor, but … shitty metaphor, okay?
Back in the olden days, tattoos MEANT SOMETHING:
I recall a tiny scandal of some years back when it was alleged that George Shultz, then secretary of state, had a tattoo of a tiger on the nether reaches of his body. This was credible because Shultz had gone to Princeton, where such tattooing was once customary for undergrads, although not, I hope, for the faculty. (I am thinking now of Einstein.) I also know a Navy man who had a bicep done in World War II, not that it stopped him from becoming executive editor of The Post. I withhold his name out of consideration for his family.
But the tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today’s are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they’re on. They don’t represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today’s whim will be tomorrow’s joy.
You know, I really hate selfish nostalgia. Really, really, really hate it. The good old days always sucked for somebody, you were never as awesome as you think you were (and the people who don’t go around yelling about how awesome they are were more awesome than they know), and on balance, stuff now sucks about as much as it’s ever sucked. I’m not happy about global warming and gas prices and clothes that only last one season but I’m crazy about the Internet and that my hypothetical children will be able to marry whoever they like. We’re all doing the best we can.
I have decades’ worth of photos of me wearing clothes that now look like costumes. My hair has been long and then longer and then short. My lapels have been wide, then wider, then narrow. I have written awful columns I once thought were brilliant and embraced ideas I now think are foolish. Nothing is forever.
So, wait. Is impermanence bad, then, or good? I thought we were saying Brangelina needed to stop inking and start thinking? WTF?
Jesus, the entire commentary: remember back when you were young, and you didn’t suck? I swear, some of these guys, I just want to send them a Hallmark or something: IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO STOP BEING A GINORMOUS DOUCHEBAG. It’s like they think there was a timestamp on being awesome, and now it’s all over, so might as well make it the fault of the world, time itself, or people today who just aren’t as great as they were in their distant youth. This kind of excuse-making drives me crazy. Once and for all, Richard, if you’re not who you wanted to be when you grew up, last I checked you were still breathing, so quit making excuses for why you suck and try not sucking for a while.