By Myke Chambers
If you're familiar with 19th century American history then you should know a little about the westward expansion of the Euro-American and the ensuing American Indian wars leading to the near extinction of all Native American culture.
Now I'm not going to go into all the horrific atrocities committed by the Euro-American against the American Indians, all the countless promises broken and massacres of women and children. Please understand I'm in no way saying the mass genocide and all the horrors done to the Native American in the past and in the present in any way compares. That wasn't the purpose of this at all. I myself am part Cherokee. What is happening with tattooing is obviously nowhere near as horrific as what happened to the native tribes. No, I have another purpose for bringing this bit of history up. You may be asking yourself where the hell is he going with this and what the hell does American history have to do with tattooing... Bear with me, and while you do look for history repeating itself... though not on such a horrific scale...
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In the 1800s the Euro-American's were mostly confined to the territory east of the Mississippi. With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and mass emigration from Europe the Westward Expansion was initiated. In Europe at the time there was mass famine and disease due to the Great Famine, or Irish Potato Famine, when over 1 million Irish families immigrated to America after hearing tales of free land and prosperity for all. What they actually found were cities already busting at the seams with conditions not much better than what they left. The only other option they had was... head west. The only problem was the West was designated Indian Territory with peace treaties already signed between the new US Government and the Great Plains tribes. Manifest Destiny was then employed.
The American Indian at that time had no desire to adopt the “white man's ways.” They were perfectly content living within their highly structured culture, living at one with nature. The Native American had an extreme reverence for nature, their culture and their spiritual beliefs. Beliefs the Euro-American's saw as heathen and savage. These “savages” had to go. They were on good fertile land so little by little settlers started moving into Indian Territory. Some of the tribal chiefs saw what was happening and knew it wasn't a good thing. They had foresight to see that the end was coming soon if they didn't do something and fast, though other chiefs believed the promises of the US Government. Even after countless broken treaties they still insisted on trusting in the good of man. Honor and truth were an integral part of Indian life and culture. Tradition was the glue that held the Indian way of life together. Tradition and reverence for the Great Spirit, which in essence was everything. They believed everything was One and connected. (Something our scientists are just now discovering to be true.)
By the time all the Indian nations realized there was a flood of Euro-Americans coming it was too late. Westward Expansion was in full motion. Had the all the nations banded together in one solid front instead of warring with each other and fighting the settlers and US Army separately it might have been different, but as it was there were just too many factors against them by the time they decided they needed to pull together and fight. The Indians were still living in the late Stone Age with their weapons while the Industrial Revolution was in full swing giving the Euro-Americans the advantage of mass-produced bolt-action breech-loading rifles capable of killing at a thousand yards. Not to mention solders by the thousands.
There's gold in them thar hills!
Now not only were settlers moving westward but then with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills that brought the flood of people even stronger, bringing out a different type of intruder onto Indian land. Gold diggers.
Gold fever was spreading like wildfire and every Tom, Dick and Harry looking for a quick fortune wanted in on the action. Yeah a few people got rich but it wasn't the guys digging in the mines or panning in the stream... It was the guys selling them their supplies and then big money came in and started strip mining and destroying the land. Land that the Native Americans held sacred.
Now before I get off on another rant I need to pull this all together. Okay, so if you haven't found the similarities yet let me point a few out to you.
The Westward Expansion is here and I'm sorry to say but the flood gates are open.
With the declining economy, high unemployment rate and the boom of tattooing in the media, tattooing has now become big business and big corporations are starting to take notice. A zillion tattoo magazines, a ton of TV shows and the internet has young kids thinking it's okay to get their hands, neck and faces tattooed leaving them virtually unemployable with no other option, they think, other than to learn to tattoo. I also see people wanting to get into tattooing because they think there's good money in it and it would be easy. As a tattooer that's been tattooing over 17 years I promise you that is false.
There are a ton of reasons the masses are wanting to get into tattooing but it all comes down to two things.
A. Easy money
B. It's cool
The way I see it we're past the point where we could've banded together and stopped it like the Native Americans could have in the beginning when the Europeans first stepped foot on shore, but it's not too late to pull together on one united front to save our traditions and culture. This includes those of you that don't tattoo but love it all the same, because we as tattooers wouldn't be anything without someone to tattoo. I know that seems pretty obvious but a lot of tattooers don't seem to think the clients matter much. The real tattooers know the fallacy in that statement. It seems even TV shows like Ink Master and Best Ink don't think much of clients when they refer to them as “canvases” or “skins.” This is where the moral thread starts to unravel and our culture will start to get lost.
When a tattoo is crafted it's crafted for that person and leaves a lasting bond between that tattooer and the client that got the tattoo. It's a memory. Whether the tattoo was a spur of the moment flash piece that really has no meaning other than it was cool and fun or it was a well thought out memorial tattoo for a lost loved one, they both still hold meaning. The tattooer may forget about that tattoo after time passes but the person wearing it never will. Our job is to not only give the best tattoo we can but also the best experience for that person we can. These are values that should be passed down and instilled in every new tattooer. Tattooers have a chance to positively impact people's lives on a daily basis.
Imagine the things that could be done to improve the world just through tattooing. I know that sounds grand and we're just tattooers but look around. People look up to tattooers. It's strange I know, but it's true. We can all make a difference. Not only tattooers but the entire community.... a huge community. United we can help change the world for the better, but the only way to do it is to stop fighting change and start working with it. We must integrate it into our lives if we want to keep our culture intact. If we don't a tattoo will soon never be a tattoo again... It will be a “tat,” also “ink” won't be what a tattooer puts in the skin to make a tattoo, but what someone wears on their skin... formerly known as a tattoo.
We can sit around and bitch about the doom and gloom of the future of tattooing and get jaded to the whole ordeal or we can unite and actually make difference like the Great War Chiefs could have. Their braves knew the land better, could survive the harsh winter and were better warriors than the invading Euro-Americans, yet they couldn't put aside their differences for a common threat to their way of life, that ultimately was their undoing. Of course they would've had to adapt to the changing time the same we all will. There is no turning back so we have to take it from here... into a new future.
The uncertainty of the future is always frightening. No one I have ever met has liked change.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.”
-Viktor E. Frankl
This change must start with ourselves... individually. Then we can move into a untied effort. But where does it start?
Public education... And that's where the Think Tank movement of Tattoo Culture comes in. I'm honored to be asked to contribute to this movement and brought into the fold from its infancy. It's been nothing short of amazing to watch tattooers come together and brainstorm for this movement... and this is only the beginning. Making the public aware of quality tattooing and moral ethics is the only real way to keep this ship afloat. Once they know the difference between a good tattoo and a bad one the bad tattooers will have to grow or go so to speak, because less and less people will be paying their bills.
Here are a few key obstacles we are facing. The first and foremost being tattoo TV shows and the poor representation of the craft in the mainstream media. When a TV show called “Ink Master” claims 10 or 12 of “the best tattoo artists in the world” competing against each other and at least 1 to 3 of these so-called “best” really have no business tattooing because they're so bad, you know something is wrong. And they're telling the public they're the best. What is this really saying to the average potential client? It's saying, “Oh that guy down the street must be good because he's better than that guy on TV,” when in fact he's just as bad. The only saving grace to Ink Master is that the judges actually call the tattoos for what they are. When they see crap they don't hold back so there's some public education. The only problem is they're telling “12 of the best in the world” that they suck. This line in the show's promo needs to be petitioned to be changed. That, or really get 12 of the best which leads me to...
Okay, so I'm gonna say it... You might not like it but the only way to do some damage control is for solid tattooers to step up to the mainstream media plate. The problem is no one wants to do it. I'll admit I've been asked to be on every one of these contest shows and I've turned them down countless times. I did tell one show I'd be a judge. Now I'm not saying I'd ever go on TV and compete because I won't. Tattooing is not a competition for me. The only tattoo I want to beat is the one I did the day before. That said, I would however do a TV show that was more true to real life, promoted public education/awareness and positivity, perhaps about the history of the craft.
Today my goal is to remove all negativity from my life and spread as much positivity into the world as I can. It's a path I've been on for some time but I believe it's starting to take hold. This is a path I'd like to encourage every chance I can in others.
I understand there will be people who don't agree with my point of views. That's fine. I'm always open to civil discussion.
(Myke can be found on the road and at Freaks & Geeks Tattoo in Asheville, NC and Northern Liberty Tattoo, in Philadelphia, PA.)
Read more from Myke:
Myke Chambers: Sorry if I Sound Like a Dick, but Your Tattoos Suck
Myke Chambers: Fox in Rose Tattoo (VIDEO)