The government is not the friend of body modification

On one of the “anti-scratcher” Facebook groups and around the net there’s recently been a bit of a huff about Sears selling tattoo kits. As a result well-intentioned busy-bodies were calling for boycotts of a wide range of companies and, much more worryingly, for the government to step in and make laws ensuring that only “reputable businesses” could purchase tattoo or piercing equipment. The whole thing made me sick, disappointed, and extremely nervous.

First of all, it’s important to point out that Sears was not selling tattoo kits. Sears, like Amazon and many other large online retailers, allows third party sellers to advertise — to place products — on their retail product search engine. This is good for the mega-retailer because it lets them expand their footprint even more, keeps customers on their site even when they don’t stock the product, and gets them a cut of the sales of smaller retailers. That’s all that this was. Sears simply had an advertiser using their platform to drive traffic to their business. It’s like saying that Google somehow endorses everyone who advertises with them, or even that Etsy endorses every storefront featured on their site. It’s completely silly to see that kind of a direct and incriminating relationship. And in any case, the tattoo kits were quickly removed, so for a wide range of reasons, the whole thing is irrelevant. Yay, the busy-body tattoo artists win their battle against free speech and open markets! Hooray?

But that didn’t stop people from continuing to shout out that the government needed to step in with new regulations to make sure that no one that didn’t work at a government-approved tattoo shop got their hands on ink or machines. Do these foolish people really think that the government is the friend of body modification? Have they forgotten the history of this art form, and how much of its history we have had to fight to keep the government from shutting us down? Now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be basic health and safety standards in place for tattoo shops. Of course there should be. And in nearly every jurisdiction there are, and that’s all we need. Beyond that, we do not need any more laws. We want the absolute minimum number of laws to protect the public and ourselves. Anything more is playing with fire and invites the government to regulate an industry that they neither understand nor approve of. Encouraging these types of laws will only hurt the tattoo industry.

Some people claimed that these laws were needed to protect their businesses from disreputable scratchers. The fact is that scratchers working out of their homes are not stealing your business, and government laws aren’t going to change that. First, because it’s not hard for those scratchers to go and pay $50 to get a government business license and take a meaningless test in the regions that have them. Any fool can do that. The government can’t regulate quality or talent. All they can do is force you to pay them some money and jump through some largely meaningless hoops. Most importantly, what protects good artists from scratchers is their portfolio. If your work isn’t good enough to keep people from going to basement scratchers, I have trouble working up a whole lot of sympathy for you. If you can’t convince the public, which these days is much better educated about what a good tattoo looks like, to come to you instead of some no-talent scratcher, and you think that the solution is to have the government force people to come to you instead, well, screw you. You’re part of the problem. The industry is doing a good job educating the public on how to recognize quality artists and reputable shops. We don’t need bureaucrats to come and mess it up. Those scratchers are scooping up foolish people who don’t know anything about tattooing. If you want those people to become your customers, educate them. A law making sure that scratcher pays $50 before buying more ink won’t change a damn thing other than making sure the government has its nose in your business even more.

In addition, there are a great many reasons why a person might want to purchase tattoo or piercing equipment without having a government approved business. They may be a retired professional tattooing their friends. They may be a pervert working on themselves or their partner (and while that might gross you out, and you might think you can tattoo better panties on him than he can do himself, I hope you agree he has the fundamental civil right to do that to himself). Or the artist may not have legal status in their jurisdiction or otherwise be unable to apply. They may live in a region where tattooing is illegal and thus can not get government certification. And so on. There is a long list of good reasons. The fact that part of the tattoo industry is fighting to restrict civil rights and free expression is beyond disgusting.

Historically body modification is an underground, rebel industry. It has spent most of its history at odds with the government, and while it is now begrudgingly tolerated, the government are not our friends. There are better ways of making high quality tattoos available to the public safely than begging the government to legislate it. Every bit of history and every bit of experience we have had as an industry has taught us to be wary of the government. The less regulation the better. If the government gets it in their heads to regulate, get involved and make sure it’s good regulation, but don’t ask them for additional regulation. I realize that there are a lot of young people in this industry now that don’t remember its history or where it came from or how it evolved, but trust me… the government is not the friend of body modification!


  1. Shannon wrote:

    Actually, looks like they didn’t take them all down…

    Friday, March 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Shannon wrote:

    For over thirty years the tattoo industry has been bemoaning tattoo kits ruining the industry but has the industry been ruined, or has it grown and grown? If anything it’s the very success of tattooing being accepted by the mainstream (especially ladies as of recently) that is scaring tattooists into supporting legislation to limit entry into the industry to the ‘correct people’, everyone from the Government to the mentor wants to make money off of new body art legislation, and the evidence put forth is often irrelevant and hidden in the footnotes because they think no one will look up the references and see the changes and game changing omissions. The government is just as much to blame for this as the body arts industry is.

    Not too many years ago the APP (Piercers association) was trying to create a scare by claiming that no studio that uses a typical stream autoclave can assure proper sterilization, this claim was based on one citation of a stint (an item used in heart surgery) requiring special sterilization; the findings had no bearing on forceps or any other common body art tool but the APP solution wasn’t to explain the irrelevance of the one citation they found, but seemed to be that every studio needed to buy a Statim! (An APP member has exclusive rights to sell Statims to the body arts). The body arts is just as willing to burden their grandchildren with unnecessary and stifling legislation as the Government is! It’s just as bad as patriotism or religion “We are #1” and if you disagree it’s time to vilify you with dirty politics and huge omissions of the majority of the truth; I’ve seen the body arts do it, and and I’ve seen the government do it to the body arts; can you really blame the government for attacking us when we attack each other with, and over nonsense?

    Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    BTW, the above Shannon is not me that writes the blog, but a different Shannon.

    The regulation thing reminded me of something else. The APP and others rightly fought for autoclaves to be required in studios. However, these days, a tattoo shop can run 100% without a clave. Everything can be made disposable. Ironically, a NO CLAVE studio could actually be safer because there is no chance for human error!

    Friday, March 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  4. Operator wrote:

    In response to your comment, I tattoo out of my home. I am what you may classify as a scratcher on some levels. My wife and I are both tattooed, possess artisitic talent and found it much cheaper to tattoo each other at home with our own equipment. As the quality increased friends began asking for work and we happily obliged. We have never been “apprenticed” other than having a professional tattoo artist friend educate us on health and safety and basic equipment maintenance. In our geographic area there is no possibility of aquiring a proper apprenticeship. We also employ a NO CLAVE system where anything contaminated is disposable and have a system worked out with the local health care folks to dispose of needles properly. Am I negatively affecting the “pro” tattoo industry in my area? I don’t think so. I believe we are getting back to basics and just being artists.

    Monday, April 2, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink
  5. Chase wrote:

    Thank you very much for writing this. I have 3 “scratched” pieces and about 13 “professional” pieces. I got them all for different reasons and knew what I was getting into. I think a lot of the tension over “scratchers” is that some of them do better quality work for half the price than their local shop tattooist counterpart.

    Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  6. Amanda wrote:

    You know, I was extremely excited as a Tattoo Artist to find that Washington just began requiring Tattoo Licenses. I expected a test of sorts on proper disposal, cross contamination and other safety issues. Boy was I sorely disappointed. I cut a check and sent it to the state and Voila! Tattoo license. I completely agree with them regulating manufacture’s needles and such, but other than that, I hope they stay out.

    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  7. Allison wrote:

    The problem with untrained people getting their hands on tattoo equipment and using it on their idiot friends is that they know nothing about preventing the spread of diseases. There’s more to it than just using a new needle.

    It’s a profession, not a hobby, because you can seriously hurt or kill people. Just because some customers are stupid enough to open themselves up to this kind of risk doesn’t mean that it should be an option.

    I can’t buy dental equipment and start offering dentistry out of my basement at a discounted rate for the same reason.

    Friday, October 26, 2012 at 2:18 am | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *