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!