G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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This passage in John Quiggin’s essay was interesting:
More importantly, the culture of conspicuous consumption, which reached unparalleled heights of excess in the 1990s and early 2000s, is on the wane. The most striking emblem of this change is the end of the American love affair with the motor car. Throughout the 20th century the car stood in American culture as a symbol of personal freedom attainable through consumption expenditure. Year after year, pausing only briefly for recessions and slowdowns, more and more cars were driven further and further, burning more and more petrol. But this endless growth has now, apparently, come to an end. The use of petrol in the US peaked in 2005, before the advent of the economic crisis. The distance driven has also peaked and Americans are buying fewer and smaller cars. Economic factors, including higher fuel prices, have a role to play. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there is more to it than this. Increasingly, driving is seen as an unpleasant chore rather than an exercise of freedom. Young people in particular have been less eager than their parents to start driving and acquire cars.
I wonder if there’s been a general trend away from the vehicle to focus on the body. When I think of the classic American “love affair with the motorcar” I think of young men buying new gadgets for their car or tricking it out with different add-ons and paint schemes. The analogue to the body would be the tattoo. As a side note, my dad, a graphics/sign painter/design guy, has always talked about starting up a business named “Auto Tattoo”.
I was talking to a co-worker last night who was going on about what I like to call, mockingly, a “Five Year Tattoo Plan”. If you are ever around people in their early 20s, you’ll hear a not insignificant number of them talking about their long-term tattoo strategies. It’s pretty annoying, but I indulge. It’s not a ubiquitous trend, but it’s certainly increased over the past five or ten years. Tattoos in general have increased in popularity, and people talking about their tattoos has naturally followed suit. Also, as more people get more tattoos, you see more people with abandoned tattoo projects that are similar to primer-covered hot rods. Half-done, indefinitely. A tattoo frame without color becomes the new norm as the wearer loses the initial spark which drove him towards the concept in the first place. A couple of guys at my gym have back pieces – one of a set of wings – which seem like they’ll be perpetually unfilled.
My co-worker was walking me through the different stages of his project and talking about his plans to save up money for each stage by working more shifts and what not. He’s started at the top of his arm and is going to have a complete sleeve filled out, and it sounds like it might take years. I thought of Quiggin’s essay and how guys used to more often talk about their vehicles the same way. Ten years ago (and definitely 20,30,40 years ago) a guy might save up money to finally cover his primer or maybe he’d purchase a spoiler that didn’t look like something out of a Lego box. That was always a working-class thing, and now the same class has started focusing their limited cash flow on skin design.
My instinct is to just ridicule what I see as a waste of time and energy, but I also see it as a fundamental human characteristic. That gets back to Quiggin’s essay which was about society adopting a 15 hour work week. Even if provided ample amounts of leisure, people will still want to work to purchase status or something that they feel pride in owning or showing off. They want to plan and tinker and build and design and do all of that stuff. They don’t just sit around staring at an empty canvas. People are chaotic and stupid, but that’s kind of the beauty of human nature.