The mixing of two subcultures is a fairly common occurrence in the U.S., and in some cases it can have flashy and colorful results. One such instance is the intersection of car culture and tattooing, each an American pastime in its own right. Not surprisingly, the collision has been the most prominent in Detroit, both the symbolic home of the U.S. auto industry and a city that has historically been very welcoming to the body art community. In fact, many tattoo artists are finding that their body modded clients' love of cars is becoming a major force in driving their business in recent years.
Motor City also a national inkstitution
It's no secret that Detroit, birthplace of General Motors, one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world, is universally regarded as the eminent automotive mecca of the U.S. But what you may not know is that it's one of the most tattoo-friendly cities in the country and has been for a while. According to the Detroit News, the city was home to the largest tattoo shop in the nation in 1925, and today, Detroit still boasts the most tattoo shops per capita out of anywhere in the U.S.
The city's openness of tattooing as a practice is unique and serves to set it apart from other major cities. Many states have notorious tattoo bans on their legislative history: New York banned the practice until 1997, while Massachusetts didn't ease up on inksters until 2000, and Oklahoma didn't face the music of the tattoo needle until 2006. South Carolina performs tattoos with the blessing of the law, but not above the neckline. Michigan is one of the few major population centers that permits and encourages free and unfettered body art practices, and its reputation as a tattoo haven over the decades has elevated it to mythic proportions recently.
Many Detroit area locals have turned to tattooing as an alternative means of inscribing their personal histories. Back in the '30s, sailors made a habit of using their tattoos to tell a sort of narrative of every place they had visited, and when the ships shoved off from port, the practice of narrative tattooing remained ashore. Home to the lion's share of the nation's automotive plants, it is far from uncommon for factory workers to display industry-related tattoos as a mark of professional pride or personal significance.
A crossroads of subcultures
Those within the tattoo industry will be quick to tell you that tattoos and cars have long overlapped in terms of their cultural appeal. Patrons asking artists to depict cars and even car parts on their bodies isn't a new phenomenon, but it has grown in popularity in recent years. Many industry experts attribute this to an increase in the skill of artists and the precision of the tattoo guns that they use. Recent years have seen artists better able to reproduce the complicated images their patrons are asking for, which in turn leads to greater demand.
Some events facilitate a literal mixing of the cultures. The Chrome & Ink convention, held in Salem, Oregon, was devised specifically as a celebration of both mediums simultaneously.
What remains to be seen is how recent changes in the auto industry may affect this trend. With manufacturers outsourcing their plants to other countries, there is a fear that the industry may cease to be synonymous with the U.S. zeitgeist, and what was once a mark of professional pride may turn into a painful reminder laden with tattoo regret.
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