… sad signs of change


ere is an indication of a culture shift that is as much a reality in Tampa as in Toronto, but more evident here due to the weather. I’m speaking of tattoos and motorcycles.

It used to be that both of these were specific indicators of membership in a sub-culture. If you had a motorcycle, you were somehow and in some way, an outlaw. Either outright and in a motorcycle gang like the Hells Angels, or on the periphery of respectability.

Like it or not, you saw someone with a motorcycle and you knew more-or-less who you were dealing with and that someone smelt of danger and risk and a “devil-may-care” attitude.

The same with tattoos and the two did often go together. A tattooed man meant “fringe” and “fast” and maybe a little rough. It meant that he’d been in prison or the navy and maybe both; that he might even be a member of an organized crime group. But that’s all changed now.

Multinationals have taken chopped bikes and mass-produced them, removing the baffles in the mufflers themselves, stretching the front forks on machines, painting them up cool and sexing up the chrome… and then, pricing them way above the head of any true outlaw (unless he had just robbed a bank).

Now anyone with money can – and does – buy a motorcycle. Middle-aged men in mid-life crises who sit in offices all day but roar the freeways at night and on weekends, dressed in leather, wearing sunglasses, stone-faced and  impassive, “Cool-hand Luke” to a man. Except now we all know that the motorcycle between their legs means simply that they had enough money to buy it – nothing more and nothing else.

Everyone has tattoos now too: young people, old people, men and women. Everyone inked with meaningless designs that probably all seemed like a good idea at the time. Both tattoos and motorcycles have been mainstreamed and in so doing each symbol lost its particular and peculiar meaning.

For some indefinable reason, that makes me sad.