Try-hard: dog-walker edition.

5 Sep

I’m dog/house-sitting this weekend and took the pooches out for a morning stroll before I have to rush off to church, and before it gets too hot for the big, old dog.

On my way down the hill, another dog-walker passed me at a run.  He looked like he was in his mid-40s, clean-cut hair, physique of one desperately fighting the middle-aged spread.  Not too exceptional – except for the fact that he was running (a) shirtless, and (b) had “Mi familia, Mi vida” tattooed across his back between his shoulders in gothic lettering.

Game aficionados might be saying, “Ooh!  Contrast game!”  After all, it’s not common for middle-aged wealthy white guys to have thug-lite, Spanish tattoos on their backs.  And obviously he must have been very confident to run shirtless, right?

This didn’t strike me as contrast game, though…it struck me as “very misguided try-hard game.”  There will always be an exception to the rule, but for the most part, rich white guys, especially when they’re older, need to be very careful about adopting, er, cultural markers not their own.  It’s too easy to cross the line from “pleasant, intriguing surprise” to “unfortunate SWPL poser” where the woman’s brain is going, “Okay, dude…REALLY?”

Now, I don’t know this guy and have never seen him before.  Maybe he has a colorful, unpredictable past, and the tattoo is a vestige of that life.  Maybe the words have real, deep meaning to him.  But given his looks, his general demeanor, where he was running, and the type of dog he had, I’m thinking that he had a SWPL-y impulse to do something “rad” – so rad it would be permanent, because it was rad and meaningful – and the tattoo is the end result.

I think the reason tattoos on wealthy white guys are so off-putting is because of what they say.  They don’t say that the man has a dangerous, exciting edge; they say that the man leads such an innoculated life that a tattoo is his most dangerous means of feeling blood.  That’s not what women respond to.  Also, tacky tattoos are pretty ubiquitous these days.  (Of course, in Los Angeles, it is completely plausible that such a man could also be a druggie alcoholic with ten mistresses and escorts on speed dial.  But I’m speaking more generally.)

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12 Responses to “Try-hard: dog-walker edition.”

  1. Gunslingergregi September 5, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Yea you might be right. I have no tattoos.

    Although you did write blog post about him lol

  2. Joseph B September 5, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Here is the formula for tattoo acceptability.

    Ts = acceptable tattoo size
    S = total skin area
    I = intensity of belief/mantra/symbol/experience – max 100%
    D = duration belief/mantra/symbol/experience has been held/lived
    L = estimated lifetime duration

    Ts/S = I*D/L

    So long-lived conformist trendy shallow SWPLs will have great difficulty earning anything but very small tattoos, while low-life-expectancy hyper-intense hyper-loyal gang bangers will very quickly earn their stripes.

    Ts/S is a rough proxy measure for “tattooing extremeness,” which obviously depends on more than just the size of the tattoo.

  3. Samson September 5, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Good insights, Haley. I was thinking about tattoos just the other day – in particular, the tattoo “arms race” that’s currently ongoing.

    When I was in undergrad, any tattoo was kinda edgy, at least for my crowd. So lots of my friends got a small one. Now we see lower-class thug guys taking it to the next level or two, with tattoos all over their arms legs, backs… everywhere. One effect is that now, having merely one small tattoo seems kinda… lame in comparison. Dare I say, try-hard.

    I suppose the lesson is that if you’re not actually a true-blue thug, don’t get tattoos, because your bluff will be called sooner or later.

  4. Ulysses September 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I’m not as averse to tattoos as some are, but I think words are a bad idea whether it’s your name, a phrase, a poem, or anything else featuring characters. When you take it to “Mi Familia, Mi Vida” territory, you’ve really crossed the stupidity threshold.

  5. Bhetti September 5, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    ‘My family, my life’… is it a reference to anything? Spanish thugness?

    Anyway, contrast game. Do you think he’s in the business of picking up chicks or a family man?

    I’d love it if the man I was married to would look after his fitness as long as humanly possible.

  6. Aunt Haley September 5, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    My best guess is that “Mi familia” guy does not have a family and works constantly but is able to find women for whom his status is a satisfactory attractor. But, of course, this is all speculation.

  7. Anna September 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    Maybe he’s the male Alexis Bledel.

  8. reformed_tomboy September 6, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Just stumbled on your blog and I have to say I would have had a similar reaction to you had I seen that. I’ve noticed that a lot of people end up with tattoos but do so for very misguided reasons.

    I definitely agree that if you’re doing something cultural that is not your own culture you’re on shakey ground.

  9. jack September 6, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    In another 20 years, a lot of these tattoo addicts are going to feel very silly.

    Also, “my family, my life” has a similar ring to “our bodies, ourselves”, no?

    Otherwise it sounds like a tagline from a Prudential Life Insurance commercial.

  10. Josh September 7, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    Tattoos on males are the next step up from mirrored sunglasses – they are a form of social intimidation. The problem with small tattoos is that they show a lack of commitment and decisiveness. You cannot be lukewarm when it comes to plays for dominance.

    For women, tattoos are simply ornamentation (usually ill-considered), but they are chosen for beauty, or social signaling (hipster, rebellious, goth), but not dominance.

    I personally would never wear a tattoo, but I have found something that gives somewhat of a similar effect – carrying a pocket knife. I’d never thought of carrying a pocket knife as being a big deal (scouting/orienteering class, anyone?), but apparently it’s borderline taboo in US cities.

    Obviously, it would be idiotic to wave it around for no reason (and a good way to get arrested by police), but I find that female acquaintances are mildly intrigued when a pocket knife appears, without comment, to solve some simple problem, usually involving the indestructible packaging everything seems to have these days.

    Since I am in a church context, I see the same group of people repeatedly, and my knife-carrying habit is not a secret, people actively request my services. Thus it is a bit like an “invisible tattoo”, known only to people who know you. It isn’t obtrusive, and it doesn’t dominate their impression of you. It just becomes one of the many facts they know about you.

    Addendum: Just to be responsible, I should add that you should check your local laws. Blades shorter than 3 inches are generally allowed for carry in public. Honestly, that is plenty for most tasks, and you don’t want to carry more than 3 oz. of steel in your pocket anyways.

  11. cleared in hot September 8, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    I’ve carried a Utili-key for years, and have never been stopped at airport security though I have at the entrance to the local courthouse…

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