SAN DIEGO CONCOURSE — Once upon a time, hipsters and tattoos were almost as synonymous as bikers and tattoos, athletes and tattoos, or convicts and tattoos. "I think it was the Suicide Girls that did it," opines longtime tattoo artist Ned Ellman. "Hipsters came to them for the riot grrl attitude and the lo-fi cheesecake, but what they took away was the body art. Then the irony kicked in, as these reedy-tweedy dudes adopted an aesthetic once reserved for meatheaded toughs. For awhile there, I had an entire section of my book devoted to illustrations from Denis Diderot's 18th-century Encyclopaedia."
"But of course," continues Ellman, "once a trend goes mainstream, or rather, once it becomes a trend at all, a hipster must, by definition, declare it over and move on. Once the frat bros started sporting tribal sleeves, my hipster clientele all but vanished. Suddenly, you were seeing all these ads for tattoo removal in The Baffler and Quotidian. I swear, it was like the goddam Sneetches: they couldn't wait to get those stars off their bellies. Ordinarily, I wouldn't think much about a market shift like that, but here's the thing: hipsters will spend on their image like a Kardashian. I had to figure something out, before I wound up back servicing drunken squiddies on shore leave."
Ellman's solution? "Tattoo tattoos. That is, tattoos of tattoos. They look like regular tattoos, but they're really just tattoos depicting tattoos, the way regular tattoos depict animals or symbols. The hipster still gets to enjoy his tattoo of, say, an etching of an early printing press. But above that, he gets to enjoy the secret, the fact that only he knows the truth about his tattoo's significance. He might tell one or two of his friends, just so they know he's cool. But the world at large will behold him with perfect ignorance, totally unaware of his genius. For the hipster, there is no finer high this side of craft heroin. It doesn't even matter that I'm telling you this: you'll never be able to tell if a hipster's tattoo is a tattoo or a tattoo tattoo, and so he never has to worry about accidentally getting swept into the mainstream."