Before you conclude that "inked = degenerate," the Tech researchers urge a more nuanced interpretation. They say that people with only one tattoo or chaste piercing (a belly-button ring, say), a number they estimate at a full 25 percent of the American population, are no different than anybody else. Tasteful little tats are no longer the bold declarations of "hope I die 'fore I get old" rebels without a cause they once were.
And that, believe the Tech researchers, is the rub. To show what a rebel you are, it is no longer sufficient to get inked up. You have to maintain that image with lots of whiskey, coke and screwing around -- that whole Lola's lifestyle.
"I think that's true," says 14-year veteran tattoo artist Ryan Scroggins. "Everybody has tattoos now," he tells Hair Balls. "It used to be just sailors, bikers and prostitutes. Now even rich-ass yuppie girls have them."
The tat epidemic is so pervasive, he decided to leave the business a few years ago. He recalls that back in the '90s, there were only 20-25 tattoo shops inside the loop; now there are over 100. That glut has caused prices to plummet. He says that customers would ask him for a quote, and if he would say $200, they would tell him they could get the same one down the street for $50.
"Never mind if that guy down the street sucked," Scroggins says. "People just don't care about quality any more." He says that he once earned $1,000 a week tattooing; now he would be lucky to make that in a month.
Scroggins, who is also a killer ska keyboard player, has all but left the biz. Today he works as a herpetologist at the Houston Zoo. "Somebody asked me the other day why I took a huge pay cut to work at the zoo," he says. "I told them there was more of a future in it."