This research study uses scholarship on tattooing, popular cultural representation and the practice and experience of tattooing to look at how subcultures (social groups excluded from mainstream society) express themselves through style and how style creates meaning and identification. These subcultures differ from other subcultures, such as racially marginalized groups, in that they create style in order to separate themselves from the mainstream. These marginal ideas of style are often picked up and adapted by America’s mainstream, materialistic culture and marketed as “cool” by corporations and other members of mainstream society for mass consumption. When discussing related subcultural theory in light of tattoos, one must not overlook the unique features of tattoos, including their permanent quality and the way society continues to perceive tattoos. Moreover, in today’s consumption-obsessed society, it is difficult to escape capitalism’s effect on “cool” and the ways in which cool is commodified. The mainstream is constantly commodifying subcultural trends, forcing subcultures to continually create new trends to remain marginal. Because commodification is perpetual and corporations are constantly seeking new ways to profit off of the mainstream’s next perceived idea of “cool,” it is somewhat remarkable that a centuries-old form of self-expression has largely managed to escape this process of commodification as tattoos have done.
Recommended CitationTeffs, Erin, "From Cellblocks to Suburbia: Tattoos as Subcultural Style, Commodity and Self-expression" (2010). Honors Projects in English and Cultural Studies. Paper 4.