Is Ugly the New Beautiful?

Summer has become a season of strange and stark irony. While it brings forth the beauty of the world, it also brings forth the ugliness of the age. The warmth and light are invariably attended by trashy fashion and tattooed flesh. These dog-days, there is hardly a street or a store without people who appear to be strumpets or savages, to say nothing of those wardrobe decisions that go no further than torn jeans and a wife-beater. The glories of summertime now go hand-in-hand with the sloppy, the slinky, and the uncivilized with studs and gages punctuating permanently-inked eyesores. The temptation often arises to proclaim the words of Shakespeare’s Polonius: “the apparel oft’ proclaims the man.” Pause there. The strangest thing about those who surrender themselves to ugliness is that they are oblivious to the ugly—which is at once a mercy and a tragedy to the blind victims of the age of the ugly.

The standards of personal appearance have fallen from what has been traditionally held as beautiful. St. Thomas Aquinas defined beauty as the result not only of due proportion or harmony, and brightness or clarity, but also of integrity or perfection (Summa Theologica, I, 39, 8). Accepting this definition, ugliness would be applied to all things that are disproportionate, and to forms that St. Thomas called shameful insofar as they were impaired or diminished. This diminishment in perfection is a lack of the good, of light, and order. By all appearances, current modes of public presentation are along the lines of darkness and jarring disorder. Shock value seems more valued now than aesthetic value. To be “cool” is now more desired than to be comely. Tattoos are becoming more prevalent, more extensive, and more outrageous. Bizarre facial piercings are quite common. Short shorts are on the rise. Clothing trends are trending towards nudity and grunge. Indeed, the croon of Macbeth’s weird sisters may well provide the motto of modern style: “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

This decline in personal appearance has been parallel with a decline in social morals, especially in the millennial generation. The rise of relativism has rendered the common Christian code of conduct obsolete. Virtue and vice are now terms that are up for individual discernment and definition, no longer subject to magisterium or tradition. As people lose their conscience, they also become less conscious, for ethics—the principles of accepted human behavior—are an orienting influence. Granted that a rebellious subculture is certainly often involved in such exhibitions, there is hardly anything left to rebel against, leaving the populace expressing itself in its confusion between right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness.

Without a behavioral dogma that goes beyond basics like theft and murder, men and women are left largely in the dark, lost in an existence where freedom is merely license and souls are shackled to sin. With this spiritual breakdown has come the similar breakdown of that which signifies interior disposition and state: exterior comportment and countenance. The informality of the late 1900’s has degenerated into the amorality of the early twenty-first century, often encapsulated by the brash and brutal statements of certain bodily markings and bodily trappings. Such self-imposed ugliness is the result of a blindness caused by darkness, by evil, for ugliness is a manifestation of evil. Though no one can be said to desire ugliness in itself, being a species of evil, in the absence of illumination ugliness will be rampant and even mistaken as meaningful. Couple this with the failure of education, a crumbling culture, and the loss of knowledge of any aesthetic value (despite its relativity) and there arises an inability to identify ugliness. Modern architecture alone is a striking and more widespread demonstration of the dominance of the ugly.

Though the quality of ugliness is, to a large extent, relative to the age—what was unacceptable once may be acceptable now—there remains in every age a quality of beauty that is not relative. Though some evolutions of visual taste may find beauty in imagery that defies classical paradigms, there is still a cultural duty to retain some grasp of that beauty which is objective, transcendental, uplifting, illuminating, and reflective of the good; and thereby retain the contrast between the ugly and the beautiful—between the darkness and the light; the very aesthetic contrast which has been lost. Ugliness and beauty have become simply different from one another; neutral forces where the so-called beauty of some Hollywood actors is just as respected as the so-called ugliness of some rock singers. The modern ideal is a farrago of “tolerance.” True discernment and true taste have been mislaid in the moral murk. Tattoos and piercings were once seen as a sign of degeneracy. Today, few recognize any contradiction between appearance and societal placement, although “sagging” fads are linked to prison garb where belts are prohibited. Overall, the problem of ugliness goes hand in hand with the reign of relativism and the consequent blindness to beauty.

The desire to self-express through outlandish means is a further sign of this significant cultural and religious loss—and therein lays the tragedy. People inherently desire to belong to something, to be accepted and appreciated. But when there is no higher principle or being to belong to in union with everyone else, the result is the assertion of self: to become dissimilar from everyone else, to stand out and seek approbation and self-worth through mere attention. Ugliness, by this shortsighted psychology, becomes, in a perverse way, something to rest in, something beautiful to the blind. Pause again with words from Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”

The popular positions demanding the right to self-express—to be transvestite, transgender, transhuman, or what have you—has brought about the loss of any clear distinction between true proportion, between the ugly and the beautiful. In such a climate, nothing is sacred and the human body is no exception. A culture of nihilism—of zombies, punks, pagans, and atheists—becomes a manifestation of the hidden ugliness (which is no less appalling) that is involuntarily expressed through extreme forms a self-expression and self-mutilation that disregards dignity. Spiritual ugliness is invisible, but never inert. Some manifestation is visible to the eye, however, be it overwhelmed by darkness or not. All depends on the soundness of the eye. “The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!” (Matthew 6:22)

Yet, for all this blindness to ugliness, there remains a true sensitivity to particular forms of ugliness. People are yet repulsed by murder, starvation, crimes committed against children, torture, and rape. People with terrifying tattoos are yet terrified by the threat of terrorism. Some sense remains, amid mass blindness, of the reality of the ugly. Compassion, indignation, and philanthropy have not been swallowed up by the barbaric tendencies infecting fashions, physiques, and philosophies. However, these costumes of our age reflect an alarming degree of desensitization and even a rooted fatalism, or surrender, to rampant evil, confessing submission—and even fascination—towards the ugliness of a world that has lost its way. Life devoid of eternal meaning is an ugly thing.

In his essay, “Learning How to See Again,” Josef Pieper says that when there is too much to see, the capacity to see decreases, and so too does “the spiritual capacity to perceive the physical reality as it truly is.” Reconnection to the world that God made good is requisite before any awakening to ugliness can be achieved—a movement away from the blind and banal narcissism of the selfie and social-media cyberspace. The capacity to see must be restored. Man needs eyes to see before he can “Come forth into the light of things,” as Wordsworth beckons—and that light is Christ. Until then, the iconography of the modern human tragedy will continue to be imprinted indelibly on human flesh, telling a tale of sadness and shame that can only be redeemed by beauty. As the ancient Greek poet Sappho wrote, “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.”

Editor’s note: Above is retired professional basketball player Dennis Rodman photographed in the Philippines during an exhibition game in 2012. (Photo credit: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters.)

Sean Fitzpatrick

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

  • Enbililuu

    It’s nothing that mysterious. The ruling class is against everything decent. The culture was degraded intentionally with MTV and Hollywood. It’s an outgrowth of Cultural Marxism (aka “political correctness”) This is a problem that will require original and creative solutions; not solutions that are fixed in some archaic abstract set of words. If that offends anyone, then too bad…

  • montanajack1948

    “Strumpets,” “savages,” “sloppy,” “slinky” and “uncivilized”: Mr. Fitzpatrick lays it on pretty thick. Rather than argue about whether beauty is or isn’t in the eye of the beholder, and rather than speculate about how “ugly” the apparel and appearance of humans in various eras (including my Nehru shirt from 1969 and my long hair from 1996) would appear to us today, it might be better to focus on Mr. Fitzpatrick’s grudging admission that “there remains a true sensitivity to particular forms of ugliness. People are yet repulsed by murder, starvation, crimes committed against children, torture, and rape…” and that “Compassion, indignation, and philanthropy have not been swallowed up by the barbaric tendencies infecting fashions, physiques, and philosophies.” Those strike me as rather more important than whether or not you happen to like body ink or piercings. (By the way, quoting “Shakespeare’s Polonius” is, as I’m sure Mr. Fitzpatrick knows, a bit dicey, Polonius being widely regarded as a pompous windbag.)

    • Tony

      Mr. Fitzpatrick was making a concession there, but it was mildly expressed, and probably exaggerated even at that. True compassion is in short supply. That requires “suffering-with” someone who suffers, and suffering is the last thing that a hedonistic culture is going to tolerate. Hence the widespread disappearance of Down Syndrome children, going disproportionately into the dumpsters with their more normal aborted brothers and sisters. Hence the means we have developed for pushing grandma over the brink.

      “Indignation” requires a recognition of dignity, of something whose worth should not be denied, scorned, or violated. I’d say that that too is in very short supply. No one who really saw and felt the dignity of a child’s innocence would want to assault him by playing Naming of Parts in the first grade, or by putting porn in his sights when he visits the drug store or the supermarket. In fact, when I see someone pierced and tattooed and dressed or undressed as Mr. Fitzpatrick describes, indignation is the first thing I feel, because of the sad violation of the dignity of the human person and the integrity of the body.

      There is a difference between a fashion that is a little silly or unusual, and something that violates or deforms the body, or that concentrates attention upon a part of the body rather than upon the person: it is all the difference between grooming that concentrates your attention upon the personality shining through the face, and things that prevent you from seeing that personality. The only analogues that I know of, that can compare with our desire to deform and render ugly, would be the lip-stretching and neck-stretching for women in a couple of barbaric African tribes. Other fashions have been silly rather than positively hideous (powdered wigs, for example).

      • DE-173

        “True compassion is in short supply.”

        Oh come on Tony, just look at how many cars have cause ribbons (autism, breast cancer, etc) either on their oerson or vehicle, these people have true compassion, just ask them.

    • RufusChoate

      The glorification of the grotesque and grudgy began in the 1950’s so it isn’t at all remarkable that we find our fashion sensibility “evolving” to every more proletarian and vulgar. .

    • Guest

      I cannot follow your point? Are you saying because many still view murder as bad that in some way justifies self mutilation?

      • montanajack1948

        I may not have been clear. I did not say “justifies”. I didn’t realize that justification of body ink and “self-mutilation” was needed, but if it is, I’ll leave it to others to provide. All I was trying to say was that it might be better to focus on Mr. Fitzpatrick’s grudging admission that “there remains a true sensitivity to particular forms of ugliness. People are yet repulsed by murder, starvation, crimes committed against children, torture, and rape…” and that “Compassion, indignation, and philanthropy have not been swallowed up by the barbaric tendencies infecting fashions, physiques, and philosophies.” Those strike me as rather more important than whether or not you happen to like body ink or piercings.

        • STF

          Thank you for your comments.

          I am sorry that you found my tone begrudging when I mentioned some fundamental human stances that are evidence of a fundamental human decency despite what some consider indecent – or even inhuman – personal comportments. These, as you rightly say, are very important to bear in mind, for they are signs that civilization is not lost to barbarism entirely; and I certainly do not name them begrudgingly. They are our hope.

          The importance you mention requires that we provide a balance for ourselves when trying to make sense of things that don’t make much obvious sense, if any at all. This piece was not intended to condemn society or humanity, but only to posit that a species of blindness must perforce exist in those who embrace a type of darkness, a type of imperfection. Granted beauty is, to an extent, in the eye of the beholder but outward cultural communications that speak clearly are important to take seriously – and so should we take seriously the signs of darkness, for it is the darkness that threatens the light.

          The things that will fend the darkness off are the realities I mentioned – and without the least grudge, I assure you. Again, I am sorry that my words came off as you describe.

          You were right to question my quoting Polonius. I agree with you. He is not to be trusted – and hence should we pause, as I wrote, whenever we find his words on our lips or in our minds.

          • montanajack1948

            I appreciate your gracious reply. And I’m not as oblivious to “signs of darkness” as my comments may have suggested; I may simply find them in different places than you do. Your phrase “trying to make sense of things that don’t make much obvious sense, if any at all” describes a good deal of my own life and also explains why I read Crisis while frequently disagreeing with it: in a world that so often makes so little sense to me, I need all the help I can get.

          • ForChristAlone

            Except that evil most often comes to us as “light.” If it came as darkness, we would recognize it for what it is. Satan is the great deceiver; he makes evil appear as the good. Remember that one of his names if Lucifer. Another is The Deceiver. Another is the Father of Lies.

      • ForChristAlone

        Most of us here recognize ugliness when we see it. It similar to what the Supreme Court Justice said about pornography. It’s just that a few have have high tolerances for deviancy.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Wally Cleaver joked, “Wouldn’t it be a waste if I learn all these manners and grew up to be a tramp?” And June Cleaver said, “At least you could be a charming tramp.” It has a Chestertonian ring to it.

  • Blah Blaah

    Although born in the US, I seldom return there (it costs too much money and I earn too little). This summer, I went home (from Europe) for a family funeral, and was absolutely SHOCKED by some of the people I saw who were simply covered in ink. There were so many tattoos it was impossible to distinguish one from another – the people looked like walking comic books, except it was so ugly that there was nothing funny about it. And the clothing – baggy, sloppy, like they had woken up wearing someone else’s pyjamas – someone much larger than themselves – and with such a serious case of amnesia that they wandered out into the streets (and banks and – heaven help us – churches) without realizing what they looked like.

    There were times when I would play a game with myself – kind of like ‘spot the out-of-state license plate.’ I’d let my eye gaze around at some scene: people going into and out of a supermarket, people walking past the post office – and I’d see if I could spot anyone who would not have been taken for quite poor or the most down-and-out tramp or a desperate criminal if it were 1960 (I based my assessements on how people dressed in movies and TV shows and in family photos from that era). I can’t recall even a single person – apart from my elderly stepmother – who seemed to ‘dress up’ for Mass, and nobody who ‘dressed up’ for work apart from bank employees (black trousers and a black sweater, but with a white shirt hanging out untucked from below the sweater and over the trousers…hmmm: I guess what used to be at-home sloppy is now ‘business casual’?).

    As for me, I was hoping to replenish my wardrobe while at home, but couldn’t find anything in the local department stores (apart from underwear) that I could have worn to work or church here without standing out as ‘uncultured’ as they put it locally.

    One bright spot: the parish priest who felt that God was calling him ALWAYS to wear his clericals in public, and who reported the many times people approached him and thanked him for witnessing to the Faith by his apparel (he told of a young man, who with one arm around his girlfriend and a beer in the other hand, stopped short as they walked along the street, drew himself up to a dignified posture, and said, ‘Good morning, Father,’ most respectfully).

    Turning the tide toward beauty and attractive modes of dress has got to start with someone. Maybe that small-town priest will start a revolution in his baggy, saggy, sloppy and sometimes cartoonishly tattooed congregation. Maybe we can start a trend: dress smartly, elegantly, beautifully, and when someone compliments you, tell them to ‘dress it forward’ by making an effort to dress smartly, elegantly and beautifully themselves.

  • grzybowskib

    I am reminded of an online web post I read a week or two ago from a woman who was extremely angry at the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case, giving the same tired lines about her fear of “being denied reproductive health care.” She spewed a barrage of profanities throughout the piece, said that her mother would be horrified at the language her daughter was using, and then said something to the effect of “My mom’s not the boss of me anymore, so I’ll do whatever I want.” She just sounded like an adolescent who cusses because he thinks it’s cool, or a toddler throwing a tantrum to get people’s attention.

  • Fred

    I’ll admit I struggle with this, especially on
    the issue of tattoos specifically. Personally I find them revolting,
    especially in the modern era of sleeves, facial, whole body, etc. When I
    became aware of the Christian themed and scripture readings that the QB for the
    SF 49’ers had inked on his body I wondered 1) whether it was really appropriate
    to display that way, and 2) whether I should be quick to judge, harshly.
    Of course there is no universalism and each is supposed to be a personal
    statement, in theory. I feel sad though because broadly I see it as
    mostly statement of rebellious adolescence except with real world adult
    consequences as most people will not want that in display in a professional
    office environment, particularly in customer interface. Of course, with our current government
    priorities it will be labeled a civil right to display whatever, including
    something satanic, and businesses threatened with lawsuits for doing what all
    of understand as an affront to morality.

    • Guest

      You find it revolting because it is revolting.

  • RufusChoate

    I noted some time ago to my Wife that the more extensive the tattoo ink and piercings the more likely that the canvas upon which it is drawn and carved was already ugly and flawed.
    I have not seen any example yet to disagree with this observation. It is repulsive and corrupting grotesque completely disassociated from beauty no matter how elaborate or expensive.

    • redfish

      What’s your view of the tattoos worn by Coptic Christians? For example, commonly tattooing a cross on the inside of their right arm.

      • DE-173

        Are they “extensive” and accompanied by piercings?

        • redfish

          They’re not accompanied by piercings, as far as I know. The extensiveness has varied. The most common is a modest cross on the inner wrist. But its often more than that. Its not about vanity tho. It has a religious and social purpose,

          “Children are stamped with the sign of the cross from early age and that tattoo is often renewed by individuals when they are older to reaffirm their faith – by doing that the individual is permanently marked ‘belonging to Christ’, therefore reducing his or her chance of converting to Islam, being abducted or forcibly married to a Muslim (if it was a Coptic girl)… Many see in it a symbolic act of resistance of assimilation into the larger Muslim and Arab population.” http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/how-they-saw-the-copts-%E2%80%9Can-egyptian-peasant-woman-and-her-child%E2%80%9D-by-the-french-painter-leon-bonnat-a-study-in-her-coptic-identity/

          • DE-173

            You have posed an interesting dilemma. Kudos.

            • Person who cares

              No redfish hasn’t. It has chosen to convolute the discussion with fringe extremes. No different then the “What about the rape and incest?” arguements for the justification for abortion.

          • MarkRutledge

            I would call that branding. Though the application process may be the same, it is spiritually a different thing than tattooing. Would you agree?

            • redfish

              I would say its a spiritually different thing than fashion tattooing, but I don’t know that I would call it something different. I would also consider Maori tattoos spiritually different; those had a spiritual and social purpose behind them.

              The biggest problem with fashion tattoos is that they tend to be about vanity, proving to others that you’re not too conservative and are an individual because you have a tattoo. Even when they purportedly have a meaning, its really about the fashion statement, not the meaning. It reminds me of the fact that people think they need to pick out desktop backgrounds or ringtones on their phone to be an individual; for a lot, this is the same thing except permanent.

      • RufusChoate

        Sorry, I missed this. I am odd in that I don’t have cultural imperialism as a sin. I think the key word I used was extensive.

        Copts can do what they will in their culture but It is still ugly.

  • Watosh

    This is the fruit of “liberalism.” When I say “liberalism” I mean the idea that freedom requires the removal of restraints. However in ordinary interpretations of being liberal can merely imply not being too rigid, and to be willing to overlook some differences, which is good for getting along with people and does not necessary conflict with catholic teaching. Unfortunately the language suffers from a loss of precision. Now today we have embraced “liberalism” as a way of life, and so can we be surprised at the results.? That is to say can a bad tree produce good fruit, or can a good tree produce bad fruit? All we need to do is to look at the fruits of “liberalism.”

  • beriggs

    As I look at younger people and their way of dressing and body decor, I wonder if my reaction mirrors that of my parents’ in the 60s when hippie garb emerged. I remember my grandparents saying that all young people just looked “dirty” – although I don’t know whether that meant immoral or unwashed. Probably both.

    I work in the bridal business. I have noticed that the disconnect between an elegant lace gown and the skull tattooed on the bride’s arm can be striking.
    One interested aside, and a possible ray of hope, is the popularity of the “mad men” style dresses of the early sixties, which young girls are adopting. These dresses remind one of Audrey Hepburn, and can be quite lovely. Fashions do swing between polarities, and we can only hope the current ugly fads reach a saturation point soon and begin to move towards beauty. I believe that the children of these tattooed and marked youth will see these practices as that “old-fashioned stuff that my parents did,” and develop a new aesthetic.

    • Guest

      Pierced like a savage and tattooed like a prisoner, that is new. Even the odd dress of the 1960s kooks does not compare to the disfigurement of today. The devolution is stark and different from the usual nuttiness that came before.

      Cultures can be closer or farther from the Gospel imperative.

      • beriggs

        Guest, I agree completely with your observations about the extremes in these practices. I work with approximately 300 young women each year, and have seen these extremes at close range. The extremes reflect the wasteland that is our culture at this time. There is still, however, a move towards “pretty,” at least in women’s fashion which gives me hope.

  • TERRY

    Dennis Rodman as he was 2 years ago – that is about as ugly as I can imagine, but one must take into account that 2 years have passed since then and God only knows what he has come up with in the intervening 2 years.

    Michael Jordan was on the Oprah show a number of years ago and he said among other things – “I wear suits, Dennis wears dresses.”

    • DE-173

      “Dennis Rodman as he was 2 years ago – ”

      His ink is going to look fantastic in 25 years as he approaches 80.

      • Fred

        Yeah, after they’ve faded, stretched and their jelly rolls cover up the ink to the point that you have no clue what the underlying “art” even is anymore. Though I hate the thought of more government regulation of stupidity, part of me thinks they should use aging software and make people see what they’ll look like when it’s not so fresh before they undertake the painful and expensive procedure. For the rebels without a clue out there no doubt it won’t make a difference though. C’est la vie, but don’t ask me for a job or to pay for your removal procedure (probably will be a new entitlement under the ACA some day).

        • John200

          Come on guys, figure it out — get into the tattoo removal business.

          Fools exist to be corrected, but it costs money to correct this foolishness. So the demand will be there.

          You will make money by force.

          • DE-173

            The tattoo fad is now been with us for long enough time that some of those who “got ink” are now losing elasticity in their skin or having other regrets. I wonder if tattoo removal is considered surgery and therefore one needs to be a license physician to engage in it.

            • John200

              Not sure about licensing requirements. Tattoo removal is commonly done using a laser to break the ink particles down into smaller pieces. Then they are carted away by natural processes.

              The laser can burn a small area (I hope!) of your carcass. You have to be careful and it is easy to make an error, but I dunno about a license.

              I never heard of surgery using a blade, but I bet someone has tried it. Anyone who gets a tattoo will eventually think of knifing it out of there…. That’s enough, I’ll stop.

          • ForChristAlone

            Yes. And since contraceptives and abortion are both considered “healthcare” by the moderns, so will tattoo-removal

  • Holy smokes

    Scars are generally considered ugly and unwanted, yet sometimes earned (defending the good, true, and beautiful). Mutilation is considered a type of torture.

    It has always seemed to me that a tatoo is nothing more than a voluntary scar permanently eched and burned into the skin. I find all tatoos and body piercings, with the exception of the ear lobe on women (on men, it seems effeminate), to be unappealing. We are made in the image of God. Isn’t that good enough?

    I’m glad the important issue of self imposed ugliness has been broached.

    • lirretired

      I remember reading a definition of tattoo in the 60’s as ” An ornamentation of the skin commonly worn by sailors and other degenerates.” Since I was in the US Navy at the time I took offense but never got tattooed.

  • Billiamo

    An old Yiddish proverb goes Dos oybershte kleyd fardekt di untershe leyd (“The outer dress hides the inner distress”). But sometimes it reveals it.

  • I’ve always had a problem with the assumption that beauty=trustworthy. I dress neat and clean- but I have chosen a profession where suits are looked down upon as being mere window dressing for untrustworthy people.

    • CR89

      Lawyer? Politician? Well, most are one and the same.

      • The profession I’ve chosen is software engineer, and the suits we don’t trust are usually worn by salesmen. Guaranteed you’ll pay an extra 10-15% markup merely for buying from a man in a suit.

  • ForChristAlone

    We used to hear the expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Most of the “let it all hang out” types are indeed contemptuous. They insist on revealing to the rest of us body parts that we are not at all interested in seeing.

    Related to what I call a ‘breakdown in boundaries’ I noted today that Pope Francis was hobnobbing with South Korean youths mugging for ‘selfies.’ I hope that he does not think this results in a deepening of respect for the important office he holds.

    • Tamsin

      I fear he knows this will not result in a deepening of respect.

    • Rob B.

      Yes, God forbid that the Holy Father actually mingle with the people he is tasked with leading…

      • ForChristAlone

        I said hobnobbing not mingling.
        Taking selfies is beneath the dignity of the office.
        I’d suggest that while Rome is burning the pope not take selfies.

  • Dan O’Connor

    Beautiful article. Please permit a plug for a similar one of my own, for I believe it is time to get specific about just when this cultural shift that you reference here occurred. http://dsdoconnor.com/2014/07/08/on-culture-look-not-to-the-fifties-for-it-died-in-the-twenties/

  • Concerned.

    This is among the most ridiculous articles I’ve ever read. Not only is it based in ignorance and judgement, (which is very un-Christian), but it’s just plain absurd! I’m fully aware of the fact that I don’t have to explain myself, but I’ll use myself as an example anyway. I’ll start off by saying I’m Christian. I’ll also tell you I’m a college graduate with a 4.0, and I’m headed to a private Christian college to continue furthering my education. I’ve held many professional jobs and excelled in every one.

    Now let me tell you about my boyfriend. He has a job as a counselor at a major medical center in our area. He is about to graduate with his Master’s degree (again, with a 4.0). He is also Christian.

    We both give to charity, and volunteer often. We love our families and friends. We have a cat.

    We also have tattoos. And piercings. And we think they’re beautiful. So before you go judging other peoples’ character by looking at the way they dress or whether or not their bodies are modified, think about how calling them ugly makes you look even uglier. True character is inside. Remember that.

    • John Albertson

      I think the author was speaking of outward ugliness as an indication of an inward moral disorder. But it is true that one can be outwardly elegant and inwardly distorted. For instance: someone who dresses well but lives in sinful cohabitation outside marriage. As for piercings and tattoos: If you like decorative self-mutilation, you’d feel quite at home in some of the more remote parts of New Zealand.

    • Robert

      To mutilate a body that is a creation of God is not very Christian – indeed, it is more Gnostic than Christian, what with the denigration of our body and matter into an object onto which I can carve anything I want and the exaltation of one’s inner “purity” and “goodness.” It goes against the whole incarnational theology of Christ, who dignified our body by becoming flesh. It is no accident that tattoos have strongly pagan and dualistic connotations. Nor is it any accident that you need to boast of you and your boyfriend’s “goodness” and “inner purity” – very gnostic indeed!

      • ForChristAlone

        Nailed it, Robert.

    • STF

      This piece does not offer any judgment of character—it offers a judgment of culture. The types of tattoos and piercings that I am primarily referring to are those that are distorting or objectively gruesome. I understand that there are different opinions and tastes with regards to the beautiful, but I also hold that there are some images and aspects that are inherently opposed to the beautiful. Beauty cannot be found in corpses. Beauty cannot be found in demonic iconography. Beauty cannot be found in mutilation. Such things are intrinsically ugly. The types of personal appearances that I am considering are the appearances of those who surrender themselves to such imagery, accepting a type of imperfection when man by nature desires the good. This is the mystery at the heart of these musings. What is the cause of this paradox? Has the world gone blind to that beauty which is universal? I can see no other way to explain it—and this is not a condemnation. That this blindness is a cause of a spiritual darkness that is pervasive in modern society, I further hold. But many who are engulfed by it and even embrace it are victims, not villains. The marks of thorough ugliness are marks of a lost people – and no one is free of stain – who must not be judged as anything save brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow sojourners to the grave and not some alien race bound on some other journey, who require love, as we all do, in order to find union, fulfillment, and peace in Beauty.

      • ForChristAlone

        Ugly is as ugly does.

        The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit we were taught by the Baltimore Catechism. It is never to be purposely deformed or mutilated and such violation of the body, because it IS a temple of the Holy Spirit, is morally objectionable. We are made for God.

      • Guest

        You are very kind. Many of us are more blunt. Whether or not particular individuals are aware, as you say, that they are self mutilating is not the only point here. The fact that it is so common is evidence of a decadent society.

      • Romulus

        In the literal sense, it’s precisely “character” that’s being judged here. The tattoo and piercing culture is founded on the non-Christian principle of radical self-ownership, according to which our bodies belong entirely to ourselves, to be used as we like because we’re answerable to no one but our own wills and impulses. Christians reject the culture of self-ownership, as it leads to grave crimes such as euthanasia and abuse of sexuality. Christians believe that they belong to the One who has redeemed them — unless they’ve given ourselves to the enemy, the robber desiring to possess so that he can ruin and murder. As Christians we would recoil from a gratuitous, disfiguring or even vain mark of a permanent character on the soul. Since the body is divinely given, the first of God’s gifts to us, it’s not to be abused and discarded as a thing of no lasting significance. Designed to be raised and glorified, the body’s created not to gratify our exclusive wills but to give glory to God. It’s entirely out of keeping with the call to holiness that the body, indispensable to human nature, should be disfigured, a fortiori when the intent is to shock. To repeat what I’ve said already, the divine calling is to be transfigured, not disfigured.

        • Guest

          Amen

    • DE-173

      “Now let me tell you about my boyfriend.”

      “We have a cat.”

      How long have you been cohabitating without benefit of matrimony?

      • Scott W.

        I was going to say the moral necessity of matrimony, but the point is made. Concerned, are you subtly telling us that you are in sexual relations with someone not your wife?

    • ForChristAlone

      If I were your parent (and happily I am not) I would give you and your boyfriend a good spanking.

      • DE-173

        Interesting how “Concerned” complains about “judgment”, then invites us to judge her and her boyfriend as “4.0” students, inter alia.

        I’m still chuckling about the declaration “we have a cat” and these lines “We also have tattoos. And piercings. And we think they’re beautiful.”

        • Tamsin

          good one.

          “Who am I to judge your piercings?” = “Who am I to judge your 4.0?”

    • Objectivetruth

      Catholics already have permanent “tats.”

      As Catholics, we are permanently marked by the Holy Spirit with an invisible mark, sign, seal or “tat” at our Confirmation, given by Christ Himself, claiming us as His very own. Why would we need any other man made markings?

      My problem with someone claiming to be a “Christian” and has body piercings and tats is that you still want the world to notice you and a “look at me! Look at me!” Attitude. Narcissism. We are told that “we must decrease, while Christ is to increase” in our lives.

    • Guest

      Outer appearance is indicative of inner disposition. If we defile our bodies no amount of good works balances that out. We are not utilitarians.

    • Tony

      You are arguing against a straw man. Mr. Fitzpatrick knows quite well that character is “inside.” But what you wear and what you do to your body is meant to be an outward expression of that character inside. In other words, you cannot turn your body into a billboard and then complain when people read it as a billboard.

      There’s another problem, too. Call it the Pauline problem of what is befitting. Right now, we are submerged in a sub-pagan society of hedonism and avarice. It is garish and ugly. Even if there were no moral problem with the tattoo, why would you want to associate yourself with that sub-paganism? Do as the pagans do? Why? Why not recover some of what the pagans have tossed away?

      You say, “We have a cat.” That suggests that you are living together. You are pretending to be married when you are not married; you are violating the sixth commandment. I suggest that you get married immediately. And that you stop doing the other things you are doing to make your cohabitation “convenient.” Go to confession, learn some self-control before the ceremony, get married right away, stop filling your body with synthetic hormones, and start recovering a Christian culture.

      • ForChristAlone

        a powerhouse of a reply

    • Person who cares

      Concerned, you are the embodiment of this article. Why would you so blatantly verbally profess your Christian identity while physically professing your lack of knowledge of what it means to be Christ’s church? This concept that you have the right to do what you want with your life and body is heretical. If you have given your life to Christ then it belongs to Him and our Lord does not want you marking your body or deforming it in any way.

    • InDogITrust

      Brava! Ugly is as ugly does. By your actions you will show your true worth, and you will be recognized and valued by those who appreciate true beauty. Don’t worry about these cranks yelling, you kids! get off my lawn!

      • Tony

        Strange. Shacking up is the equivalent of children playing on someone’s lawn? No trivializing there?

        Not so long ago, shacking up was viewed with pretty severe disapproval. Why? Oh, I don’t know … It was a violation of the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery; and only a couple of free-lovers on the fringe laughed at that commandment. Why else? Oh, well, because such arrangements are notoriously transient, and the children they produce will likely be growing up without one of their parents. Why else? Oh, well, because such arrangements make a mockery of the vow of permanence in marriage. Why else? Hm, because they altered the “economy” for women trying to find a reliable man to marry them and to stay married; they gave bad or irresponsible men an easy way in and an easy way out.

        Some hedonists kill the children they conceive and have the remains thrown in the trash. That’s called abortion. Other hedonists bear the children to term but do not provide a permanent and stable family for them. It seems strange to compare those people, who place their own sexual pleasure over the good of children, to little kids playing innocently on somebody’s lawn. They are worse than the people yelling at the kids. At least the crabby old lady across the street from me didn’t snuff out a baby’s life in the womb, and did not meander from one transient sexual relationship to another with children left in the wake.

        • InDogITrust

          Wow, that was a dizzying trip through several planes of space-time!
          One moment i’m telling someone that people of value will look at her, not her tattoos, and the next i’m witnessing the downfall of Western Civilization.

          • Tony

            She’s shacking up — that is an action. YOU are the one who compared people who look askance at the shacking-up to people who yell at little kids, and that is bizarre, because kids always pay the highest price for the sexual misdeeds of their parents.

            If she doesn’t want people to look at her tattoos, why does she have tattoos? It’s like saying, “I’m going to dress in this way, but you are not allowed to make any judgments about it.” The fact is, we present ourselves to others in certain ways because we WANT them to make judgments accordingly. A tattoo is a billboard, and billboards are meant to be looked at.

    • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

      Wow, you two are sure wonderful according to yourselves.

  • publiusnj

    I have never had a tattoo in my life (although one of my kids has), and when I see one, one thought comes to mind: “mistake.” That said: I know I have made a lot of mistakes in my time and it is not my job to judge others. Unfortunately, a tattoo is a mistake that is very hard to wash away.

    • Guest

      I do not think judging one has made an error is wrong at all. In fact, I think it is a mistake not to judge mistakes. We, as a culture, have been so brain washed into viewing correct judgements as anti Christian that we have become like sociopaths where we reflexively want to bury our judgments so as not to offend. I believe that contributes to this herd mentality that embraces tattoos and piercings as “normal”.

      • publiusnj

        As I said before, I agree that one can judge an action (as opposed to a perrson) a mistake or unfortunate. That said: Hate the sin; not the sinner. Judge not lest ye be judged.

  • profling

    Read Roger Scruton’s essays for more on the loss of beauty in these times.

  • DE-173

    I once took my then 5 year old niece to a mall food court where the guy in line ahead of us had those black ear lobe disks. I watched her reaction, looking with that uncertainty about what she was seeing and it soon became a confused stare. Shortly after, the guy became aware of her staring and said “could you please tell your little girl not to stare”.

    As his “plea” had a vaguely threatening tone I said in a far less vaguely threatening tone “No- you mutilated yourself to get attention, and now you have it. Congratulations. I’m not going to say beans to this child for doing what comes naturally.” Of course later, I explained it to her.

    As they say, out of the mouth of babes…

    • ForChristAlone

      I take a perverse pleasure when I am in the presence of a tattooed to engage them in a conversation that goes as follows: “What does you tattoo say?” (pretending that I really care). Then I ask, “Does that have special meaning to you?” I end with the following: “How much does it cost to get one like that?” Like you, I assume that they are trying to draw attention to themselves, so I accommodate them.

  • Scott W.

    When I visited NYC back in the eighties, the difference between a prostitute and a tourist was obvious. Now it isn’t. Likewise, because of the Tattoo Epidemic, I notice in DC that the police often have more ink than the criminals.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Career of the future? Tattoo removal.

  • quadelirus

    I’m with you on some of the critique of current modes of dress (I’m wearing a tie right now and as a graduate student I _really_ don’t have to ever, I make a point to dress fairly traditionally–my wife says I look like a 50s dad sometimes, and I see nothing wrong with that). However, there is an enormous danger in these sorts of conversations to greatly over romanticize the past. Look back over European and English fashions (for instance some of the things the Tudors wore) and you will find plenty to be criticized including very crude dress–especially among the upper classes (have you read why men wore shoes with a lo curly pointed toe at the end, for instance?). Some of it is, in my opinion, far worse than sagging. This is absolutely nothing new (I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes here, there is nothing new under the sun and all is vanity).

    • Guest

      When in the last 80 years has our society embraced body mutilations and tattoos on the scale it does today? The standard narrative is that people always complain about these changes and that if you look through history you will see this played out over and over. Not buying that narrative at all.

      A simple look back, even a few years, will reveal a precipitous drop in public morals and what is considered acceptable. Unless we go back to pagan times I doubt we will find support for facial piercing and the like and even if we do it would be evidence of moral decay.

      Like the homosexualists that need to use some ancient obscure pagan period to “prove” gay marriage is normal so to we have to comb over esoteric historical evidence to make us feel nothing really changes even as we see young teen girls with covered with tattoos. Sorry, things have changed and for the worse and it is happening faster and faster.

      • John

        The comment was addressing attire, not piercings, both of which are mentioned in the article. I agree that societies go through periods of moral renewal and decline, and if we restrict ourselves to the last 80 years in the West, then we (conveniently) start with the post WWII moral renewal and end in the current state moral decline. Of course, cultural change doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and we are tasked with raising our children to know, love, and fear God, so it might be argued that we shouldn’t be too nostalgic about some of those previous generations since they did in fact beget this one. Anyway, my point was that there is a good and healthy way in which we can critique culture and point to things past as better, but we should not idolize the past, since it too had its own types of impropriety, immorality, and waywardness. It is always a danger for me personally to devolve into curmudgeonliness, and I felt like the tone of the article occasionally, and the other commenters more often, veered in this direction.

        • Guest

          I used the 80 years as a benchmark because it is still alive in people’s memories. I know the charge is that people idolize the past and that is why I stated in my other post that it is a mistake to use that charge. Cultures can be closer or farther from the Gospel imperative. We can see in our own living memory that the past was not perfect but the devolution is so obvious that to see it as simply a matter of different phases is to misread the signs of the times.

          • John

            I 100% agree with you about the current devolution and I also agree that at different times and places cultures are closer or farther form the Gospel. I wouldn’t call that idolizing the past, I was just pointing out that there is a danger of idolizing the past that we should all be aware of (I personally fall into it some times). I do disagree with you in that you seem to think nobody ever idolizes the past, but this is clearly not true, and any sort of fatalism about the current state of affairs is such an idolization. Each age does require correcting from the Gospel (maybe more or less depending on which), but Christ is sufficient always, and there is no culture so far from the Gospel that Christ cannot redeem it.

            • Tony

              C. S. Lewis said that one of the benefits of reading old books was that they gave us perspective: they especially show us virtues we may have lost. So when you read Shakespeare’s Tempest, for example, you don’t do so in order to bring back bearbaiting.

              Our age, in any case, is hardly in danger of a foolish subservience to the ideals of the past. We don’t know the first thing about the matter. At least the wistful glance towards the past is consistent with piety. We may be the first people who ever lived who pride themselves on how much they can denigrate their forebears.

    • DE-173

      “Look back over European and English fashions (for instance some of the things the Tudors wore)”

      We aren’t talking about attire here, but mutilation. Most fashion looks silly in the rearview mirror. Check out the polyester leisure suits and bell-bottoms on the 1970’s.

      • John

        The article does specifically mention attire, and the comment above is directed at attire, not tattoos or piercings. Tattoos and piercings are mentioned in the article (the word tattoo appears only four times) but also sagging, short shorts, the quote “the apparel oft’ proclaims the man,” so it is entirely appropriate to discuss the attire portion just as it is entirely appropriate to discuss the tattoo issue. A lot of the commenters seem to have settled on “tattoos bad” being the main point of this article, which it pretty clearly is not. The piece is more of an exploration of the celebration of ugliness as a symptom of an underlying spiritual ugliness and BOTH tattoos and piercings AND the current state of attire are used as examples of this ugliness (but so is modern architecture).

        • DE-173

          Yes, the article does discuss CONTEMPORARY attire, but only as an adjunct. The problem with any comparison to the past is that the present defies comparison to the past, because mutilation wasn’t practiced then, at least outside primitive societies.

  • Paul

    We are slipping dangerously into a tyranny of taste ….

    • Tony

      You mean, people holding one another to modest standards of decorum? That is not tyranny. It is simple human culture. It sure beats the anarchy of the aggressively ugly and offensive. Not that we are running any risk that such modest standards might be expected of people any time soon. We are in greater danger, I’d say, of people urinating and defecating in public, which apparently they do in our larger cities.

      • Howard

        All right, I’ll bite. If you are Joe Public (not an employer setting a dress code for his employees, for example, nor a business owner setting a dress code for customers), and Jack Public is minding his own business, who appointed you to “hold him to standards of decorum”? I don’t care for excessive tattoes, but they are much to be preferred to busybodies who don’t know how to mind their own danged business. That’s an ugliness that can’t be hidden by a suit and tie.

        • Tony

          Legalism. Think for a moment of what culture is. Think for a moment that we are all involved in culture, and that when you go out in public, you are part of a public enterprise, whether or not the law comes limping along after it. There are a thousand and one things that we do, or don’t do, that don’t rise to the level of what is legally prohibited or demanded, that make for a decent common life together. If you make your body a billboard, you are expecting people to look at you — why should you then be surprised when some people think you are a hideous billboard? If you dress in an obnoxious way, you are expecting people to look at you — why should you then be surprised if some people think you are trashy or vulgar?

          • Howard

            Culture is what you do without thinking about it, because it seems to be the natural way to do something.

            If you comment rudely on someone else’s appearance, why should you then be surprised if some people think you are superficial and obnoxious?

            • Tony

              I don’t comment rudely on someone else’s appearance. That’s different from commenting in general about the way some people dress, or on the hideousness of most tattoos. It isn’t a new thing in the world, that something ugly or moronic should become fashionable.

              And culture is not simply automatic. It also embraces what people cultivate: what they choose as a people to cherish.

    • Guest

      How?

  • Howard
  • PalaceGuard

    We’ve become the Forbidden Planet, devoured by monsters from the id.

MENU