In keeping with The Times, both A&E and The Learning Channel have launched Reality TV shows about tattooing. Me, I'm gonna set you straight on them.
If you recall, I think last week or so I posted about Inked, the reality show based around a tattoo company called Hart and Huntington that operates in a casino in Las Vegas. I griped a lot about it's surface gloss, the drama, and the lack of work ethic in anyone but the One-Eyed Tattoo Artist. Well, I finally started watching Miami Ink, to see what the fuss was about. And I've found the obvious winner and the obvious loser.
When the advertisements for both shows were priming the pump, I think they both sort of blurred together in my head. That's how much attention I was paying to them. As far as I could tell, or care, it was one show, it contained about ten artists, a bunch of posing and such, and some smidgen of reality. I was right, and I was wrong.
I started watching Inked first, through their blog "INKEDBlog." And I'll give them this--INKEDBlog is sponsored by A&E, which makes it a wholy-owned advertising subsidary for their television show, but the advertising is very subdued. In the two+ weeks I've read it I've only seen two advertisements. Kudos on that. The rest? Mediocre. Lots of pictures, naturally, and some 'interviews' with prominent artists that sound like they might have been ripped from the pages of Teen Magazine.
"Inked" the television show I am not impressed with. It seems to focus on the drama, the fighting, the hot-headed owners, the spastic apprentice, the ditzy T&A of the receptionist and the angry dominatrix T&A of the owner's wife. There seems to be two serious artists in the entire place, a one-eyed guy and a Man Mountain, both of whom are more concerned with doing art and making a living than jumping up and down for the cameras, so they're boring in terms of television, but accurate in terms of people.
The thing that most lets me down with Inked is that someone seems to have told the producers that they have to show all the freaks, the kooks, the fights and the dramas while downplaying the fact that it's a tattoo shop and people will be getting work done on them. They do show work happening, but usually it's overshadowed by the owner screaming at someone or the receptionist sneaking out for a smoke with the keys still in the cash drawer while the insane drunk guy who just lost all his cash tries bargaining for a free tattoo on the draw of a high card.
Miami Ink, on the other hand, seems to be more of what a reality show should be, to my eyes, which is why it will likely be canceled mid-season. Each episode opens with people off the street who want work, they include the artist's 'interview' process with the prospective client, more often than not the client gives some back-story to the tattoo, we get to watch a good overview of the procedure, and then there is something of a closing interview, a "Well, how was it?" style of chat between the artist and the client. Mixed in, naturally, is in-depth looks at each of the artists and how they interact with each other as well as with the people that come into the shop every day.
The part I most like is that the clients they show are just as often the rather boring people who "want number 14 there on the wall, in red" as well as the rather more interesting people who want the artist to tattoo "a koi on my calf, you decide the rest. I trust you." In the four episodes I've seen thus far, I've watched two mother-and-daughter combos, a macho steel-worker who wanted a memorium to his cat, and a rather strange woman who wanted a pirate ship under full sail on her ribcage, as well as the boxing trainer who is in touch with his inner feelings. And of course there's been the regular people, the ones who want a bird, or a name, or just simple things, but that's the core of a tattoo business, the nickle and dime people. Not everyone has the time and the ready capital, much less the desire for a pair of 3/4 sleeves or a vest.
And the artists themselves seem more normal. For tattoo artists, I mean. The owner, Ari, is a little hot-headed, the apprentice (Yoji?) genuinely workes like a dog, apparently for no pay and a lot of good-natured hazing, and the personalities of the artists seem more genuine, less cardboard-cutout. They argue, they laugh, but mainly they WORK.
The one thing I will point out is this--Inked doesn't mind showing cash change hands, but prices are never really discussed. Miami Ink seems to exist in it's own world where people simply walk in, get tattooed, and waltz out smiling, no money seeming to have changed hands. Neither show is getting to the root of it--tattooing is EXPENSIVE. $100 an hour is not too much to expect from an average artist, usually with something like a $50 shop minimum, even if the artist tattoos one line on you. I think a lot of people might be shocked and dismayed when they walk into their local barrio's tattoo shop and ask the artist for a full sleeve consisting of a three-quarter profile skull-and-crossbones with an eagle and a Tyrannosaurous Rex fighting to the death over the top of it and a blood-dripping curved dagger through the skull and an oriental dragon holding a Pearl of Wisdom shooting flames out of it's mouth and a banner underneath it all that says "Mutha" and find out that the particular piece is gonna cost them $2000 and about 25 hours of their life, they're gonna bleed a lot, and it's going to hurt something fierce for quite a while indeed.
There's TV reality and then there's reality.
Now keep in mind that Inked takes place in Las Vegas, and Miami Ink takes place, naturally, in Florida. I'm perfectly aware that there are climatological differences as well as attitude differences between the two coasts, but I don't know if that can easily encapsulate the two's differences. Anyone willing to put a tattoo shop in a Las Vegas casino is not there to make quality art, they're there to make an Image. I cannot see how a steady stream of drunken, broke patrons from a casino will make an ideal clientelle for a service such as tattooing. The ideal tattoo client is stone-cold sober, has thought about their design for a long time, has several hours of free time, and lots of cash in small, unmarked bills with a marked willingness to spend it freely. I don't think you're gonna see anything but dramaturges in a casino's tattoo parlor.
So that's my take, from a guy who has been on both sides of the tattooist's chair, and has spent time in the apprentice's shoes too. Inked and Miami Ink both come on at the same time, same day, so choose wisely. And Mythbusters comes on at the same time too, but they play repeats elsewhen, so I'm saved THAT painful decision.
peace love and pigment