"Black Ink Crew." Another Reality TV Travesty
07:02 AM
The latest in reality tattoo TV is VH1's Black Ink Crew, which premiered on January 7th. You can watch all 41 minutes of it online here. But I wouldn't recommend it.

It has the typical formula of the "Ink" franchise:
  • Clients with dumb stories: check.
  • Faux love interest between tattooers:  check.
  • Fighting but no one really lands a punch: check.
  • Insolent shop girl:  check.
  • Shop girl on hands and knees in bra and panties for tattoo mag photo shoot: check.
  • Design sketched and tattooed within 2 minutes:  check.
  • Total time tattoos are actually featured = 2 minutes:  check.
  • Unappealing to serious artists and collectors but my mom loves it:  check.
The shop "PR" guy Puma says in the first ten seconds of the premier episode, "You don't really see black artist tattoo shops."  I don't know if that's true in Harlem, where the show is filmed, but where I live in Brooklyn, there are plenty.  The real problem is that you don't see media coverage of black tattooists.

And that's what's particularly heartbreaking about Black Ink Crew. Here is a chance to show black tattoo culture -- and tattoo culture in general -- to a mass audience, and instead, the dominating themes are petty, and surely contrived, dramas. Even one of the tattooists, "The Duchess," says herself that the shop neither represents tattooing and black tattooists. Right there is a big problem.

The shop characters are caricatures. You have shop owner Caesar, who's been tattooing for seven years, hitting on clients and colleagues in such a nauseating way that you expect his next line to be, "Your father must have been a thief..."

Oh, and then there's one of the tattooists who is called O'S**t.  Really, I sh*t you not. To give you an idea of the sh*t show, here's what his VH1 bio says: 

"O'S**t is soft spoken, sensitive, an excellent breakdancer, and a self-proclaimed "ladies man". He keeps his cool, unless his "Baby Momma Drama" drags him down...which happens more often that he would like!" 
In the first episode,  O'S**t proclaims that he loves a job where women take their clothes off and pay him while doing so. So, yeah, it seems you're more likely to get an STD from O'S**t than a good tattoo. In fact, there's a scene where a client of his shows up unhappy because, what was supposed to be a diamond on his finger, ended up looking like a turtle. Then he has another client waiting over an hour for him to show up, but he explains that people will wait two hours just to get tattooed by him. Only people who want to be on TV.

The Duchess is the sole female tattoo artist. She says that she wants to show her strength and skill but ends up just showing that she lacks strength of character and a right hook after starting a fist fight with one of the shop's female clients, who are called "Mixxxies."

Ok, let's talk about Mixxxies:  tattoo groupies who hang all over the male tattooers. They are the stereotypical tattooed tramps, complete with fake boobs bouncing and booty popping. After a couple of minutes of watching them, I longed for the scene of shop girl Alex puking outside the shop after a night of partying. When called on it, she flips a table -- a la Real Housewives of New Jersey -- throws papers and bottles around and generally acts like she's auditioning for The Bad Girls Club.  

I actually took notes for the entire painful forty minutes and even re-watched a bit to find something redeeming. I found nothing.

The second episode aired tonight, but like our reviews here of NY Ink, Ink Master, and Best Ink, I can only bear one write-up. Judging from the video sneak peeks and bonus clips, we won't be missing much.

But as I also have written about before, there are true portrayals of the experiences of tattooists of color more worthy of a greater audience. A wonderful example is the documentary "Color Outside the Lines" by Miya Bailey and Artemus Jenkins. [I also talked about race and tattoos with Miya Bailey for Inked mag.]

... Aaaaand that's my obligatory new tattoo TV show post. Now let's skip the drama and turn our attention back to the art. It makes for a much better reality.

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