If you've ever sat there shaking your head at the sad, sad lengths people will go to in order to be on TV, then you'd appreciate the truTV prank show FAMELESS, produced by David Spade. As noted on the FAMELESS site, "Each week, the series features a group of unsuspecting desperate-to-be-famous individuals who believe they've been cast on a reality show. However, unbeknownst to them, they are really filming a parody with improv actors creating over-the-top scenarios that steadily increase the absurdity and ridiculousness of each situation."
That desperation gets played out heavily in tattoo reality TV shows, making it a perfect punk for those willing to sacrifice skin for their 15 minutes of fame.
In the FAMELESS Revenge Ink clip (embedded above), aspiring rapper JC believes he's going to be on a show called "Virgin Ink," getting his first tattoo -- a zombie Audrey Hepburn -- on his back by Kat Von D. After Kat finishes the tattoo, producers bring a woman in to confront JC about some misdeed and reveal that he's actually on a show called "Revenge Ink" -- and he didn't get the tattoo he bargained for. Hilarity ensues! And it really does. I won't spoil it for you but I burst out laughing at the end of this preview clip. Worth the watch.
The times they are a'changin, my friends.
Over the past few years, when I'd interview tattooers, many--if not most--would decry "the scourge" of reality TV in the tattoo world. I've done it myself. But recently, the cries have become more muffled, even muted.
It could be a shoulder shrugging "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality. It could be that a lot of our friends are on the shows. It could even be that the shows have gotten a bit better. For me, it's all three.
The shows are here to stay. My non-tattooed neighbors watch them. My dentist watches them. My mother watches them. Polite dinner party conversation has moved from Nathan Lane on Broadway to Ami James on NY Ink.
And so, considering the vast audience these shows have, perhaps it's time to help shape them and offer a better representation of tattooing, through constructive critique and support of strong artists featured.
Which brings me to the second season of Best Ink, premiering tonight, April 3rd, at 10PM ET/PT on the Oxygen network.
For those who may have missed the first season, Best Ink is one of the tattoo competition shows in which twelve tattooers compete in different art and tattoo challenges to be the last one standing, winning $100K and a feature in Tattoo magazine.
I got a preview of the show and jotted down my Top 5 Pros and Cons based on the first episode. Here they are:
PRO: Renowned tattoo artist Hannah Aitchison joins the awesome Joe Capobianco and Sabina Kelly as a judge. When I talked to Joe about the show, he was particularly excited about this too, saying:
My personal favorite new addition to this season is judge Hannah Aitchison. I'm a huge fan of Hannah's work and was insanely jazzed that she agreed to take on the role of the third permanent judge this season. I think that she added an educated, almost 'teacher' approach to the judging that Sabina and I sometimes lacked in the past season.CON: Hannah's got a lot of teaching to do, as many of the tattooers are young, with only a few years in the industry under their spiked belts.
PRO: Pete Wentz replaced Kimberly Caldwell as the show's host. Pete actually has more than one tattoo! He appears cool and comfortable on the set, and more of an insider than an American Idol contestant hanging with the cool kids.
CON: I have no cons about Pete at this moment. He's just too cute.
PRO: There's a lot more discussion on the design process and what the judges are looking for to create a solid tattoo. It's more educative to the general public, and hopefully, will lead to more educated clients.
CON: There's a lot more discussion on the design process, and what the judges are looking for to create a solid tattoo. And this will likely lead to more people thinking they know how to tattoo by just watching a TV show.
PRO: Joe will make contestants cry.
CON: Contestants do stupid things that makes Joe make them cry.
PRO: The tattoo clients--or "Skins"--bring the drama. It's a "pro" if you like that kind of thing. Joe thinks it adds to this season, explaining:
There will be a bit more emphasis on the "Skins" (tattoo clients) story this season, which is really cool. Some of these folks have really heartfelt and interesting stories. The show also does quite a bit of background on the artists themselves. My hat goes off to these guys for stepping up to the challenge of the skins' sometimes crazy requests, as well as the Flash and Ink Challenges.CON: Not every tattoo has to have a story. The public should also be aware that many of us get tattooed simply because we just like the way it looks. Alas, that doesn't make for a compelling show for the masses.
So, how can we make it more compelling for us?
Best Ink Bingo [And/Or Drinking Game].
I made this simple, sample card below, which you can remix if playing against others. Every time the scene noted in the card plays out on the show, mark an X and take a drink. When you get five across, vertical, or diagonal, finish the bottle. Caveat: based on the choices, you'll be hurting in the morning. [For non-drinkers, take a sip from a frosty protein shake.] You can download a slightly bigger bingo card here on Flickr.
Photos above by Ben Cohen for Oxygen Media.
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:
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.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say this: TV is not killing tattooing. I know. Crazy talk, especially from a person who has been mocking reality tattoo shows from Miami Ink to NY Ink and all those shirtless promos of Ami James in between. [We even took time out of our lives to make a drinking game for the latest Ink show.] But the intense outcry today against these shows and the so-called "sell-outs" (I hate this term) who populate them has grown exponentially and really seems disproportionate to the actual harm.
The biggest issue of course is that there really isn't anything real about reality TV. Tattooing is not as dramatic and glamorous as seen on TV and many fear the shows attract people who just want to get into it for the fame and fortune. This is very true but then reality does set in for these types of "artists" to help weed many out.
And of course there's the bemoaning of the death of tattoo's magic, something I've done more times than I'd like to admit. But Kat Von D didn't put the final nail in the tattoo cool coffin. The art was securely woven into the fabric of pop culture long before the shows. Maybe I did it. Every time a lawyer gets tattooed, a biker dies. True fact.
All the foregoing blah blah does not mean I'm a fan of all the tattoo series, but I am keeping an open mind and looking at the good and bad of these programs. And that's what I did when I got an advance screener of Best Ink, a(nother) tattoo competition show.
Best Ink premiers tonight at 10/9c on the Oxygen network. You can catch video previews of the show here. I've only seen the first episode and promos, so my Pros and Cons list below reflects this and nothing more.
The judges Joe Capobianco and Sabina Kelly. Joe has been tattooing for nearly two decades and developed a tattoo style that is sought after worldwide. Joe has paid his dues. He's speaks his mind. And he has great hair. Perfect judgey material. You'll also be happy to know that he makes people cry on the show. People who you want to see cry. Bonus! Sabina was a "tattoo model" before the term was even used as a job description. [80% of tattooed women under 25 are tattoo models. True fact.] She's run a shop, she's judged and presented at international tattoo conventions, and she's beautiful. TV likes beautiful.
The host Kimberly Caldwell, seventh place finalist on the second season of American Idol. I don't get it. At least Dave Navarro on Ink Master had a lot of freakin tattoos to distract us from his overly groomed facial hair. In the first episode, Kimberly tries explaining why on earth she would be running this show by saying something to the effect that "she's all business in the front, and party in the back," turning around to reveal a lettering tattoo on her shoulder blade. I threw something at my computer screen. I think it was a Clay Aiken cd.
I would have loved to see a celebrity who has a passion for tattooing. I would have loved to see Margaret Cho, who is getting tattooed by some of the best in the business and sharing her experiences being a tattooed woman on her amazing blog. A pro here is that Margaret does make an appearance as a judge. The thing is that Margaret, with all her tattoos, biting wit and dirty mouth, is not safe for a mass audience. Kimberly is safe. My mom will like her.
There are some strong tattooists on the show like Roman Abrego and Jon Mesa. Viewers have an opportunity to see what a "good" tattoo can be by those who have experience and skill.
There are some inexperienced tattooers on the show who do damage to the sad people who agree to get tattooed under the ridiculous conditions of a competition show just to be on TV.
The biggest con: presenting all the contestants as the "top tattoo artists" in America.
The biggest pro: the actual judging of the tattoos -- the dissection of the elements of how a tattoo should be crafted, which could educate a mass audience on the possibilities of the art. The drama here is largely derived from achieving the best execution of the work, rather than, say, the backstory of a transsexual war veteran who lost her cat during a house fire and that's why she wants a tattoo of Garfield engulfed in flames holding an AK-47 with Old English script that says "RIP Odie" underneath. True story.
Bottom line: I'm going to watch it. There will be moments when it will make me mad. And there will be moments when Joe schools the kids on tattooing that will make me cheer. In any case, it's entertainment. Not reality. Perhaps it needs a drinking game.
Renowned tattooist Tom Renshaw of Eternal Tattoos in Clawson, Michigan has been recognized as one of the foremost wildlife, landscape and portrait artists, so it's no surprise that he's featured in a new pilot for the Animal Channel called "Tattooed in Detroit." The series premiers tonight at 9PM EST & then will be replayed at 11pm & 4am (11/20). It will also air several times this week.
Producers Intuitive Entertainment say of the show: "Each hour-long episode follows the stories behind animal tattoos--from prep to ink--and the people who pay permanent homage to fallen pets & life-changing encounters with animals. There's an intimate story behind every tattoo, and it's Tom's job to make sure those stories come to life."
Yes, I know. The reality TV format requires a death or "life changing encounter" for someone wanting to get tattooed; however, Tom is such a phenomenal artist, with over two decades of stellar work, that I'll tune in just to watch him work. The artist also explains to MLive.com why this type of tattooing is important to him:
If someone loses their pet and their pet meant a lot of them, representing that on their skin creates a sort of long lasting bond. It makes them feel like their pet is still with them. [...] It gives them the satisfaction of seeing them on the daily basis, and gives them comfort.The article adds:
Renshaw, one of the nation's most renowned wildlife and portraiture tattoo artists, is also a wildlife photographer and videographer. "I've been to Alaska 10 times photographing wildlife, predominately brown bears," says Renshaw, who often uses his adventures as research for his work. "I like wildlife tattooing. It encompasses the landscape, too. It's like creating a painting, it's the whole picture."Looking forward to checking it out and hope the shows gets picked up.
Kat Von D portrait tattoo by Erin Chance
With filming beginning for yet another tattoo TV show, NY Ink, it seems the timing is right for Dr. Matt Lodder's look at the formulas behind "reality TV" (and their relation to the true reality of tattooing) in his article entitled, "Televising the Tattoo" for Paperweight: A Newspaper of Visual & Material Culture.
The article articulates the hot button issue surrounding these shows: not every tattoo needs to have a story but a television show does. Here's just a bit of what Matt says:
It is true that subsections of the tattooed population--gangs, sailors, prisoners--have certainly long made use of tattoos to express specific concepts or to signify group membership, but this has never been true of tattoos in general. Tattooing has forever been decorative as much as it has been simply narrative, with many tattoos lacking a specifically expressive story-telling component to the design. Nevertheless, tattoo TV both depends on and reinforces the preconception that the skin is a screen for its generic formula. For so ingrained is the connection between tattoos and stories that without the traumatic sob-stories of death and loss attached to almost every tattoo, the shows would feature little more than shots of the tattooers high-fiving one another.
For more of this excellent read, you can order Paperweight, print & digital, here.
[For more on NY Ink, see the blogs of Ami James and Tim Hendricks.]
In last week's post on Erin Chance's Kat Von D portrait tattoo, I linked the online casting calls for the next season of LA Ink and a new show, NY Ink. I had also sent a tongue-in-cheek email around to tattoo artist friends here in NYC asking if they'll be trying out to be the new tattoo TV sensations. Turns out, well, a bunch of them are.
We've all heard the arguments against the shows. In almost every interview I've done with artists for Inked and Skin & Ink recently, there's a general lament that no reality exists in the way tattooing is portrayed in mainstream media. No great story need be behind your desire to get tattooed. No sleeve is completed within 48 minutes. And skate ramps in tattoo studios are generally frowned upon.
It's rare to hear of any desire to be a part of the shows, particularly from long-time tattooers, so I was surprised when my friend Michelle Myles of DareDevil and Fun City tattoo studios -- who's profiled in the video above -- sent me a text telling me to read her latest post on Devil City Press. Turns out that Michelle along with co-owner Brad "You Kids Get Off My Lawn" Fink, resident artist Big Steve, and pretty shop boy Reid Waters have put themselves in the running for NY Ink's casting. Here's what Michelle has to say:
Anyone who's been involved with tattooing pre-Miami Ink didn't get tattooed to be a part of a trend. I started getting tattooed because it was anything but trendy or even acceptable. Tattooing was a fringe subculture we worked our way into, and it certainly wasn't seen as a valid career choice. It breaks my heart to see tattooing get sold out to the media and popular culture. TV producers aren't on our side. The tattoo industry doesn't have a say in the way it's portrayed in the media. Overall it depresses me to see our industry be represented by such vapid host. We can only hope for the best with what gets spewed out.Yes, I would love my DareDevil friends repping me. [They are also freakin funny and would make for good TV aside from their strong portfolios.] Where my concern lies is whether one can really control how "you portray yourself" in the quick edits, scenes taken out of context and the faux drama that will be created. Will legal contracts bind the artists into doing something they wouldn't? Will we see Brad Fink in a kicky little pin-up outfit?
Despite my concern, I'm rooting for them because I don't want my NYC tattoo world turned over to scratchers and "professional tattoo models" for the masses to mock. If there will be any mocking, hopefully, it will come from me teasing my friends over the long stories we'll endure waiting to see how their tattoos turn out.
Have your say in who will be on the show by voting on RealityWanted.com. Here are the Daredevil profiles: Michelle Myles, Brad Fink, Big Steve Pedone, and Reid Waters.
I also voted for another dear friend and fabulous artist Lea Vendetta.
Tonight is the UK premier of Jodie Marsh Tattoo Apprentice, which airs on DMAX at 9PM.
As a silly American not schooled in the ways of British reality TV tramps, my first question was Who the hell is Jodie Marsh? And as I do with all things in life, I consult my blog bible Wikipedia. Its entry on Jodie claims she is a "glamour model" and "media personality." Ok, so she's Tila Tequila or that Daisy of Love travesty -- all tattooed women whose only great achievement is furthering the tramp stamp stereotypes.
Even worse, Jodie is known for, let's just say, less than artful tattoos. She once lost a bet and had Bizarre magazine readers chose a tattoo for her (which you can see in this video). It was a sperm (or devil tail, can't tell) winding out of her butt crack. This press release also lists other gems in her "body art" collection:
Tattoos aren't the first thing you think of when Jodie Marsh's name comes up, but she has over 70 of them - from her first, the word 'cheekie' tattooed on her lower back, to an exact copy of the stilettos she wore as a lap dancer at Stringfellows - and the art of inking is her passion.
Yup, her passion.
My next question was, Why Louis Molloy would ruin the rep he's built for twenty years to be a part of something that makes a mockery of his art?
An argument could be made that the show seeks to present how difficult it is to learn to tattoo and that apprenticeships can be grueling. As seen in the clip above, an apprentice must do a variety of tasks in the shop, like sweeping the floors, before she can even touch a tattoo machine. And as expected, Jodie doesn't want to sweep. Cue the reality TV drama.
According to the press release, however, the end goal of the show is to have Jodie do her first tattoo and hopefully open up her own shop. Like all tattoo TV shows, the art is edited down so that, magically, a sleeve can be achieved in an hour and a tattooist is made overnight. It'll be a sad night tonight when it airs.
For those in the UK, if you sully yourself watching this, please let us know in the comments what you think.
I was gonna do an April Fools' Day post -- although it could never compare the most awesome Tattoo Your Toddler hoax -- but really, how much more foolish can you get than yet another attempt at a tattoo reality show? Production companies keep trying nonetheless. The latest:
"Tattoo Gunfight is a TV series that pits top rival tattoo artists in a competition to create the most unique and interesting tattoo on an outspoken celebrity [ooh, edgy]. Each episode two rival artists will be working in the same style of tattoo and out of their studio. The show is hosted by tattoo culture experts Sean Litteljohn and Killer Kelly Rothschild [who?] who will quiz the artists and their celebrity canvases about what tattoos mean for them and how they effect their lives [because all tattoos must have deep meaning!!]. You will bet a fast cut glimpse into the worlds of tattooing along wilt profiles on the celebrities [typos are all theirs]."
Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
Essentially, it's a ripoff, cut-rate version of the wonderful Tattoo Wars series, which was ditched after one season because it was about good tattooing by masters of the craft and not D-List celebs getting "tatted up."
Arguably, it could be worse. And by worse, I mean Inkslingers. No joke.
To be filed under "Would You Stop Making Tattooed People Look Like Idiots": In the video above, Biker Mike pitches an idea to scrounge money off tattooing and gets shot down in the Dragon's Den, a BBC program that "sees entrepreneurs pitching for investment from some of
Here's what Biker Mike proposed:
A website where people can do the following: (1) upload a photo of the body part they want tattooed; (2) choose from a variety of popular 80s/early 90s flash (like the neo-tribal dragon) and place it on that body part via "breakthrough" software; (3) print out the image and take it to a tattoo shop for actual inking. This is all free. The money to be made outta this? Naturally banner ads on a "viral tattoo community"(!), plus referral fees paid by tattoo artists to attract clients who want that neo-tribal dragon.
What did the top business brains think?
In their own words: "It sucks." They said the technology was simple and gimmicky ("my son could create this in our garage") and most importantly, it will never make money. But we say there's more suckage to it...
What do the fried brains of Needles & Sins think?
1. Two dimensional designs on a two dimensional photo of a body part does not make for a "tattoo preview" because ... wait for it ... we are three dimensional beings. [I hear your collective gasp.]
2. The wonderful French artist Loic Zimmerman actually created a 3D CGI Tattoo Program in 2007 to preview how his own tattoo would look. [Details can no longer be found on Needled.com, but check Gizmodo for a quick review.] Essentially, he created artwork for a sleeve, scanned his body, and placed the design on his 3D doppleganger. He gave that design to tattoo artist Arnaud of Reimes, and while much of the design wound up in the finished tattoo, it still had to be changed because the body is not an easy canvas. One of the main changes was to the tight spacing in the computer design because it didn't properly account for the way lines may bleed out on skin, particularly the spreading as we age. [Loic sent me photos of the finished tattoo, which are posted on our Flickr page.]
3. Bad flash is bad flash. Beautiful flash is beautiful flash. From what Biker Mike proposed to place on an investor's head, his business uses the former.
4. Saying you'll make money through banner ads is like saying you'll become rich from a lemonade stand. Banner ads barely buy the lemon peel in your martini.
5. And enough with "viral tattoo communities"! Us tattoo nerds loved our Rec.Arts.Bodyart boards (yes, I'm that old), then BMEzine (which remains the largest bod mod community), then along came InkedNation, InkedInc, neve rmind the multitudes of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter tattoo pages. The need to whine to others over how expensive tattooing has become and pontificate over the best healing method has been filled.
4. As for the presentation itself, if you start your pitch saying that "tattoos are mainstream and no longer for bikers," don't show up looking like a biker (and end your presentation saying that you could've been ruder, bringing out the biker in you).
Granted, I've brought out the Brooklyn girl in me with my own brand of rude, so I'll end here with just one plea to those wishing to make a quick buck: Leave the art we love alone.
Direct YouTube link to the video. And mucho thanks to the amazing Matt Lodder for that link
In about an hour, Tattoo Highway, the latest in tattoo tv -- essentially Inked's Thomas Pendelton on a bus-- will air on A&E (10PM EST), and I need to decide if I want to give up that hour of my life for anticipated snarky blogginess or simply do what I usually do on a Wednesday night at 10pm: Watch The Cougar, drink a bottle of wine, and PedEgg my feet.
Of course I could DVR it, but then think of all the lTwitter potential if I watch it live. I'm on the fence but feeling the pressure after reading show reviews on Deadbolt and Daemon's TV -- the latter actually having seen an episode.
Plus, even TV Guide wants me to watch -- taunting me with its super-tough tattoo logo. [What happened to my beloved weekly that featured the Golden Girls, and George and Weezy on its covers?]
The PR machine behind the show also contacted us, but no special logo for them here! They were quite lovely, offering prizes to all of y'all, but I asked to see an episode in advance before I could promote it and they sent me a trailer of a few seconds. Not good enough. Any time I've put something up that I haven't tried and tested, y'all have called me on it. I've learned my lesson. But, alas, you get no swag.
They recently put up clips of the show on the site, and it follows the same tattoo tv format: someone gets sick and gets a tattoo; someone loses a loved one and gets a tattoo; someone stops doing drugs and gets a tattoo. I may PedEgg my feet. What tattoo does that warrant?
If you watch it, feel free to post your comments here. I'll start opening the bottle and see how I feel at 10.