“Reality” TV is, depending on whom you ask, the best or worst thing to ever happen to entertainment. Starting out as a small group of contests like Big Brother and Survivor, it has now moved into the realm of documenting everyday jobs (or, at least, the most dramatic events therein), and giving you an inside look at careers you’ve perhaps only ever dreamed of. Among these has been a wide variety of tattoo-related shows, ranging from the lives of exclusive shop owners, to competitions between unknowns. When these shows began littering the cable landscape, many of us working in the field found a new job description added to our list: informing clients of how true to life (or not) these shows really were. So, which shows offer realistic glimpses into the world of tattooing, and which are ratings-bait? We review the good, the bad, and the ugly.
INK MASTER – hosted by the heavily tattooed Dave Navarro, and judged by tattoo master Oliver Peck and multi-media artist and tattooist Chris Nunez, Ink Master gives American tattoo artists a chance to fight for their title, and $100,000. While the show does not depict the standard tattoo career, it does accurately highlight some of the biggest challenges in the industry: time management, convention stress, constantly learning and improving techniques, and adapting styles to suit each client. Add to that Peck’s remarkable eye for detail and brutally honest criticisms, and the result is a truly entertaining and informative show.
MIAMI INK/LA INK – while both shows are now defunct, to not mention them would practically be criminal. Two of the most-watched and most-debated tattoo shows of all time, both walk us through a day in the life of a busy and popular American shop. Allegedly, anyway. With ever-rotating casts/crew, unheard-of artists opening their own expensive and fully-booked shops and getting their own spin-off shows, celebrity clients, and apparent “walk-in” customers in shops that boast year-long waiting lists, it’s hard to view these shows as “reality”. Love them or hate them, these are the soap-operas of the tattoo world.
TATTOOS AFTER DARK – from the producers of Jersey Shore (yes, that tells you all you need to know about it), T.A.D. is less reality show and more freak show. Featuring the most over-the-top clients one could possibly imagine, episodes have thus far included flamboyant performers wanting tattoos of themselves, pregnant clients begging to have their tummies tattooed (thankfully, even ratings weren’t enough to convince the artists to go for that), a couple that just met that night wanting matching tattoos to profess their undying love, and a marriage proposal or two. While T.A.D. may be a bit too much for many, it is unarguably amusing, and sets itself apart by featuring not just tattooing, but piercing as well – a side of shop life that is shamefully ignored by most reality shows.
TATTOO RESCUE – this Spike production may just be the golden nugget of tattoo TV. Rather than focusing on petty disputes and forced drama, tattoo veteran Joey Tattoo visits failing shops and gives them the wake-up call they desperately need. And, best of all, he does it by ripping apart their health and safety standards, calling attention to unsafe practices and poor image. Not only does his show aim to improve standards worldwide, it also offers sincere and extremely important information to potential clients everywhere.
BAD INK – a seemingly perpetual advertisement for the hosts’ various ventures and History’s “Vikings” (a friend of theirs is a crew member), it’s difficult to tell where the show begins and the commercials end. Bad Ink’s hosts cruise the Vegas strip in search of bad tattoos to ridicule, and, occasionally, fix. While the show itself may leave a bad taste in some mouths (and leave most of us wondering where the line between reality and fiction now sits), there is one valuable lesson to be learned from it – as host Dirk is prone to repeat, don’t drink and ink.
As tattoos become more and more common, boundaries get pushed further and further. Rather than a small tattoo on the ankle, many are opting for full sleeves or back pieces. And we think that’s cool – afterall, your body is yours, and you should adorn it as you see fit. One particular trend, however, needs a bit more thought than just whether it would look cool or not.
We’re talking, of course, about your hands. Hand tattoos aren’t new in and of themselves, but the popularity of them certainly is. The last few years have seen a huge spike in people wanting to take their sleeves one step further, or make a statement with a bold, in your face hand-piece. And who can blame them? If you Google “hand tattoos”, you’ll get a huge selection of bright, beautiful, intricate designs. What you don’t see, however, is what went into getting them that way.
If you read our (or any, really) tattoo aftercare suggestions, you’ll notice that they include not soaking your new tattoo, keeping it clean, and avoiding a lot of friction. This is almost impossible to do when it comes to your hands. Most people get their hands dirty, several times a day. Most people wash them a few dozen times, for that reason. Most people use their hands constantly. Avoiding dirt, water, and action is literally an impossible feat when it comes to one’s hands. This means that your new tattoo is not likely to heal well – it will need several touch-ups, and sometimes will need to be completely redone a couple of times before it looks the way you hoped it would. And that’s just for the tops of your hands. If you’re thinking about tattooing the sides of your fingers, it gets worse. If you’re thinking about the palms of your hands, it gets way, way worse.
Hand tattoos also carry with them two major social issues: there is still a lot of stigma attached to them, and very few employers that will allow them. Now, we don’t want to be that guy, the one that lectures you condescendingly about your choices. We’ve all dealt with that guy, and we’re not a fan. But we’d be lying if we said there are no consequences to hand tattoos. While we’ve made great strides in tattoo acceptance, we’re not there yet, and hand tattoos still have a pretty negative reputation. A lot of people that see them instantly think “criminal” or “weirdo”. Employers see them and instantly think “hell no”. If you are planning on becoming a school teacher, a business person, a lawyer, a doctor, or any similar sort of professional, a hand tattoo is a great way to ensure that never happens. You want to think very, very carefully before marking your hands for life.
We’re not, of course, telling you not to get them, though our artists – and a lot of others – will be admittedly hesitant to do them unless the client is already heavily tattooed and fully understands the inherent issues. We want to make sure that your tattoo experience is the best it can possibly be, and for that reason, need to put our knowledge and concerns to work for you. Getting a visible tattoo in a high traffic area can come at a fairly hefty cost, both financially and socially, and can take a lot of work to get perfect, so please, please think long and hard about it, and take your artist’s advice, before deciding whether hands on or hands off is the way to go.