“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.