I've been noodling around with the idea of writing about the reality shows for quite some time. I thought against it because I assume I don't have anything new to contribute to the flotsam of rants already out there. On the other hand, about 80% of people who end up in my chair mention the shows in some form or another, they ask if I watch them, and they ask what I think, so apparently people still give a shit about the industry's opinion. They're treated to one of my foamy-mouthed rants about it and I'd imagine a lot of them end up sorry they asked because I don't shut the hell up about it for a good thirty minutes or so. I finally decided to bite and write because I have had a few of you, my beautiful, patient readers, asking what I think of the shows. Despite my appearance of being a prickly asshole, I do aim to please, so here goes....
I hate the Tattoo "reality" shows. Picture Dr. Evil quotes around the word reality, because those shows are as far from real as I ever thought anything could get. There have been several reality shows about what I do for a living, and what I have seen is utter horse shit. It's entertaining, yes. But if reality TV is your lone source of information about any activity, industry or person, you're likely to be disappointed or even harmed when you encounter the actual reality of said activity, industry or person.
The Magic Of Editing
First and foremost, TV shows are constrained by time. The show has a limited amount of time per day to air, and that time is interrupted by commercial breaks. The show must be edited for two things: length, and what I call "hang-onability." The producers of said show want you to stay tuned until after the commercials. So, they edit the program to make it appear as if something dramatic and exciting is about to happen just as they cut to commerical, to keep you hanging on to see what that might be. Even if nothing exciting actually happens, they'll still edit it in a way that makes you think it will, just to keep the ratings up.
I can tell you this...most of tattooing is really, really boring. If you've ever gotten a tattoo that takes longer than an hour, you already know this. I have had a few occasions where the forces aligned so perfectly that the customer and I hit it off like we'd been best buddies forever. We laughed and goofed around and had the best time one could have at work, and we became facebook friends and hung out a few times and all that. However, that is usually not the case. Most of the time, I have little in common with my customers other than tattoos or possibly music. Often there is an age gap, and I'm kind of a weirdo recluse who's into some really lame stuff. So, initial introductions aside, we chat a little bit, and then the rest of the time is just me cranking away, doing my job and they're just sitting there taking it. Getting a tattoo is pretty much like sitting on a Greyhound bus. You're uncomfortable, you have a stranger way too close to you, it seems to take forever and you may or may not make boring small talk with that stranger. Get on a bus, sit next to somebody you don't know, and then ride that bus to the end of the line and back. That's pretty much what it's like to get a tattoo. It's a long, boring, uncomfortable event. The magic of TV editing chops out all that time where you're sitting there, bored and in pain, perhaps feeling a little awkward, waiting for it to be over. The magic of editing captures the setup, the ten minutes of chit-chat during the work, and the final product. The magic of editing makes getting a tattoo seem action-packed. I can tell you, it is anything but.
The magic of editing not only makes the whole process seem a lot more fun than it is, but it gives the viewer the impression that little to nothing goes into preparing for a tattoo. Reality TV depicts it like this: Cute Girl walks into shop and asks for a full sleeve. She and the artist have a deep, soulful, ten-second conversation about the sad/happy event in her life that made her want the tattoo. The artist goes in back and emerges three minutes later with a perfect drawing, Cute Girl jumps up and down and claps her hands. Ten minutes later, the outline of the entire sleeve is finished. Thirty minutes later, the sleeve is complete, filled in, and no one notices that Cute Girl is wearing different clothes and her hair is three inches longer. Cute Girl looks at the finished tattoo in the mirror, then jumps up and down and claps her hands again. She hugs the tattoo artist and leaves. The whole thing is like a trip to Kinko's; Walk in, machine prints out art, pay, leave.
Here's how it actually works: Cute Girl walks into shop and asks for a full sleeve. I ask what she'd like and she shows me way too many pictures on her phone. We spend a good twenty minutes trying to narrow the stream a bit and figure out a basic theme and design. I get out some plastic film and a tape measure and spend fifteen minutes trying to get perfect measurements of every part of her arm. We go through my appointment book and try to figure out a date to start. After flailing through nearly a month of calendar pages, we nail down a day and a time three weeks from now where neither of us is doing anything. She gives me a deposit and leaves. I spend the next twenty minutes printing out all the photo references and then scouring the net for more because half of what she emailed to me is blurry, pixelated shit and/or photos of absolutely crap tattoos that you'd see on a convict. Then I sit down to draw. Over the course of three days it slowly develops but I keep having to walk away from it to tattoo my appointments that I have booked for that day. After a few days I finally get something fleshed out and have her come back to look at the drawing. She likes the top part but not the bottom, she likes the lettering but she changed her mind on the actual quote, I totally forgot to put in the feather and the part that wraps around her wrist ended up about two inches too long. So now I'm back to square one and drawing the whole thing again. Two days before she's due to come in, she calls and cancels because she has to work so we reschedule for another week later. When she gets in, it's forty minutes of trying to get the stencil on just right, I have to keep repositioning it because something or other isn't lining up properly. Finally, I get everything where I want it. Six hours later we're done with the outline. During that time, we had to take a 30 minute break because she almost passed out. Shortly after, someone came in and asked if he could talk to me about a tattoo. I made the mistake of saying okay and he tore my ear off for 25 minutes about a single-word tattoo on his ribs, totally disregarding this poor girl in my chair. I had to stop and snap my gloves off to pick up the phone three times and spend five minutes on each call explaining to them why I cannot price their tattoo over the phone. Repeat this entire scenario, minus the stenciling part, five more times on five different days over the course of three or more months, and that is how one gets a sleeve. When we started, she was wearing shorts and flip-flops, when we finished she was wearing Ugg boots and mittens.
Now, flash forward to a busy Saturday afternoon. Every artist is tattooing, there are three more walk-ins waiting in line, and in walks Cute Girl who loves the tattoo shows. When Cute Girl is told that she cannot possibly start a sleeve right this minute, Cute Girl fumes that we are incompetent, rude assholes. TV told her that yes, she can in fact just show up and get a sleeve. TV, just by the magic of editing, makes tattooing as simple as a blink of an eye, and makes me look like an incompetent, rude asshole. I am actually a very competent, sort of polite assHAT, thanks. There is a lot of time and planning in big work, and TV editing just sweeps all that away and gets to the juicy reward of getting tattooed. People now expect this, they demand it, and when we cannot possibly deliver, they throw a hissy fit in front of everyone in attendance. Later, we are given an angry, keyboard-mashing rant on Yelp about what a shit shop we are and how we're stupid jerks and they're NEVR EVR RECAMENDING THIS SHOP TO ANY1 !!!!!!!!!!
Rise Of The Know-It-Alls
I've worked very hard to get where I am today. I'm in the last half of my second decade in this industry. Despite all my bitching and complaining, I don't want to do anything else, except perhaps win the lottery. Even then, I'd be sitting in my penthouse suite somewhere, swirling an overpriced drink when a tear would roll down my overfed face. I'd feel the void in my life from not tattooing and I know this for a fact. I can't not do this and when they day comes where I'm forced to stop, I might just blow my head off because I won't know what else to do. So I take it extremely personally that tattoo artists are willingly complicit in screwing up the industry for their own personal gain. It's not like some greasy Hollywood documentarists are chasing unwilling tattoo artists around with a camera, there are actual artists who host these crap shows and have declared themselves the voices of the industry, despite the fact that the shows are totally misrepresenting what it is we actually do. The misinformation in these shows is making the entire process more difficult and more frustrating for all parties involved in real-life tattooing. The customers are frustrated that we're not living up to the expectations they formed based on the shows. Our job, which is stressful and tiring even when things are going smoothly, is now far more stressful and tiring because we have to argue with 70% of people who walk in the door when we cannot meet those bullshit-based expectations.
A word about Oliver Peck: Oliver Peck is Kat Von D's ex-husband, and from what I understand, he taught her how to tattoo. I very much understand his conundrum. My ex opened up a restaurant just as we were heading for splitsville. Since then, the restaurant has become internationally famous, my ex has made many television appearances and is insanely wealthy. I get not one dime from the place, despite us being married at its inception and my having made considerable financial contributions to its operations while we were still wed. But such was the nature of our divorce and there is nothing now that will change it. While my ex is a minor celebrity, wearing watches that cost more than my car and purchasing homes all over the country, I am toiling away over here in relative obscurity. Not a week goes by that someone doesn't say, "Hey, have you ever eaten at _______?" I feel a knot in my gut and I have to grit my teeth and politely tell them that yes, I am indeed familiar with the place. So I absolutely understand that awful burn every time one of Oliver's customers asked him, "Hey, have you ever heard of Kat Von D? She's really amazing, huh?"I undertsand that rage at having helped someone get their foot in the door, only to watch them kick the door off the hinges and take the entire place by storm while you're still standing in the hallway holding the key, and nobody's noticing.
However, I take umbrage with Oliver's attempt to show her up and become a name himself. He's having a TV pissing contest with his ex-wife, and all of us in the industry are the collateral damage. Our customers are more impatient and demanding than ever before. They're not better informed as a result of the shows, they're becoming hypercritical know-it-alls. Fantastic tattoo work is being ripped apart on the internet and in real life by housewives and bartenders and children. They're watching those asshole judges nitpick and criticize beautiful tattoos and they think this is the way they're supposed to act. Not only does everyone fancy himself an expert on what a proper tattoo should look like, they're unbelievable dicks about it. My blood boiled when I read the comments on the Inkmasters' Facebook page last season. There was a whole bunch of prepubescent brats weighing in with nonsensical, cobbled-together art jargon that made no sense to either writer or reader, and a bunch of armchair quarterbacks saying what utter shit all this work was, when I would trade an eyeball to have stuff like that on my body.
I did a small name on a girl once and she came back two weeks later to add to it. She had her little sister with her, who couldn't have been a day over twelve. As I was setting up, Little Sister asked me in her best icy teen-queen voice, "Are you gonna touch up that name? It's rilly faded."
I said to her, "It is not faded, it's perfect, and it's two weeks old. How do you figure it's faded?"
She looked a little uncomfortable. "It just....looks faded," she said, her haughtiness faltering.
"You like Inkmasters?" I asked.
"Stop watching that crap, okay?"
She didn't know what to say. Sorry, kid. You, like Dave Navarro, do not know your asshole from your elbow. Somebody explain to me how that flippy-haired gristlewad is a judge on a tattoo show. "I've been getting tattooed for 25 years..." Congratulations, Dave. I have been driving cars for 25 years, doesn't make me a master mechanic. All your tattoos are shit, you get piddly little crap that frat boys and sorority girls get on their ankles during spring break on South Padre Island. Stick your opinion in your ass, light it, and blast yourself to the moon. You've never done a tattoo in your life and your choices in tattoos are terrible, so you have no business going on television and shitting on magnificent work by some of the best in the business.
Worse yet, the shows have set the precident that tattoo artists will tolerate being screamed at and berated because that's how it is on TV. I have busted my ass for many long hours, I want to do my best and I want my customers to be happy. However, I want to be treated with a little decency. And I am getting shrieked at by people who are young enough to be my children because they see Oliver Peck and Joe Capobianco on TV, cussing out a room full of tattoo artists. The worst part is that those cunt-testants suck it up and snivel and cry and apologize. Yeah, that's right, I said cunt-testant! The women on the shows are the worst. Believe me when I tell you, most of the female tattoo artists I have worked with would sooner cut your dick off and stuff it up your ass than to hear one cross word out of your mouth, so I have no idea where they found these simpering crybabies to get on these shows. So now, thanks to these shit shows and the assholes who helm them, I have to deal with legions of smart-mouth jackasses who think they can come in, puff up their chests and say shit like, "I TOLD you, I wanted "faith" in cursive right next to the GODDAMN BIRD!" because that's what they see on TV. It burns my ass that the expectation is that I'll cringe and apologize and beg a nineteen year old kid for forgiveness after he raises his voice at me because I can't read his mind. I'm not trying to win a contest, I'm doing my job, and sucking some kid's ass was never supposed to be part of my job description.
Fame...What You Get Is No Tomorrow
I wish I had a fraction of the talent of some of the artists who get kicked off the shows in the first round. Those who get to the later rounds are so damn good that they don't need to stoop to performing like a circus animal in that silly-ass contest. Some of them are long-time legends in the industry, it confuses me as to why they'd be willing to be treated like crap for a little money and bragging rights. What good does that do? Does it really matter if some housewife in Boise knows their name? Think she's gonna ditch the kids and fly out to wherever they are and get a tattoo? Nope. Most people can't afford that. I'm doing a big project on someone who gushed that she saw one of the TV judges in a store once. I am a relative nobody, but this person was in my chair. She was giving me her money because I'm local, she saw my work online and thought it was good, and I don't have a three-year wait. Despite fawning over how awesome this artist is, I was still the one doing the tattoo. At the end of the day, being famous and getting paid are not always simultaneous events, ask any YouTube sensation. Most people don't have the patience to get on a three-year waiting list, they're throwing a fit over having to wait three hours.
I won't lie, I like to have my ass kissed on Facebook and to be told I'm great. I said it before and I'll say it again, I have the bloated ego of an artist and praise is what I live for. Howver, I don't think it's worth the the heavily-taxed prize money from those shows to have just as many strangers on Facebook screaming for your head on a plate and telling you how bad you suck and that you're an asshole and you should die in a fire because they think ___________ should have won instead. I've been on the Inkmasters Facebook page, I know for a fact that someone posted photos of the last winner's wife and a few people threatened her with violence. People are that frickin' crazy about their television. From where I sit, if you're willing to subject your family to death threats so you can win a TV contest, you're insane. By the time they take out the taxes on the prize money, you're lucky if you get half of it. And for what? You get treated like a little bitch by some pompous, fame-hungry asshole "judges", you get humiliated on TV, you have people threaten your family and you get your life's work shit-talked by 15-year olds online who think they know what's what because they saw it on TV?
I suppose this is where people are going to say HURR DURR UR JUST JEALOUSE CUZ THEIR ON TV AND UR A NOBODY. Well, thanks to one of my posts, this blog has readership in the millions. I could get those numbers higher if I posted more than three times a year. I have quite a readership over here and I've had plenty of chances to get my name out there. You'll notice it's nowhere on this blog. People have asked in the threads for links to the shop I'm at and I don't want to do it One, I don't think it's great for business that I write a cranky blog about my job. Two, I'm really not interested in being famous. The older I get, the less I care. I want to go to a restaurant and be left alone when I eat. I don't want to go online and see photos of the love of my life posted with death threats under it because people are so angry that I dared to say that tattoos on the sides of fingers don't always heal properly. I moderate the comments on this blog because I actually do get plenty of death threats that I don't think should ever see the light of day. I get off on robbing those little pricks of their chance to feel powerful. Being known is not an event that is possible to control, and there are too many people out there that cannot separate their emotions from what happens on TV or the internet. People seriously took the time to write me and say they wish I would die in a fire because I don't like big blocks of text as tattoos. If everyone is so unable to control their emotions, I'll just continue to lay low.
I keep busy doing tattoos, and most of what I get to do is stuff I really enjoy. I'm not rich, but I don't struggle, I have everything I need and almost everything I want. I can't see how getting on one of those reality shows would make my life better and I don't see how getting interviewed on some news show about this shitty blog would make my life better, either. A lot of people don't understand that, and I can't fault them. By nature, human beings love adulation. People keep telling me 'You should go on Inkmasters!" I know they mean it as a compliment, and I appreciate it. But I couldn't do it. I'm such a cynic that I'm looking right through that adulation and seeing the scorn and derision that comes with it. I don't even feel that I'm good enough to win, so I'd just rather save myself the possible embarrassment of getting kicked off in the first round. Even if I was good enough to win, the whole thing is a giant heap of bullshit with a small payoff. I really feel that my life would be far worse for having participated. For those of you who read this crappy blog and like it, I thank you. I like to make people laugh and it makes me happy when people tell me that I did. But overall, I'm fine with toiling away in relative obscurity.
What should really matter in life is how we treat people and what we contribute. What's important is having joy in what you do, and spreading that joy to others. How many likes we get on Facebook or winning some stupid game show is utterly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, especially considering all the headaches it causes.
Did I just get philosophical there? Man, I'm such a douchenozzle.