As tattooers we have two hands and eight hours to make our living. Some of the savvier among us have found ways to generate more income by selling prints, t shirts or doing by freelance work. I'm in no way implying that an artist who sells merchandise is stacking paper... I end up giving away most of the prints and T shirts I make. Tattooers incomes are private and personal matters and the majority of us are still married to our machines to get by... not that I'm complaining, I wouldn't and couldn't tattoo if I didn't absolutely love it. Over the past several years TV land has begun to whisper, or in many cases yell, in our ears. Promising fame, glory and financial stability in return for our collective souls. My integrity (and a google search of my name... damn you internet!) requires me to give you all a full disclosure: I appeared as a guest artist on Miami Ink back in 2007. I make no apologies for this and don't feel a need to explain or justify my reasons for participating in the show. I'm letting it be known so that you can (hopefully) better understand the circumstances under which my opinions of reality TV have been formed.
Over the past couple of months I have been asked to be a host/tattooer/judge on three different "reality" shows. My first instinct was to ignore these requests. My short stint on Miami Ink taught me what I don't want my career to look like... and to put an exclamation point on that, I turned down an offer from London Ink shortly after my M.I. episode aired. The cast, crew and producers of Miami Ink were all gracious and kind towards me, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It was very difficult to be myself while knowing that anything I said or did, could and would be used against me in the editing room. I don't like being manipulated and exploited, but when you sign up for a reality show you are essentially signing away any and all control.
But it seems that I'm not as immune as I thought to the seductive powers of a producer, and so last month I found myself telling rehashed stories of "my crazy tattoo life" via skype to the Spike Network... never mind that "my crazy tattoo life" is actually quite stable, predictable and probably quite boring. As I charmed and bullshitted my way through the interview, I could hear a voice in my head screaming at me.... "who the hell are you and what the fuck are you doing?!" Somehow the delusional daydream that appearing on a reality show would change my life for the better, bring more opportunities and launch me in new directions had seeped into my otherwise practical and pragmatic psyche.
As the fever took hold of me I found creative ways to justify my inclinations. Reality shows aren't going away, in fact they will continue to multiple until most of us will be unable to recall a time when they didn't exist. Maybe it's best then that more "responsible people" who really care about tattooing get involved in these shows. Maybe I could try to steer the ship away from drama filled waters and into an Eden where education and entertainment co-exist peacefully... Those thoughts took a lot of narcissistic heavy-lifting on my part. Can PBS and Fox Network make a baby?
The fact that I was doing my best to hide these offers from most of my peers is what finally broke the spell. We are all told to "FTW" (I even have it tattooed on me), and not to care what other people think of us. But here's the truth: I do care. I just could not imagine standing on my soapbox made of rotten wood telling my colleagues that I was going to star in a reality show. Money and fame are fickle things that come and go and I don't have the mind to go chasing after them. Community, camaraderie, and the commitment I've made to tattooing are built to last.
Here's another truth: I honestly don't care if another tattooer wants to do a reality show. Why should I? And why should you? I may have opinions or advice to offer if asked, but at the end of the day everybody is going to do what they feel is the best for themselves. As it should be. My goal in sharing this semi-embarrassing tale is not to get people on my side, it's to get people to think for and about themselves.