A friend of mine was recently getting some work done in one of San Francisco's most respected tattoo shops, Skull & Sword, when the conversation turned to new Spike TV reality competition show, Ink Master. In case you've missed this slice of Truly Awful Television, it is basically America's Next Model for tattoo artists. But instead of Tyra Banks standing around looking stern every week, we get the first tattooed guy the producers could think of (probably because he and his ex-wife Carmen Electra had a reality T.V. show of their own a few years back), Dave Navarro. Dave Navarro -- in case you're not familiar -- has played guitar in Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, very importantly, has some of the dodgiest tattoos in living memory.
Alongside Navarro are fellow judges Oliver Peck (who used to be married to the most famous reality T.V. tattoo artist of them all -- Kat Von D) and Chris Nunez (one of the dudes from Miami Ink). They are all overly harsh in their criticisms and vaguely inconsistent with their treatment and judging of the ten artists who, by the way, are competing for $100,000 and a spread in a Inked Magazine.
Each week, the contestants are given a flash challenge (which has, thus far, included painting both cars and naked ladies), followed by the elimination challenge. Each week, the artists must do a different style. The second week was tribal, which was stunning to us because we didn't think anyone had gotten a tribal tattoo since the late nineties. Last week, they had to show "shading." At some point in the near future, they'll be doing pin-up girls.
Last week, the most arrogant and unpleasant contestant -- Al Fliction, an odious and loud bore of a man -- got eliminated. We breathed a sigh of relief that we didn't have to see or hear him ever again until it dawned on us that there is literally only one truly likeable contestant in the whole bunch. For the most part, they all seem like total bastards. Arrogant, self-obsessed bastards at that.
So, you might be wondering, why the hell are we tuning into this travesty of a show every week? Well, that's a good question. To us, it's a little bit like having a giant bruise that you can't stop pressing on. You know it's going to hurt you but you keep doing it anyway. There is something maddeningly addictive about watching people attempting to do the impossible each week -- like the guy who volunteered to get a full head tattoo in one sitting, who seemed surprised when five hours of getting his head drilled turned out to be agonizing (they had to call in the paramedics for that one). Or the guy that came in absolutely covered with psoriasis and requested work done on top of his skin condition. And these are just the canvasses.
The contestants panic, fight, bitch about each other and critique each other's work unreasonably. The judges bitch out the contestants. This is a competition in which no one seems happy or, hell, even content, for a moment. None of them are having a good time. And therefore, for someone who loves tattoos and tattooing culture, it is a joy to watch. "That's what you get!' we all yell at our televisions every week "for trivializing tattoos and trying to make them digestible for mainstream television! Suffer!"
Which brings us back to that conversation my friend was a part of in Skull & Sword last week. All of the artists in the shop hated the show, but -- like me -- watched it anyway. And ultimately they concluded that what Ink Master really needs is an episode of Mystery Science Theater dedicated to it. I can think of nothing more joyous. In the meantime, we're secretly hoping that the idiot at Spike TV that came up with this thing is getting a tattoo on the back of his hand to remind him to never do anything like this ever again. And we do mean ever...