Thoughts on TLC and TV.

Sunday July 24, 2011

Im a computer geek business owner in the midst of the tattoo world, so of course it was/is impossible to miss the uproar over TLCs show, "Tattoo School". I enjoyed reading through many of the rants against the tattoo school show but none of them really summed up how I feel about it all. Regardless, I wasn't going to take the time to throw my two cents out there. There are many better spokespeople for tattooing than me. Last week Crash from Tattoo Artist Magazine asked me to comment on the blogs from the previous week, and no matter how much work I have, I do love sharing my opinions and couldn't pass up the invitation. As a guy who is very involved with the education of tattooers and artists, maybe my thoughts have some merit. Either way, Im eager to blast this out and get back to the work I have cut out for myself.

For the last decade plus I have been developing a work habit and have made little time for TV. I might watch between 30 seconds and a half hour of Book TV before passing out every few nights. Sometimes over lunch I'll try to catch some network blather to keep up on what the masses are consuming (yes, I get the irony). Maybe there are a few odd quality shows out there, but this culture hasn't fostered real creativity in the entertainment marketplace for a long time. It's sad, I miss it, but it is what it is. There is some good stuff out there if you look. In any event, my TV has been set aside so I can work day and night on this years Paradise Tattoo Gathering, a snowboard party  with free seminars in Jan, the Paradise Artist Retreat in New Mexico next February, the Worldwide Tattoo Conference in April in Chicago, and then ultimately next years Tattoo Gathering in Keystone Colorado. This pretty much takes up all my time, though I have TattooNOW and Off the Map Tattoo to stay on top of too (thank god I have a lot of great help!). Between producing events devoted to educating tattooers and artists, overseeing 100+ tattoo websites, and owning a studio with 40 some odd guest artists a year, there is no time to care about TLC, and not much for TV in general. Scratchers never really take up much of my time or mental energy, nor do people looking for cheap tattoos. Never been in that game. Maybe Im snobby, maybe business would be better if we did, but we don't. I know that whatever TV, or the corporate industry at large, can throw at tattooing, tattooing will keep the best and the rest will go away with the ebbs and flows of fashion and pop culture or the whims of investors who find it's harder to cash in than they thought. If you have been in the industry for any length of time,  you've seen these people and companies come and go. Still, it's hard not to be at least a little thankful for the reality that these awful tattoo TV shows have opened up our culture, and client base, to enjoy tattooing. With more people accepting of the art, and the fact you can't export tattoo jobs to chinese children, many of my clients, friends, and I still have relatively stable jobs. Our hard work and talent will carry us no matter, but as much as I loathe TV its impossible to not acknowledge that they have helped balance out this horrible economy we find ourselves in...

Ok, the topic at hand.. Tattoo School? Really? Its a joke. The few out there cater to inpatient suckers and the lowest common denominator. Dangerous? Yeah kinda... Ultimately means more coverups and hard lessons learned. People do have the right to be stupid. I don't like it. But if you want to give and get infections, then who am I to stop you. If the tattoo schools want to churn out shitty artists to compete for the tattoo clients who don't care for the quality of the tattooer marking them, well I guess I feel they have every right to engage in the marketplace. Personally, my companies don't compete for the bottom, never have. I feel that education is more powerful than regulation any day of the week, and apply that to our business. Sure, many industries need to be regulated, anything with out checks and balances inherently becomes imbalanced as the industry matures, but regulation won't actually solve the underlying problems of unsafe and bad tattooing. I do feel we will get farther by putting our energies into educating the public about the top tier of the art, than making up rules to regulate the lowest common denominator. Of course I support all responsible methods of promoting a healthy industry & community at large, and when regulations are made I would want to make sure responsible tattoo industry leaders can create/guide those regulations. Often more regulation means the government comes in and will regulate for the lowest common demonator. Personally, I don't think our problems as an industry are that big, though, I guess I'd like to see responsible health regulations everywhere so scratching is illegal... The only time i think about tattoos schools or scratchers is when I hear artists complain about all of them poping up everywhere and I think, really? are there that many more of them? Then I shrug and don't think about them again for a few years.

Ok, TLC? Really? People care about TLC this much? Its a joke. Just another cable channel that caters to the lowest common denominator in a medium taken over by corporations who only care about lowering expenses and raising revenues. They actually named it the Learning Channel. Welcome to the machine friends. I don't want to take anything away from the artists who want to jab TLC in the ribs and knock them out of the ring. TLC and that stupid show deserve it. I do feel that TLC isn't worth the effort, it takes a lot of energy to produce crappy TV that doesn't pay for itself and TATTOOING is pretty tough. Most of the folks thorwing their two cents in about TLC will be around for decades after people forget about Tattoo School TV. Will tattoo school TV hurt tattooing? possibly, my bet is very little if any.

So, what do we do? I have heard a lot of people get pretty mad. Nah, not me, I prefer to work hard and get even. Vet suppliers? Yes, you vote with your dollar. I do believe people have the right to sell pretty much whatever they want to whomever. So voting with our dollars really is the best way to not support bad suppliers, but more importantly make sure you are supporting real quality businesses/people who care about the health of their industry. But, well, that should be a given in everything we spend money on. You shouldn't just be picky about where you buy your tattoo supplies because EVERYTHING you buy has repercussions... What irks me even more than TLCs stupid shows, are people who talk big about banning a TV show that would probably have died quickly smoking cigarettes in the Dunkin Donut's drive-through on their way to Walmart... You can ban suppliers who don't care about our industry all you want, there are much larger problems at stake here.... While Im not afraid of how one small crappy show effects TATTOOING, I am very concerned about the aggregate worldwide effects of the multinational media conglomerates on our government and population. If your just starting to ban TLC, I think your way late to the party and bringing a knife to a nuke-fight. Go read, or reread, some George Orwell and Ray Bradbury books. Think Tattoo School on TLC is going to ruin our industry? For the last thirty years TV has been programming the masses and while you can't blame the bullhorn for the message, you bet your life savings the people using TV have helped facilitate so much war, waste, horror, suppression, class warfare, holy moses, the list of damages the puppet-masters behind cable TV have facilitated goes on and on.

The damage Tattoo School TV can do to the powerful and strong art of tattooing is nothing compared to what it has done to the other industries and communities in this country, indeed around the world. I truly feel blessed, and a bit lucky, to have picked an art that really does take care of those who take care of it, even in very harsh economic climates. There are very few  industries, never mind arts, that can do this for its community. One reason tempers flare so much is because tattooing truly is a sacred art that should be respected, and I do understand the anger towards those who try to take advantage if it. But just as much as tattooing gives back to those who support it, its really not all that kind to those who mess around with it. Mistakes are easy to make and hard to fix, and the TV producers, and investor types, and hacks, and unscrupulous suppliers will all pay off their own bad karma in time.

As Crash points out there are plenty of people doing good things to promote quality tattoo talent. All that work with real talent builds upwards and onwards. I feel the most effective way, for me, to combat this type of blight is to educate the public about quality art and tattooing the best I can. Maybe that's why I don't give much merit to a fleeting TV show on a crappy cable network. I feel pretty confident in the leaders of the tattoo industry. They will be able to keep the art strong and healthy and growing despite whatever the bottom feeders do, even if the jerks get a big microphone once in a while. I have competed and compete head to head with companies can corporations that can throw hundreds of thousands of dollars more than I can at their businesses and events. Its not trivial, but if you are in this business for hte right reasons, and working hard to make the community grow and not just take away from it, you will outlast a dozen tattoo schools. Or maybe not, nature has its way, but regardless if work your ass off harder and smarter you can compete with a goliath. After a while you can do it without breaking a sweat. Simple as that, no one said life is fair, but tattooing does take care of those who take care of it.

So, the next time scratchers and hacks and the bottom feeders start to infect your brain, you might ask yourself this question. "What am I going to focus my day on, the bottom or the top?" 

gabe - Tattoo studio in western mass - 4 Days of seminars, workshops, discussion panels, and world class tattooing!
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