I was watching the Discovery Channel late last night and was drawn into a rerun of the Miami Ink reality TV show that I believe was first produced and aired in 2005. While I am not really into tattoos and do not have one, although while serving in the Navy I briefly thought about being inked, I found myself somewhat surprised to find the show interesting and entertaining. Apparently, I have a lot of company as Miami Ink ran for four seasons on the TLC Channel and was one of the most popular reality TV shows on the air.
Tattoos used to be favored by primarily the military, especially sailors, and members of motorcycle gangs. No longer. For the past 10 years or so professional athletes and celebrities high profile love affair with tattoos has spread into the general population. Today it is estimated that about one out of every seven adults in the United States is sporting at least one tattoo. It is not uncommon to see people that have contracted tattoo fever to be almost completely covered in tats. Some of the tattoos appear to be crude and vulgar but some indeed are true works of art. As you might expect tattoos that are works of art are also expensive.
In my opinion, the Miami Ink reality TV show was so successful because the show combined the interaction of several talented tattoo artists who worked at a real tattoo studio located in South Miami Beach, Florida, with the personalities of their clients and explored the reasons that the clients wanted their tattoos. The show also mixed in plenty of scenes of the vibrant South Miami Beach area which gave the viewer some idea of the youth oriented active lifestyle of the lively fun loving residents. This addition of plenty of local color must have helped the show’s ratings.
Reality TV can seem contrived and completely artificial at times as it is easy to see that these shows are in fact carefully planned and scripted. However, the use of non professional actors in reality TV shows seem to more closely connect the viewing audience with the characters in the show. Perhaps, it’s because the viewers see something of themselves in the common man TV show characters.
Miami Ink Featured Talented Tattoo Artists at Work and Their Interaction With Each Other and Clients
In Miami Ink it is interesting to see the highly talented tattoo artists at work. Not only must they be technically proficient in applying the ink, they must be able to draw well and to interpret the client’s wishes into a design that the client will love. In addition, the tattoo artists must have excellent interpersonal skills as they interact with their clients and do their best to make them as comfortable as possible while the clients are enduring a great deal of pain. The skill level of the artists featured on Miami Ink is apparent even to one not well versed in tattoos. Many of the tattoos are indeed works of art.
Another attraction of the Miami Ink show is that after viewing a show or two you feel like you actually know the central characters. I suppose that is one of the main attractions of reality TV as in an alienated society people are searching for someone or something that they can relate to and feel comfortable with. Relating to a character or two on TV makes a loyal fan out of the viewer, a fact that must be well known by the reality TV show producers.
But what explains the explosion in the popularity of tattoos, even by professional people who a few years ago would not be caught dead in a tattoo shop? And what in the world explains the insane popularity of a TV show that is focused on the activities and culture of a tattoo shop?
American Sports and Celebrity Culture Promoted Tattoos
The answer would seem to be that popular American culture has become centered around celebrity and professional athlete worship. Once a few celebrities and professional athletes started wearing tattoos it was game over. A dramatic increase in tattoo popularity was assured. Acceptance of tattoos as an expression of individuality, as evidence of membership in some tribe or group, as a pledge of loyalty, and as a very personal sign of remembrance, entered into the mainstream of American culture and appears to be there to stay.
While the Miami Ink reality TV show is no longer produced the culture that the show revolved around is still very much alive and well. The real Miami ink studio is now called Love Hate Tattoo. It is located in South Beach, and is co-owned by Ami James and Chris Núñez, two of the stars of the TV show. You can make appointments with many of the tattoo artists who were featured on the show and who are still working at Love Hate.
With the publicity that Miami Ink brought to the shop and the ever-growing popularity of tattoos I understand that business is booming.