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‘Inked’ versus ‘Miami Ink’

How Real is Reality Tattoo TV?

by AdamSkyArtist

July 30, 2005

In a flurry of lightning fast edits a tattoo machine buzzes accompanied by an uneasy musical score, emotionally leading us into the mysterious world of the tattoo artist. Images of ink being injected into skin are beamed into a million living rooms of mainstream America. The cable networks have trained their electronic eye on the tattoo shop. Tattooing will never be the same.

There are two reality tattoo shows on cable television right now; the A&E Network is showing 'Inked'; two half hour segments rolled out back to back about Las Vegas' first casino bound tattoo shop and TLC is broadcasting the full hour feature 'Miami Ink', an established South Beach tattoo parlor reinvented with an all star cast of reputable and accomplished tattooers. Both shows are healthy doses of formulaic reality television but couldn't be more different in their approach to reel in viewers.

A&E's 'Inked' seemingly considers tattooing to be not much more than an advertorial ploy to peak people's curiosity, delivering inter-office drama and emotional tension rather than images or dialog about tattoos. Actual tattooing is served in small portions, enough to remind us that we're in a tattoo shop but never interfering with building consternation that the counter girl might get fired before the end of the episode.

TLC's 'Miami Ink' bravely takes a 180 degree turn and focuses strongly on the production of the tattoo, from consultation to art rendering, then actual tattooing until the final finish result. Personalities of the tattoo artists are explored but not exploited and their personal drama acts as sub-plots to get us through each episode.

What's interesting with both shows is the evident contrast between how two tattoo shops can operate. Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company, the shop featured in 'Inked' oozes cash from its expensive casino location and lavish furnishings to its towering Las Vegas boulevard sinage versus Miami Ink's modest store front location. If you read between the lines, you can see how money is made in the tattoo game. Where Hart & Huntington are shoveling out small and expensive 'one off' tattoos for the tourists, Miami Ink's artists are investing dozens of hours into creating large scale, custom tattoos. The financial mechanics of running a high exposure, high volume and high overhead shop is always forefront in the story of 'Inked'.

It's hard to tell if it was serendipity or if the producers of 'Miami Ink' have intentions to uplift the art of tattooing and present to a nation that tattoo art doesn't need to be mediocre. The all star crew of Garver, Ami, Nunez and Darren Brass throw down some primo tats but it's anyone's guess if it's the quality of tattoos that viewers will find tantalizing enough to dish up the ratings.

Sometimes change happens so slowly that we don't realize things are different until we suddenly take stock of what we're missing. Sometimes change hits you like a two by four to the teeth. Tattoos are on TV because it took generations of tattooists to convince the general public that tattooing is interesting, accessible and most importantly, safe. But make no mistake about it, tattoo TV is about to change tattooing.

Stay tuned!

Adam Sky is Managing Editor of

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