I’ve been fond of tattoos for a long time. I was afraid of them a little bit when I was younger, but after I got the first one I knew there was nothing to fear except running out of available skin to ink. When a friend of mine told me about Ink Master, I was sold without even watching any of it. Just the idea of seeing really good tattoo artists compete against each other was enough to get me excited. Finally, a reality television show that focuses more on actual talent and much less on being an annoying douchebag that the producers want to keep around because it’s good television. At least, that’s sort of how it was at the start. It’s been five seasons now and, after taking in the latest season, I think I speak on behalf of anyone with eyes when I say that I hope the show is over now. What was originally a competition to be the best artist in the room has rapidly become a competition to reveal who the biggest dick in the room is and what makes tattoo artists cry. I’ll give you a hint on the latter: just about anything.
Let’s go back to the start, though, when things were good and hopes were high. The first season had some pretty good artists, though maybe not the best, because the show was new and I think a lot of the real talent hadn’t heard about it or invested a lot of faith in it. There was very minimal reality television bullshit going on here. When the judges gave a critique people actually just listened to it and tried to improve their work the next time around. When people didn’t agree with each other they would make some comments about their differences in belief, but that was as far as it went. Season one showed some really stellar work, though, despite the fact that it was new and they didn’t have as broad a selection of artists as they would in coming seasons.
In season one they started the tradition of one of the canvases (people getting inked) moaning in pain during the intro right here in season one and they carried it all the way through. If you’re going to be on television for Ink Master and you want to get as much television time as you possibly can out of the experience then you should just randomly moan really loud at some point when you’re getting inked. It honestly never fails. In season one we also noticed that Dave Navarro has the shittiest tattoos in the history of ink, and they played it off like he was the “host” by saying Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck were the judges, but Dave votes as well as his vote carries just as much weight, so really he’s as much a judge as the rest of them. I guess they needed someone who non-tattoo people would recognize? Is he really even that popular? The argument is that he spent a lot of time in tattoo shops so his opinion is worth something. That’s like saying I’m a valid judge on American Idol because I sing in the shower a lot. I was never really a fan of this but since the two real judges could outweigh his vote it really didn’t matter that much, or so it seemed.
With season two we got a larger selection of artists and we really got to see some amazing work. With the addition of Kay Kutta we saw one of the first real steps towards reality television and away from tattoos. Kay’s real talent was Not Being As Bad As The Worst Person and being a mouthy, annoying asshole. Sure, part of the reason we watched was to see his talentless ass get sent home, but we were watching that amidst some really amazing tattoos. The show had gained attention and they had an excellent pool of candidates to choose from and it shows. Even the tattoos that get picked apart don’t look that bad (in most cases) and I’d still be happy to wear them even with the criticism they received. Season two also introduced the concept of the fan favourite artist who gets to return next season, which I think is tremendously stupid. If the judges voted them out the first time then the only way they could really win the second time around would be if the people they were competing with were substandard to the season before. Reality television rears its ugly head on this one.
Season three still had some really amazing artists, though with the Human Canvas Jury we’re seeing even more reality television horseshit. Allow me to explain. The judges pick the people they want to bring down and they ultimately choose which one will be eliminated. The HCJ also votes on someone to go down, but since the judges can already bring down whichever artists they want and they have the ultimate say in who goes home, what the fuck purpose does the HCJ provide other than a bunch of people sitting in a room arguing about which one of them has the shittiest tattoo? It’s bad enough that seasoned tattoo vets are telling the entire audience what’s wrong with the tattoo that you’ll have to wear forever, at least that’s in the privacy of your home with no one filming your reaction. This just has a really mean feel to it and there’s literally no purpose for it in terms of the competition. I guess the show wasn’t American Idol enough for some people? Josh Hibbard keeps the Kay Kutta dickhead theme going here, but at least he has some talent to back his mouth up. Despite the growing garbage in the actual show, there are still a lot of really amazing tattoos on display and still a great many I’d be happy to wear.
By season four, things are starting to get pretty rough. Most real tattoo artists (mine included) start to see that, while the show does give you a chance to showcase your abilities, it’s also not exactly as it appears on television and, more to the point, a poor roll of the dice could ruin your name in the industry. Since second place takes nothing but the title, it’s a really big gamble to take, especially for artists who can’t imagine doing anything else. Thus, the really good artists started to shy away from the show and were replaced by “people who do tattoos and are full of themselves and can yell a lot”. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some good tattoos to be seen, but it seems like the garbage artists you’re just waiting to see eliminated are growing in numbers and the people whose art you want to see is diminishing. I actually bought the Inked magazine with this season’s winner in it before a long train ride, hoping I’d get to see some of his other work there, but idiotically enough, the only tattoos they print are the ones you’ve already seen from the show. The rest of the magazine is just ads for shit you don’t need and stories about things that kind of relate to tattoos a little bit. Mine had a three page treat about a band who wrote a song about getting shitty tattoos. I was so happy to read that instead of seeing pictures of awesome tattoos. I know I’m getting sidetracked here, but I feel it’s my moral obligation to make sure no one else wastes their money the way I did.
Now we come to season five, with the highest percentage of Reality Television and the lowest percentage of talent. The big twist this time is that everyone has a rival, so every artist has another artist they know in some way and have a beef with. Obviously we’re really cutting down on actual talent here in order to pair up the competitors to make it more exciting (though, really, the rivalries have almost nothing to do with the way the competition works, much like the HCJ) and the more obnoxious they are, the better. Hence the return of Josh Hibbard and the equally useless Jason Clay Dunn, master of the excuse for the repeated cases of vandalism he applies to people’s skin. Even though there were other season three artists who hated Josh, the rest of them weren’t whiny bitches, so Josh’s rival is Jason. It just makes for better viewing, guys.
In season five the bad tattoos just don’t stop coming. Sure, you get a good clean piece from Cleen (tattoo artists hate spelling things properly, which when you consider it isn’t very encouraging if you want to get lettering done. My person favourite is “Jime” which is apparently pronounced: “Jimmy”.) or one or two of the others, but the well is running dry at this point and there’s more yelling at each other than there is art, leaving us to hope that this is the end. One of the other idiotic things about season five is the new rule where the opponents choose what style of tattoo a person does for their final piece instead of the artist choosing. They do challenges every week with different styles, so what is this testing? Just less about the art and more about the people watching at home, I guess. That’s the running theme here. Josh gets kicked off for smoking pot, which is kind of odd as he does it off camera and we see people getting drunk on camera from season one on, but it’s part of the rules so whatever. The problem is the rest of the artists jumping on him and saying he’s “cheating” by smoking pot. This is some of the lamest shit I’ve ever heard in my life, but given Josh’s ability in this season and just about everyone else’s lack thereof, I guess it’s to be expected.
As I was saying, the bad artists you can’t wait to see eliminated are so many in number that mathematically one of them has to be in the final three. Jason Clay Dunn, in this case. He’s been brought down for having bad tattoos more than anyone in the history of the show but what the fuck, why not? He’s a master of Japanese and he can’t do a dragon to save his life. He’s got mystery anxiety problems (I’d be anxious if I sucked and was being judged on television as well, I suppose, but is that really a disability the way he implies it is?) and he’s never done a single tattoo I’d wear, but why not? Thanks to the new final challenge of not doing a tattoo in the style of your choosing, Jason somehow walks out the winner, even though Cleen was never in the bottom and always did better tattoos. In any other season Cleen would have won and Jason would have been knocked out early, but with the watering down of the talent and the idiotic twists they’ve applied to the formula, was there really any other way it could go? You can tell when a talentless hack like Dunn wins that the show is essentially over. What will season six have? Even less talent than five and even more moronic rules that have nothing to do with tattooing and everything to do with trying to distract people from the fact that the well’s run dry? Do yourself a favour and stop watching at the end of season four, when things still had a little bit to do with tattoos. Season five was a “who is the biggest dick?” challenge and Jason blew it out of the water.