After the season 2 finale of the show “NY Ink” last Thursday, it now looks like TLC will be canceling the show all together. TLC seems to love to hate the tattoo based reality shows that they played a role in creating. With the cancellation of “LA Ink” this past fall, and now “NY Ink” TLC currently has no tattoo reality television shows lined up for their summer or fall seasons. What is interesting about this is that TLC was the first major cable network to develop a reality based television show that focused on the tattoo industry.
It began in 2005 with “Miami Ink” which quickly became a commercial success and from here “LA Ink” and “NY Ink” followed.
However at the height of the “Ink” series in 2009, TLC launched “Tattoo Hunter,” in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of their shows.
“Tattoo Hunter” which only produced ten episodes, followed tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak into different indigenous cultures across the globe to document body marking rituals. Given the timing of the launch of “Tattoo Hunter” it seemed as if TLC was attempting to offer viewers a new format within the content of their tattoo based reality shows, while also trying to take into account the global perspective of tattooing in general. Although “Tattoo Hunter” only ran for ten episodes it did have obvious issues. By having Krutak who is a tattoo anthropologist, and also a white, educated, western male entering into these different cultural spaces to document specific ritual practices, many problematic elements arose. Many viewers, myself included, took issue with the imperialistic attitude of the show. While it was shot in a documentary style and intended to be educational, the imperialistic overtones of it was ultimately the show’s downfall.
Excerpt from the show “Tattoo Hunter” starring Lars Krutak, the content of this clip may be a bit graphic for some viewers.
Through “Miami Ink” , “LA Ink” and “NY Ink,” TLC developed a specific format for this genre of television. Each of these shows focused on a specific tattoo shop, the owner of that shop, the tattoo artists who worked in it and the day to day activities that would unfold. Another unique signature to the “Ink” series that TLC created were the segments that featured individuals who would come on the show to get tattooed and would then share the story behind their tattoo.
This format did seem to work for a while: “LA Ink” aired for seven seasons, “Miami Ink” for six seasons and “NY Ink” for two seasons. While “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink” both maintained strong ratings, and were popular, they were ultimately canceled.
Like “Tattoo Hunter,” the “Ink” series also produced its own set of issues. While these shows attempted to portray what happened behind the scenes of a tattoo shop they failed. The camera’s presence seemed to only capture the weekly drama occurring between coworkers, patrons and artists. However they did help to create a new social space in which tattooing became popular again. While TLC has attempted to portray tattooing and the tattoo industry in a different light over the past decade, their efforts have fallen flat. Although TLC may still be looking for the perfect format to portray American tattoo culture within, we will always have the reruns which at least make for entertaining television.
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