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Monday, April 2, 2012

TV (Hammer) Party Tonight

Ah, Tattoo TV Shows. I've been scoffing at them since day one, thinking that their time will come & go. Its been a touchy subject of late, what with more & more of my good friends & beloved peers appearing on these shows. And don't our clients know it, not one day goes by without someone asking us if we caught that one show last night,... always followed by laughter, as they damned well know the reaction they're going to get,...

Of course, I don't watch television, except the Daily Show, & Dr. Who. I worked very hard to be an independent artist, as well as someone who has been clean off of drugs for over two decades, & as such, I have a strict moral foundation that is diametrically opposed to everything the companies that own television stand for.

But you probably don't know about that, huh? All that talk of corporate monopolies, that punk rock bands like the Dead Kennedys, Crass, & the Subhumans that bled our ears with mantras of 'corporate rock sucks', died in the 90's when Hot Topics went coastal & Green Day made it Broadway. They screamed about the dangers of too much power being taken out of the hands of the people & hoarded by soulless conglomerates. They couldn't have been more right. One hundred years ago, there were over a hundred news organizations. Now there are six. (GE, Disney, News Corp., TimeWarner, Viacom, & CBS.) There may be 200 channels of shit on the TV, but they are almost all owned by the same people. The same goes for newspaper & magazine publishers. The same goes for record labels, just four (Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Group ). The same goes for food companies. ( These companies have incredible control over what you see, hear, eat, or don't see, don't hear, or can't eat, or what others can say or supply you with. And more & more, they're interconnected. Monopolies are so out of hell bent out of control today they make J. P. Morgan look like Willy Wonka.

The most infamous example I use is TimeWarner, who are interlaced, (they share CEO's) with Exxon-Mobil, who is the most profitable company in human existence, due in no small part to the two illegal wars the United States has been involved in. TimeWarner owns news organizations, magazines, television, movies, radio, & a huge number of music labels under its giant corporate umbrella. GE owns NBC, & also makes every detonator on every nuclear missile in our silos. Exactly how much of a conflict of interest is it that someone controlling so much of our news information might just have a bias when it comes to how war is reported on? Ask yourself this, after the longest & most unpopular war of American history, why isn't there a single protest song on the airwaves? Or a nightly report on the conflict in Afghanistan? Little strange, dontcha think? The main reason, the 1,318,000,500,050 dollar reason (the cost of war to the dollar as of 4/1/2012) our country is in the shitter, & not one of these so called news stations is talking about it? This was something we railed against back in the 80's. It was insane to think a band who was so entrenched in socio-political concerns that you needed a masters in civics just to understand their liner notes, could be owned by, (& signed to contracts that saw that the band was the last party to be paid, & most of the profits went straight to the label) & making millions of dollars for the same sort of same power mad people they were warning you about.

This is how you get Navy recruitment ads with Godsmack soundtracks on them,... the ad company, the TV networks, & the band are all owned by one company. Who are then owned by people who build weapons & drill oil. Rock & roll used to sing out against war, less than a generation later, it promotes it.

Clear Channel is another blistering example of people who hate the product they're getting rich from. You'll remember this company, the nation’s largest owner of radio stations, they're the ones who censored which songs could be played on the air after 9/11, shot down gay pride billboards, & censored criticism of G.W. Bush on any of its programs. They carry most of the Fox radio shows, like Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and Noory. They're one of the reasons why all radio stations sound almost exactly the same. Their CEO has gone on record saying that he hates music. They have tried to work with the federal government to pass laws charging the promoters of music festivals with any crime committed by anyone at the festival. Imagine how many drug possession charges go down at Bonaroo, now imagine you taking the heat for all of them. This was one of the many heavy handed ways they wanted to beat everyone else down & steal as much from music industry as possible. Think about that, people who never wrote a note of music using the power & capital they stole from music to write laws dictating what can be done with music. No wonder that there hasn't been a music movement since 1992. The voice of an entire generation has been bought, sold & kept on a damned short leash by mercenary vultures who choose presidents & congressmen, & make huge profits off of dead American soldiers.

The more you realize how corporate our entire culture is here in America, the more you realize that our lives are nothing more than to keep the coffers of these burgermeisters full. The music you hear in your favorite movie is placed there, because both the band & the movie company are owned by the same people. Who then review the music & the movie in magazines they own. And then advertised in every media vehicle they own as well. Back when there were still record stores, big labels would buy shelf space for albums & wall space for posters, making sure only bands they owned could be sold. Songs on the radio aren't requested, they're paid for. Same with the food companies, all the shelf space at supermarkets is paid for, which is why almost every product on the shelf is owned by some gigantic food corp as opposed to some local indy start up. An entire generation is engrained to buy the name brand food, & is bombarded with product placement for the food, that no one says anything when public school lunches start carrying Pizza Hut food, & have soda machines on campus. And then people wonder why we're the fattest country on the planet, & one in three school kids have diabetes. Or wonder why cars get the same gas mileage we got when Reagan was in office. Or why every concert hall in America is no longer named after people who accomplished great things, but after some damned telecom, like the telecoms guilty of treason against the American people for domestic spying until the Bush Administration pardoned them. Or when corporations became people, & money became speech.

Part of my moral foundation was laid when I got off drugs. "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." I was taught by the harsh realities of my past life, that everything we do has ripples, & many of the things we do affect people in ways we cannot possibly know. We are all connected. If you're out to to fuck someone else over, you're just going to fuck yourself. This isn't a radical thought, its well over 2000 years old. I remember one particular long haired hippie carpenter we nailed to a tree for saying that. And that can make doing something like working as an artist problematic. For example, do you fulfill a childhood dream by drawing comic books? Well, is your dream important enough to work for DC, who are owned by TimeWarner? Watch now as your dream is dictated to by censors & lawyers who care more about the interests of their shareholders & advertisers than your artistic expression. And how much of the money that the characters you've created is going into your pocket, & how much into the pockets of weapons manufacturers, who also own the company, & now everything you create for them? Truth, justice, & secret prison camps,...

I did a lot of work creating art & printing for The Man. It was a compromise, but I was madly in love with my then wife & was helping her in her efforts to get through school. I spent fifteen long years working for everyone from Reebok to Saturday Night Live. I made a lot of people who didn't give a flying fuck about art a hell of a lot of money. I was subject to crass censorship, insane standards, stolen royalties, forgotten bonuses, cancelled incentives, & treated like a lead paint eating syphilitic earless freak. When I became a tattoo artist, I left all of that behind. I now own my own business, & answer to no one, but my faithful partner in pain, my loyal ronin clientele, & to my peers, who have hard earned my respect by contributing to this incredible ancient art form. My love & appreciation of the tattoo scene is strong, because I know what its like to be an indentured servant to people who stood against everything I've fought for.

Independence has been a HUGE part of tattooing, both for the artist as well as the client. Tattoos mark the client as an individual. For the artist, independence is the life breath of creativity. Tattooing's meteoric popularity has to do with everything I'm talking about above, how we're a culture based on STUFF, on making money so we can have STUFF, & tattooing is the one thing we still have that spits in consumerism's face.  Tattooing is not allowed to be as fake as our shitty cars that don't last the time it takes to pay them off, & our threadbare crappy Walmart clothing, & our terrible dumbed down for the masses tasteless ball-less music,...  It can't be fake, how can you fake putting a few million color filled holes into someone's body? Tattooing is ancient, prehistoric, timeless, & REAL. Our last vestige of a universal culture where we share pain & healing. People learn more about themselves from one hour in my tattoo chair than they do from a thousand sermons. When life gets real, like when someone they love dies, nothing else in our plastic Bic© lighter of a society is there for them like tattooing. And is it coincidence that some of the finest art of our generation isn't coming from cinema, or galleries, or any traditional venue that is now under new plantation ownership? The independence of the tattoo lifestyle has allowed that mysterious thing that makes art to happen.

As Mike Malone famously quoted Sailor Jerry, 'What are we? Pen-pals or PIRATES?'

....annnnnddd that brings us around to Tattoo Television.

My first & biggest problem with Tattoo TV is, no tattoo artists OWN the shows. These same corporations that destroyed music own the shows. For example, the most recent show, 'Ink Master', was aired on Spike TV. Spike is owned by MTV, who is owned by Viacom, who is owned by Westinghouse, who is owned by Toshiba. Viacom is one of those corps that likes to do things like sue its fans, like the multi-billion dollar lawsuit it filed against Google & YouTube. Westinghouse is a war profiteer. They handle defense contracts & make nuclear fuel, nuclear reactors, & nuclear engines for subs & aircraft carriers. And Toshiba had sanctions levied against it & saw the arrest of a number of officers in the 80's for selling machines to build quiet nuclear submarine propellers to the Soviet Union, & weakened relations between the US & Japan.

If you're a pirate, a free spirit who lives & works for himself, & makes his living traveling the world & creating art,... these are the people you want to now work for, the same fascists I worked so hard to escape from?! This makes no sense. Most people would murder to escape the cubicle.

Do you think they're helping tattooing? "Sure, think of the exposure!" Riiiiggght. Like anyone needs the kind of exposure of seeing a fine artist stuck in a meat locker with a dead pig. If that doesn't show you how they view tattoo artists as clown shoes, what would? A tattoo artist pie fight? Where were these people when the fight to legalize tattooing was going down? (Keep in mind that we're still illegal today in at least half the cities in New Jersey. Keep in mind that all five boroughs of NYC were illegal until 1997. That Massachusetts, South Carolina, & Oklahoma were illegal into the 21st century.) Let's ask this: who else are they hiring? They pay tattoo people to get in front of the camera. Are there people in their human resources department with sleeves? How about accounting? How about their legal team? How about the CEO's? From what my clients tell me, every time they ask me to make sure that I place their tattoos so they'll be safe for work, I bet not.

The only help that they want to give to tattooing is to help tattooing make them a lot of money they didn't earn. These are the very people we fought when we protested the tattoo prohibitions. I'm not being rhetorical. If you doubt that, pull up the massive numbers they've donated to creepy politicians, & how much they've spent on which lobbyists they blitzkrieg the Congress with. Now, what do you think they're going to do with the money they make off these shows? Spend it on reversing everything they've done to seize control of,... well, everything?

Lemme ask you this: would you sell your shop & go work for a guy who never tattooed? Or never had a single tattoo? Of course not. The same reasons you wouldn't work for a non tattooing owner apply tenfold to Tattoo TV. Trust me, as someone who has heard that "it'll be good exposure" line for years from record labels & magazine publishers, the trade off is insanely stacked in their favor.

That's my biggest concern, & I'm passionate about it because it just doesn't extend to Tattoo TV shows, but to everything that's going on in this country in practically every industry. But that's another blog. If tattoo people owned the shows, controlled the content, had the power of final edit, & were the main beneficiary, that would be a different ballgame. I can't believe that's not a concern.

My second problem has to do with how tattooing is portrayed, starting with how dirty some of these shows are. The first episode of TLC's 'Tattoo School' had twenty nine health department code violations. A lot of these shows show a total break down in cross contamination procedures; setting up bare handed, handling sterile tubes & needles with bare fingers, wiping down fresh tattoos bare handed, handling all kinds of things with bloody gloves. Kat Von D has a live cat running around & jumping on clients, a cat that I bet has never seen the inside of an autoclave. One episode had Steve-O tattooing, a clear violation of California's tattoo artist licensing laws. MTV ran a show about tattoo regret that showed people getting tattooed out of a house, while drinking & doing illegal drugs. Is it too much to ask that Tattoo TV be clean & legal?

Those two points are irrefutable. After that, the arguments begin to descend into the areas of opinion & taste. But, that dove tails into my whole long winded preamble about ethics. When I became a tattooist, I served a formal apprenticeship. I learned where to draw lines. I don't open up on the same block as anyone else. I work clean. I don't tattoo swastikas or racist bullshit. I don't price gouge my clients. I don't tattoo drunks or minors. I don't tattoo other people's tattoos. I don't trash talk other studios. I honor those who came before me, & made a lot of sacrifices to build this industry up to the point where we can doodle for a living instead of driving cabs. I didn't invent tattoo ethics, I learned them. One of the people I learned them from was Horiyoshi 3, who talks in the book 'Bushido' ( about how he hasn't raised his prices in decades despite being one of the most sought after tattooist on the planet. He does this because in addition to his rich & famous clientele, he knows that a common worker will have to save up months for sitting with him, & undergo no small amount of pain to wear his work. He honors the clients' dedication & returns their respect. That's righteous. Its based on that code of honor that we christened our studio with the name "Seppuku". Death Before Dishonor.

"C'mon Johnny, we had the same argument ten years ago about supplier ads in magazines". We sure did. And after years of magazine editors taking ad money, now we live in a world where Sears, malls & flea markets sell tattoo supplies to the untrained general public. Where my inbox is flooded with spam from Chinese suppliers trying to unload $17 bootlegged tattoo machines & stolen tattoo flash. We had the same argument about non tattooers running conventions. We have the same argument about tattoo studios opening in shopping malls. How long before the monopolies that own the malls (they're all owned by four people) dictate who can open where & who can't, before we're all working for Starbucks Ink©? Am I being unreasonable? A raving paranoid lunatic? Is it crazy to think that all it would take is one single lobbyist to push a law outlawing anyone else from making & selling their own tattoo ink or supplies, & that we'd be forced to buy them from some giant conglomerate, (maybe the same people who sell you assloads of dangerous drugs & pharmaceuticals that have side effects far worse than the ailment you're trying to cure?) That we may not be that far away from all tattoo studios being owned by a TimeWarner or a Clear Channel? Go ask the owner of your local record store. Or the owner of your local concert venue. Or the owner of your local radio station. Or the local indy record label. Or the local music distributor. Or the local ticket outlet.

Oh wait, you can't,... because they no longer exist, they're now all extinct. I remember being told that would never happen either. That corporate rock wasn't that bad. That bands had a right to make money. That I should just "lighten up" & "stop hating". Sucks to be right, right?

Tattoo TV can be done well. But first & foremost, it should be in the hands of the people its honoring. People like Chris Garver, Shane O'Neil, Jack Rudy, & Joe Capobianco, these are all hardcore artists who paid their dues & earned the respect they command the hard way. They are some of my personal favorites in the scene. They are great people, as well as being tremendous artists. In the case of Jack & Joe, these are cats who served as an example to me of what good ethics should be. I do not judge them, quite the opposite, they're some of my biggest inspirations, my heroes. Jack is a living legend, a bridge between our new school & the old. Why did they agree to be on these shows? I have no idea, & will never ask them. Its not my place or why I'm here. It's not why I'm taking time to go into all of this. What it is for is to show people what the owners of these shows think of you. They're the problem, not the artists. And basically, they think that you're one the suckers who are born every minute, & will use your money to destroy all your own self interests. Man has created art & expressed himself for thousands of years before he developed a system of commerce. Art cannot be put up on the Dow Jones & traded like a commodity.

The Music Industry Graveyard should stand as a monument of the dangers of corporate bedfellows.

Whether you're a 'civilian', or a veteran tattoo artist, I hope that you'll think about these things as you're watching the next Tattoo TV Show that comes along. Because if you really love tattooing enough to enjoy television shows about it, then you love tattooing enough not to aid & assist it's enemies.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Really, I could have just said "Green Day on Broadway", & saved myself a few hours!