By Deb Yarian
I grew up watching TV- I loved it!
I’m past middle age now, so I was a child when TV was still fairly young and I still remember when television was broadcast only in B & W. I also remember when there were only 7 channels (and this was in NYC),the three major networks, three local networks and the public broadcast network. They came on early in the morning, ran programs and commercials throughout the day – but ended sometime after midnight, culminating with a picture of a waving American flag, the playing of the national anthem and then dead air and static, literally static- till they resumed broadcasting in the morning.
When the weekly TV guide came out, I would plot my viewing for the days ahead- first searching for my favorite shows, then looking for any specials or movies I wanted to watch and then i’d adjust my schedule for time conflicts.
This continued, to a degree through my teens, when other interests like REAL LIFE got in the way of my television viewing habits.
Fast forward thirty- years… I’ve changed- tv viewing has changed.
I still enjoy watching a few series that I have set to record. I still love watching movies and can do so on any of the many movie viewing options available – in color, high def etc, and so goes the evolution of my tv watching.
When I first became aware of tattoos, as a teenager in the 70s, and started tattooing, I was also acutely aware of the absence of tattoos and tattooing on TV.
Tattooing was still an underground art then and tattoos just did not fit in to everyday, mainstream American life… there was little, if any, mention or presence of them on TV or in the movies with the exception of a couple of movies: The Illustrated Man,1969 and Tattoo, 1981 as well as an occasional documentary or the very rare appearance of a tattooer on TV.
William Neeley, a tattoo artist from Denver, Co who appeared on What’s My Line? In 1956 and “Duchess” Geyer a female tattoo artist from Ogden, Utah who appeared on the show in 1958.
There was also Lyle Tuttle’s appearance as a guest on the Late Show with Johnny Carson during the 1970s. The tattooer was so outside of popular society, I think, that if a sociologist from a future generation were to study the first half century of television history, they would get not a glimpse of tattooing as it evolved in American culture because of the almost total exclusion of it from the medium.
Tattooed people then as movie characters were usually only portrayed as bikers, drunken sailors, and outlaws and it wasn’t until Seth Rogan’s 2005 role in Forty Year Old Virgin, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2006 role in Stranger Than Fiction, that I recall seeing heavily tattooed characters in a movie, reflective of popular culture.
And it really wasn’t until the reality TV shows of the late 1990’s and early 2000 ‘s that I began noticing tattooed people on TV at all, and I credit that to the more frequent inclusion of regular (non celebrity) people on TV.
The first heavily tattooed person that I can remember seeing on TV (on a show having nothing to do with tattooing) was a hair dresser with a sleeve, on a show featuring beauty makeovers and then I noticed on a Toronto based home makeover show, Divine Design, an electrician and carpenter who were both heavily tattooed.
I remember these sightings because of their rarity. Just like I used to be aware if there were other tattooed people on an airplane or on a train that I was a passenger on.
Now, more and more of the contestants on the cooking and design reality TV shows are tattooed as well as a few of the celebrity chef judges appearing on these shows.
And very often now, a contestant on one of the talent oriented reality based shows will have visible tattoos. Where only a few years ago, that wasn’t ever the case.
I am intentionally excluding tattoos and the music culture, because that’s not my focus here and a whole different subject.
That is the evolution of tattoos as common place on TV, as I see it.
So, now on to the Tattoo TV shows…
Their part of TV culture has certainly changed tattooing as I know it, and there’s no going back or imagining what tattooing would be like without them.
For good or bad – it (TV) brought tattooing in to everybody’s homes. It made it less scary and less mysterious, but also less glamorous, less exotic and possibly less special.
It showed ordinary people with ordinary stories getting tattooed. Millions of ordinary people watching these shows may never have stepped in to a tattoo shop, seen a tattoo being done, or ever gotten a tattoo themselves if not for these shows.
And I dare say that the number of people that have embarked on a career in tattooing would have been thousands and thousands fewer if not for these television shows.
Now, there are tattoo television shows in different cities and tattoo competition shows and tattoo horror story shows and how to and tattoo school shows. Now these shows are pretty common place, and tattooed people on TV have become pretty common place as well. Now the tattooed celebrity, actor, musician and sports figure are a pretty regular sight on TV.
So , that’s the evolution of the second half century of television and tattooing, as I see it.
I don’t think I ever would have imagined that tattooing would have become what it has become today, mainly due to TV and it’s influence on our culture… but like I said earlier, there’s no going back.