13 July, 2011

Wasted Outrage or The Longest Blog Yet

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and may only coincidentally reflect those of Mystic Metals, its employees, or associates. All responses should be posted as comments here, or mailed directly to the author, A. Robert Basile, at ihatebasile@gmail.com.

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Wasted Outrage or The Longest Blog Yet


I came to the bookstore today half thinking that there would be no tables open. Then I wouldn’t be able to write, and I can go home and play LA Noire all day. Clearly there were tables open, and now I’m writing. So I have no excuse today. I was looking for one because I’ve been blocked recently, and I’d really like to enter this playwriting contest, but can’t seem to find any words to write. So instead, I’ll write for you guys. Send me gifts. Also, as a heads up, this rant may not make a lot of you happy, especially if you’re a modification artist.

I have a great many friends who are modification artists. Come to think of it, I know a lot of artists of very different flavors. Musicians, writers, photographers, models (which I really don’t consider that much of an art, but we’ll go with it), painters, filmmakers, make up and hair people, dancers. All kinds of artists. I support art very much; I like it on the whole (except modern dance). It’s important to society, and what’s interesting about it is that if you have the drive and dedication, you can become one of these -ists. With study and practice, you can be in the art scene. Yes, I know; you went to art school and have your little degree and you know more than someone who has self studied. We’re all very proud. You get the point of what I’m saying.

As an artist (which honestly makes me cringe in saying it), I understand the relationship one has to his art form. It’s a special relationship, a unique one. One that is difficult to describe. The characters I’ve created in fiction came with a laborious and strenuous attention and manipulation of absolutely nothing, thin air, to develop something believable. It’s a passionate relationship with the art of writing. I get that most people who create probably have a similar relationship with whatever art of choice. How protective I am of that relationship may be a something that is slightly different than others, however.

What the hell am I talking about. OK, I’ll get to the meat of it. The Learning Channel has a new program called “Tattoo School” where an artist (who has supposedly won awards) will train a small group of cats and kittens in the art form of tattooing. The catch is that the entire thing takes place in two weeks. You’ve probably heard all of this already, and likely some of you have tethered to some of the Facebook groups against the program. Let’s talk about it.

I have had a little difficulty in finding objective analysis of the program. It seems as if you search this, all you’ll get are strongly worded online petitions and adjective heavy (and punctuation atrocity) leaden opinion. What I can gather, it is in the same vein as every other trade oriented reality series. They take a group of people who have exhibited some interest in a thing, and then they douche them with that thing with cleverly edited drama and tension until the inevitable season finale where something important to the person on the show happens. Sounds about right, eh? The thing is, it is playing with our culture, so now we have people claiming outrage.

I don’t believe much in boycotts. Especially the boycotting of large organizations that employ a great many Americans. Like when those PeTA morons were picketing at Eagles games after the signing of Michael Vick. Do you realize how many people the company of the Philadelphia Eagles employs? Because you may not morally agree with what someone on the team has done doesn’t mean you ought to be taking money out of the pockets of hot dog vendors and janitors at the ball park. This isn’t about Michael Vick, though. This is about TLC’s “Tattoo School.” I don’t believe that boycotting gets much done, and if anything, it draws more attention to the thing that you want to go away. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, after all, and hearing that a group of people hate something will only cause the people on the fence to check it out to see what all the hubbub is about. If you don’t want to drink Coke because Coke advertises during a TV show that you’re morally opposed to, then don’t drink Coke. Coke doesn’t care; Coke is in the business of making money, not making ethical and moral statements about cultures and communities. Saying that someone who drinks Coke is supporting bad tattoo practice (or whatever any given show is supposedly promoting) is as absurd as someone saying that people who listen to Rage Against The Machine support the murder of law enforcement.

And before you drop me hate mail about, ‘you’re not a tattoo artist so you don’t understand,’ stop it. I understand. I understand that you worked your ass off to get where you are. I understand the years of apprenticing, the pages and pages of roses you’ve drawn from different angles, the hours of script names you’ve tattooed, the amount of time you’ve spent out of the office working and refining your craft, the sacrifices you’ve made, the difficult people you’ve dealt with. I get all that. You’ve put in the time and the effort and you deserve every accolade you’ve earned. I’ve put in the time and effort in my craft as well, but I’d never deny anyone else’s claim to the art form. Is this show a bad idea? Two weeks to learn an ancient art? Yeah, it is. It skirts the important things that mod artists hold dear. All of the health concerns, all of the artistic practices, the effort and devotion to the craft, the mortgaging of life concerns for the good of the art. Or so we assume. Has anyone seen the show yet or do we just know the jist and think that it might be something that isn’t good for our community?

I have a friend who can’t watch hockey since the lockout, and part of it came way before that when Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers held out for money and was involved in a crazy contract thing that involved millions of dollars. Now, my friend can’t watch hockey. Eric ruined it for me, he’d say. My response? No one is bigger than the game. No one individual is greater than the machine for which he works. And neither are you, tattoo artist. Sorry to break it to you, but you are a forgotten practitioner in the timeline of an art that has persisted for five thousand years. Sound harsh? Probably. As a fiction writer, I am a forgotten mark on the timeline of literature. I’m not bigger than the art. As a photographer, my friend is not bigger than the art; as a model, another friend is not bigger than the art; as a musician, another friend is not bigger than the art. You may feel as if you are, and I tend to as well sometimes, the art may be the core of our planets creating the gravity that binds us to it for life, but we are citizens on the face of art’s world. We don’t own the art as much as we don’t own Earth. We feel as if we do, but really, we don’t. We are participants in the game; we aren’t the game.

How many forgettable things have come and gone that, at the time, were the epicenter of outrage and controversy. When I started writing this blog for Dave years and years and years and years ago (way before Mystic Metals, believe it or not), there was a contemporary show called “The Swan” that I wrote about. I won’t get into the show’s details because it’s not terribly important, but at the time, it was a terrible personification of heavy modification and read like an odd human experiment. I was against it, and received a lot of mail about it. Anyone remember that show? I think you know the point here.

One of the positions of the people in support of the boycott is that it will breed more butcher modification artists, bad art, unhealthy practice, and a reflection of the culture that isn’t terribly accurate in the whole. I don’t disagree with that assessment, and I’ve written a lot about this kind of thing. I don’t support butchers in our community and anyone who has read me over the years doesn’t need me to defend that. But I’m not sure if there’s a Facebook group against the Piercing Pagoda or a boycott of the malls that have them. These places affect more people negatively and personify our culture more inaccurately than a show that is likely to be cancelled after a season. This is a worse mutilation of flesh than someone on a TV show. But are there boycotts of Zales Jewelry stores (the Pagoda’s parent company), or the picketing of the six-hundred and eighty-four kiosks across the country? They’ve been doing this shit since 1924, but we in the community would rather click ‘like’ on a Facebook group against an entire television network that brings, on the whole, edifying and interesting programming into people’s homes? Does anyone else think that sounds unreasonable?

We have an interesting and beautiful community. I am glad to be a part of it, as I am sure you are too. However, this seems as if it is an odd and unreasonable appropriation of effort and faux outrage. Aren’t there bigger fish to fry or catch or whatever the saying is? I understand how protective of the art form we are, and I can be as protective as well, but it’s not our art. It’s everyone’s art. It just seems like a waste of energy on something insignificant. A union of chefs aren’t pissed about “Hell’s Kitchen,” or a dance company flipping shit over “So You Think You Can Dance” or people in the fashion industry losing it over “[Anything On The E! Channel].” (And yes, I get that none of those things are public health issues and modification is. Yes, I get that we don’t want the big bad government to come in and make health regulations in shops. Very legitimate concerns.) We aren’t being disenfranchised in the same way a race or a religion could be. If TLC were giving all of its money to the United Extermination Of The Jews Fund, then yeah, a boycott seems reasonable because that’s some racist shit right there. If they were dumping funds into I Hate Gays And You Should Too United Program, then yeah; boycott the shit out of that. But that’s not us. We are a community by choice, and you know what? We’re not going to like how we are portrayed all of the time. Thems is da breaks, as they say. No one says that, but the point is there. Our generational gene that is that delicious little chromosome that makes us feel entitled prevents us from seeing all facets of the diamond, and rather just makes us see the facets that we want to see. That’s unfair. We as a community aren’t entitled to be represented accurately. We should be, but any reality show about any one thing, lifestyle, or occupation isn’t going to be fair and balanced. That doesn’t make good TV. Should we boycott the show? If clicking the ‘like’ button on a website to show your outrage makes you sleep better at night, go right ahead. If you think that not patronizing the sponsors of the program will help promote healthy modification practice, go nuts. I just don’t see how boycotting a TV show makes artists practice healthier modification. I wonder how outraged we’d be if we actually had to protest like our parents did, with signs and hand written letters and effort. Now signing a digital petition and liking a Facebook page makes us feel like we’re doing something. Strange, but I don’t think that a multibillion dollar company is going to look at an online petition filled with screen names and think twice about their opportunity to make themselves money.

If you think I’m supporting this show on TLC and its message about our community, you’re wrong. If you think that I think that this isn’t damning to the health and safety of our culture, you’re wrong. If you think that I am not in support of healthy modification practice, then you’re wrong and obviously you haven’t read any of my blogs for the past three years and I’ve wasted fifteen hundred words every week. (See also, a blog written in June of 2010 called “Dan Loves Schenectady” on a very similar topic) If any of that’s true, one of two things has happened. One, I didn’t make my point clearly enough; or two, you’ve already decided the ethics and morality of this story and regardless of what I say, your opinion will stand. Both of which are fine. I don’t begrudge people’s opinions, and I enjoy reading opinions that differ from mine as to see things through different lenses. But seriously, aren’t there bigger things for us to worry about than if someone is on some TV show doing something that we think we have a better knowledge of? We want modification to be more normalized in society? OK, then these are the kinds of interpretations we’re going to have to deal with along the way. At the end of the day, the ratings of the show will dictate its success. My plan? I’m not going to watch it. I don’t even have to click anything to do that. Share your ideas on this long rant, kids. And if you don’t agree with me, I am glad for that. Disagreement gets more shit done than constant agreement. Stay beautiful, kids.

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