The Soapbox

December 9, 2009

Soap Delay

As I mentioned in my post on soap, The Dope on Soap, two antimicrobial soaps made specifically for wound care, Provon and Satin, are often recommended for fresh piercings.  However, Care Tech, the maker of Satin, was ordered to suspend shipping by the FDA while they investigate unauthorized claims.

“The FDA is concerned about Care-Tech’s products because they lack FDA approval, do not conform to any applicable over-the-counter drug monograph, and are not appropriately manufactured.”

Here’s the link to the FDA press release.

In addition, I’ve heard from more than one source that Provon’s manufacturers may be behind in their supply and distribution, so while these situations are no doubt temporary, if you can get your hands on Provon or Satin at your piercing studio or elsewhere, grab ’em!

Meta, Pics & Flicks

Flickr: I’m slowly uploading all my piercing pics to my Flickr Photostream.  I don’t want to upload all of them at once, because the Flickr strip on the blog changes as I upload, and I want a variety for you.

Delicious: Also, I’m working  on moving my bodymod links to my Cloudlb delicious bookmarks account to post all of the links there. In a similar vein as the Flickr pics, they show up on the sidebar as I post them, and there are a lot of them, so keep an eye out for new ones as time goes on. If you have a delicious account, you can add me to your network to get them that way, too.

7000 Years of Jewelry

I’m so excited!  I got this wonderful book — and got a really great bargain on ebay — about the history of jewelry.  It looks to have some great information on body jewelry in history which I hope to share with you once I digest it.  Here’s the link to the Amazon page of the book.

Midnight Baby!

And finally, Welcome to GrandBabyCloud No. 8! BD#2 in Portland had a little girl this morning at midnight.  At home, with a midwife, and in the birthing tub.  Oy.  No name yet, no pics or anything so far, but we are so happy!



Piercings in Shangri La

November 20, 2009

The Lost Caves of Mustang

Okay, maybe they are still searching for the fabled Himalayan paradise, but the search has resulted in some startling finds.  On November 18, 2009, PBS aired two shows, Secrets of Shangri-La and Lost Cave Temples of the Himalaya. I found them really fascinating, but of course the FIRST things I noticed were the depictions of stretched earlobes on the artwork painted on the cave walls.

Mustang (pronounced MOOSE-tong, as far as I could tell) is a tiny former mountain kingdom between India and Tibet.   It’s politically part of Nepal, but culturally and ethnically Tibetan.  Archeologists have found numerous caves, especially in upper Mustang, which have the potential to hold hidden treasures–if they can only get to them.  First, they need permission from the government, which is very rare.  Then, they have a 60 mile trek on foot from the nearest town to get to the region.  THEN they have to climb up crumbly, unstable rock to the nearly inaccessible entrances to these caves.

Endurance and technical rock climbing skills were required to reach the sites, not to mention the bureaucratic hurdles and problems with the locals.   It’s a pretty impossible task, but the rewards are great.   These caves range in purpose from large dwelling complexes, with multiple rooms, and transversing corridors, to tiny monastic hermitages, and sacred temples, or kabums. In many of these, they have found thousands of early Tibetan texts written on daphne paper.  In one cave, the documents found pertained to the older religion, and were secreted away when Buddhism spread from the lowlands of India,around the 8th century.  Awkward for the adherents of the old religion to keep around, but too sacred to throw away (kind of like porn), they were merely dumped there, to accumulate centuries of dust and guano.

In many of the caves, they have found wall art showing ancient Tibetan script, and sacred icons, as well as depictions of sacred Indian and Tibetan avatars.  In one cave,  there are 55 panels showing the story of Buddha’s life, thought to date from the 12th century.  Many of the figures painted wear earrings in enlarged lobes, either heavy hanging ornaments, or tunnel-shaped jewelry.

No one really knows much about the people who lived in these places or how they lived.  Due to the limited access and restrictions on scholars, we are only slowly finding out.  I wonder if they will find some ear ornaments beneath the centuries of bird poop, bones, and relics in those caves!

You can watch online at PBS here: PBS Presents Lost Cave Temples. Here is the page at National Geographic:  “Shangri-La” Caves Yield Treasures, Skeletons.

Why is Buddha shown with stretched ears anyway? Beats the heck out of me.  A casual (very casual) internet search provides an amusing smorgasbord of suggested reasons:

  1. he was a wealthy prince who wore heavy jewelry as a status symbol;
  2. he was a monk and that’s what monks do;
  3. it increases perception;
  4. it’s a message to his followers to talk less and listen more;
  5. it indicates longevity; or that
  6. it was just a stylistic convention and he really didn’t have stretched ears!

What the true story is, I really don’t know at this point, but it bears further study.  I realize that my personal library and research does not contain any information on this region’s jewelry, and I am looking forward to learning more. Remember, this is just a blog post, not a research paper!  Do your own research!

Some links for you:

Wikipedia page on Mustang

National Geographic

Blog: The Himalayan Universe (where I got the second pic of the caves)


The Sex Machines Museum

March 13, 2009


There’s a museum for that?

Came across this while browing Flickr.  Gee, the wonders of ze interwebz! Wish you could see it bigger, but that’s as large as I can put it up in here.  (You can see the photographer’s photostream here for a bigger look.)  Now, don’t take these examples as typical.  Some of them look pretty . . . impractical!

Apparently, the Sex Machines Museum is in Prague, and purports to be an “exposition of mechanical erotic appliances.”  The above is the genital piercing exhibit.  Obviously.

Apparently there are sex museums all over Europe, but this one is unique, because it focuses on the apparatus people create to try to enhance their sexual pleasure.  A perusal of the some of the web sites and stories about this museum yields a bunch of fascinating quotes (“walk past the dick tree– “) , but this is my favorite, from this article about opposition to the museum:  “It’s bad that these establishments are in the historical center of Prague.  . . Foreigners might think we just leaped out of the bush.” Hmm; possibly some translation problems too!

Here’s the museum’s official site.  So if you’re ever in Prague, check it out!

The Sex Machines Museum

Thanks to Kadavy for the pic and the idea.

Modern Primitives

January 12, 2009


It may not have started it all, but it sure gave body modification a big boost.

Time and again, you will find piercers and piercees say they became fascinated by body modification after reading Re/Search publication’s “Modern Primitives,” released in 1989, V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Editors. (This post is specifically about the book, leaving the broader topic of modern primitivism for a later post.)

As we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary, the publication of this book is considered to be a pivotal moment in the history of modern body modification.  It introduced a wider audience to the pleasures, pains, and motivations for body modification, as well as to the expression of connection with tribal peoples and roots as an antidote to the sterility of modern life.

Written largely in interview format (ah ha! That’s why I’m doing it wrong), with various essays sprinkled through it, it featured active figures, both collectors and artists, involved in tattooing, piercing, branding, and other, more esoteric forms of body art, including: Fakir Musafar, Don Ed Hardy, Raelyn Gallina, Lytle Tuttle, Vyvyn Lazonga, and Jim Ward.  These people attempted to put into words their feelings about their art and modifications, as we continue to do, and expressed their frustration with modern commercial standards of beauty.  “We fight against the standards imposed by TV, magazines, and plastic surgeons . . . “(Wes Christensen, p. 80)

Among the articles of interest for piercing enthusiasts are:

  • Fakir Musafar: The fact that Fakir got the first spot in the publication was no accident, as he was one of the main inspirations, and the coiner of the term, “Modern Primitive.”
  • “A Fashion for Ecstasy; Ancient Maya Body Modifications” by Wes Christensen.
  • The interview with Jim Ward, “perhaps the most active piercing artist.”
  • Genesis & Paula P. Orridge, which includes many piercing pictures, and a full nude of Sailor Sid Diller.
  • Raelyn Gallina, who indelibly linked body piercing to women’s spirituality, reclamation, and recovery.
  • Sheree Rose, a photographer who documented the BDSM scene, whose interview featured  and an uncredited photo of Elayne Angel’s ass and labia piercings (p. 112).

Whether you resonate to the idea of modern primitivism or not, every piercing enthusiast should know this book.  And it still available at Amazon for under $15!

that damn belly button

January 8, 2009
A simple barbell
Image via Wikipedia

The navel piercing has a lot to answer for.  Ever since I was a teenager, newly enamored of belly dancing, there was the lure of the sparkly jewel in the belly button.  There was no way to do it–then.

Hordes of people have gotten their navel pierced since then.  The image of the teenybopper with the dangly belly button sprang into the public consciousness with the 1993  release of Aerosmith’s cryin’ and we’ve been cryin and tryin to heal those pesky things ever since.

That video showed Alicia Silverstone getting tattooed in a tattoo shop.  Later, it showed her getting her navel pierced, but it was not from the tattooist or the same shop.  Nevertheless, it created an association in the public’s mind, and ever since then, hordes of young (and not so young) women approached tattooists, asking if they pierced.  Spotting a lucrative sideline, most said yes, even if they didn’t know the first thing about piercing.  This video practically created the body piercing industry out of whole cloth.  I’ve stuck it in here for your viewing pleasure.  I think that’s Steve Haworth piercing her, (with a fixed bead ring, no less) although I can’t confirm this.

ETA:  okay the YouTube embedding thing doesn’t work, but you can follow this link (I hope) to see it:  Cryin’

Unfortunately, there are just–problems–with it, as a piercing.

–It takes a long time to heal, so don’t get it to show off your tanned belly at the beginning of the summer–you can’t go swimming (germy, open water = bad for piercings!) Like, for a year.  Yeah, I said a year, and longer than that before they really toughen up.

–It’s in an area that bends, twists, and gets a lot of constriction and rubbing from clothes–all bad for piercings; so therefore

–Migration and rejection are common.

and yet, and yet:  The navel piercing can be a great piercing! It resides at the center of one’s body and can be a very pleasurable spot for an adornment, whether for display or play.  So, it’s very worth it to take the time to get it pierced right and heal it.

Important notes!

For guys:  YES you can get a navel piercing.  A navel piercing does not make you gay.

For girls:  YES you can get a navel piercing, even if you don’t have a perfect tummy.

That goes vice versa, too.

If you have any questions about navel piercings, or other piercings, that you think I can help with, I’ll be glad to give it a shot.  Just comment!

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Mayan Body Piercing: Keeping the Universe Alive

December 27, 2008
Stela I at Bonampak

Stela I at Bonampak

Did the ancient Mesoamericans practice body piercing, as we know it? Well, not exactly . . .


Ever since the publication of Modern Primitives in 1989, and Wes Christensen’s excellent paper, “A Fashion for Ecstasy:Ancient Maya Body Modifications,” the Maya of Central America have been associated with piercing in common perception.

The Mayans, whose Classic period  flourished from roughly 250 B.C. to 900 A.D.,  pierced their bodies, not as we understand it today in the sense of adornment; rather they shed their blood in rites of sacrifice to their gods, or as John A. Rush put it in his book, Spiritual Tattoo, “to keep the universe alive.” (p. 40.)

Like the Aztecs who followed,  the earlier Mayans were no strangers to shedding blood in the name of their gods, and seemed to have been part of a cultural framework influencing the entire region. It’s well-established that rulers and others of the noble class practiced auto-sacrifice.


and not this kind. (Thanks to Hauke Sandhuas’s photostream at Flickr.)

The sacrifice of the king is a theme which is recognized world-wide and is celebrated still in many cultures and many religions.  The Mayan king’s blood had special powers to restore and nourish the land.  The ruler and his nobles would pierce their tongues and genitals using obsidian knives, awls, and spines from the stingray or the maguey cactus, letting the blood drip into bowls set with paper blotters, which would then be ceremoniously burned as offerings. Sting ray spines were often found buried near the pelvic regions of male rulers.  I tell you, that male urge to Do Things To It is universal.


The Murals at Bonampak The pics below are from my copy of New World and Pacific Civilizations, American Museum of Natural History, and they show the murals from Bonampak in the Chiapas, Mexico.   Bonampak is one of the great artistic treasures of the world.  The murals of the Mayan Late Classic period are exuberant and very detailed, giving us a glimpse into the rites of the king and his nobles.  Here’s a link to photos  of Bonampak from Tulane University.

The first pic below shows ladies drawing blood from their tongues, by piercing them and pulling ropes through them, a sort of “withdrawing room” rite.



The second mural scene shows noblemen piercing their penises with “dancers wings,”  whirling and spinning in an ecstatic trance, spattering their devotion on the ritual platform.  (Traditional Peoples, p. 55.)  One can imagine the powerful ritual effect, similar to ritual suspensions or the Phuket vegetarian festivals in Thailand.    I couldn’t find an image of “dancer’s wings,” but they sound interesting.

Certainly the Maya people did pierce their ears and other areas for adornment as well as for self-mortification.  From the sculpture and wall paintings we can see they loved abundant and luxurious ornamentation.  They practiced infant head shaping, eye crossing, and body paint.  Noses, lips, septums, and ears were all pierced and adorned with expensive jewelry to show the wearer’s status.

“Genital mutilation is well documented and referred to in frequent visual metaphors.”  (Christensen, p. 80). Lips, noses, and earlobes were pierced and decorated with expensive jewelry.  Body modification was also considered a badge of courage, as we deem it today.

They tattooed their bodies, and the more they do htis, the more brave and valiant they are, since the designs festered and matter formed.

(An early glimpse into aftercare, or lack of it!)  (Christensen, p. 80-81).

Blake Perlingieri, in his book,  A Brief History of Body Adornment, identifies jade, jadite, and nephrite ear ornaments and suggests that common folk would wear ceramic plugs and twigs (and, sorry, I lost my pic of that one).

But, aside from the limited evidence surviving, it’s hard to know the extent of their body ornamentation.  The Native American people were so thoroughly killed off or subjugated by the Spanish, anything as distinctive and culturally definitive as styles of personal adornment would have been ruthlessly quashed.   We are left with a guessing game and mis-identified museum pieces.

Mesoamerican piercing punishment

Mesoamerican piercing punishment

The above picture   shows a disobedient priest being punctured with spines  (M.P., Christensen.)   Notice how very much it resembles our modern “play piercing”? (NSFW link to BME Encyclopedia.) Although I understand it’s important not to impose one’s own cultural standard on others, I think of these Mayans, showing devotion and making sacrifices as was their duty, dancing and bleeding,  and I wonder . . .

. . . how many of them really, secretly enjoyed it?


AMNH,  New World and Pacific Civilizations, Cultures of America, Asia, and the Pacific, Vol. 4, The Illustrated History of Humankind,  1984

Christensen, Wes, “A Fashion for Ecstasy; Ancient Maya Body Modifications” in Vale and Juno, Modern Primitives, Re/Search Publications, 1989

Perlingieri, Blake, A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment in Western Culture: Ancient Origins and Today, Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, 2005

Rush, John A, Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding & Implants, 2003

Profile of the Week: Chuck (Part 2)

December 16, 2008


Part 2:  The History

Since Chuck has been so forthcoming in answering my questions, here’s another installment for your reading pleasure. (And sorry for making you wait, folks, but Monday is my slacker day, and I usually don’t post on Mondays.)  He and I share in interest in the history of piercings, so I asked him to talk a little about that.

Q.  I think it’s safe to say you’ve been around the piercing scene for a long time.  Can you talk about your punk days and your days as a piercer?

punk-194751023_8fe2864da9_tA.  I got my first tattoo in 1984, my first piercings in 1986.  I guess that was a long time ago, LOL.  In the punk scene in the early 80s, tattoos were pretty rare and just starting to crop up here and there.  I had something like 7 tattoos by 1985 and that was pretty extreme for the time–kind of seems ridiculous these days.  By then they had gotten a definite foothold in the scene but still not what I would call

Cover of the last Issue
Image via Wikipedia

commonplace.  Most of the work people got was really shitty, small designs–lots of hand-poked stuff, skulls, band symbols, that kind of thing.  You could probably make a very large picture book of people with the Black Flag bars tattooed on them (myself included!).  Not much high-quality or large work.  Piercings were much more common, but it was typically limited to multiple ear and ear cartilage piercings; nostrils were not unheard of but pretty hard to come by.  Only the most committed went that far!  Piercings were done with a gun at the mall or a hair salon, or a needle at your friend’s house.  You would occasionally see kids try the stereotypical “punk” stuff like pierced septums or cheeks (and sometimes even with actual safety pins, LOL) but they never lasted very long before infection and/or common sense reared their ugly heads.  when I got my first body piercing (nipple) professionally done in ’86, I could make the biggest, toughest, most hardcore punks stop dead in their tracks with fear or disgust just by lifting my shirt up. Body piercing just wasn’t known to most in that world at that time.  I have written about this extensively both at Tribalectic and Poked, but in a nutshell back then we didn’t even have tattoo magazines.  One of my only resources was the occasional “tattoo issue” of any of the various biker rags, or tattoo convention coverage in them.

It was in one of these that I saw a small ad for Gauntlet jewelry supply and PFIQ magazine.  It showed a guy with a chest panel tattoo and a pierced nipple–hooked me right the fuck in.  I guess if it weren’t for that precise image I might never have gotten pierced.  I had just finished my own chest piece and thought a nipple piercing would go well with it.  The only problem was finding someone to do it.  About the time of my awakening regarding body piercing I graduated college, started working as a professional, and moved from Atlanta to South Florida.  I knew of no one who could do body piercings (little did I know there was a very experienced piercing pioneer, plus a practitioner or two, 60 miles south of me, but hey ran in the leather underground which was completely alien to me at the time.)  The Gauntlet in LA was the only place in the world that I knew about for piercings.  I had ordered their catalog and a copy of PFIQ and that got me no closer, other than showing me the jewelry and some of the other piercings that were available.  Back then there were damn few places to get pierced, maybe a dozen or so throughout the country, and most were somewhat shady or sketchy other than Gauntlet, assuming you could even find out about them.  The only source for jewelry was Gauntlet and it was VERY expensive, although about this time Silver Anchor started making inferior quality jewelry for less money.  (One or two unscrupulous sellers were known to re-package Silver Anchor jewelry in Gauntly bags–I got bit by this once myself.)  Anyway . . back then a plain CBR, say 14 ga x 1/2 inch in stainless steel might cost $40 or more!

I finally got my piercing on a trip to New Orleans, when my then-girlfriend and I found a gay leather store in the French Quarter that both sold Gauntlet jewelry and performed piercings ($65) for the ring and the hole!).  The funny thing is I had called Gauntlet before I left on the trip and asked if there was anywhere in NOLA to get pierced, and they claimed they knew of no one!

My first body piercing was a bit of an ordeal for me.  I was a nightmare customer and kept passing out, multiple times.  There was a shitload of blood (I was all jacked up on caffeine, this doubtless was part of the reason why) and I found out that day the sight of blood used to put me under.  I was also very scared of the pliers the fellow needed to close the jewelry (obviously non-annealed, as was typical of the time).  As a result of this experience, it was several years before I was able to (or even wanted to) get another piercing.


About the time the landmark book Modern Primitives came out, (Cloud’s note: in 1989) I found a woman who pierced in Daytona and had her do a lorum for me.  I eventually lost that one, but the dam was broken and I started getting pierced pretty regularly after that.  This was the early 90s, and as far as I could tell, piercing was only starting to take hold then with the younger kids in the scene.  It certainly wasn’t something folks in my age group were into (late 20s, early 30s at this point).

As far as becoming a piercer, I never really wanted to do it and was basically dragged kicking and screaming into the job (a far cry from most folks in the business, LOL).  I had a friend who ran an “alternative” clothing store, and he wanted to expand his business by opening a tattoo and piercing shop along with it.  The idea was that his wife would do the piercing, he and I would help run the shop, and we’d hire tattooers.  Once I agreed to go in with them, they dropped the bomb on me of wanting me to pierce, too.  I had that little issue of passing out at the sight of blood, plus too much respect for the craft, coupled with a fear I would suck at it.  But they persisted, and I finally relented.  She got her first training at one of the Gauntlet classes, then I started learning through assisting her.  Also learned to deal with seeing blood without it affecting me with the help of a sympathetic friend who let me poke a lot of holes in her and just look at the results to get used to it.  It turns out I had a strong aptitude for the technical side of the job, and a good head for jewelry and materials, and an interest in the relentless pursuit of ever-better aftercare.  I was maybe not so strong with the actual hands-on side of things, but did better as I gained experience.

When we started our shop in the ’95–’96 time frame, things had changed dramatically from a decade prior. Piercing shops were not yet a dime-a-dozen, but they were definitely more common.  Most tattoo shops also had someone who would pierce (if not very well).  And there were many more jewelry suppliers, some of whom were very high quality and in fact continue to set the standard for quality (Anatometal, Industrial Strength).  Prices had come down quite a bit (but still had a ways to go to get to today’s levels) and Gauntlet had even lowered their prices a bit (but were still the most expensive game in town).  We eventually closed up shop in 2000 or 2001 or so, for a variety of reasons not really worth getting into.  But in that time I saw a huge amount of development and change in aftercare, and a previously unthinkable rise in popularity of piercing and subsequent increase in the number of practitioners.  I also saw the sad demise of Gauntlet and PFIQ magazine.  I still miss them both.  Also during this time, the Internet became a factor in the piercing world.  My first exposure to just how freaky it could get was when I learned of the Shawn Porter Collection (Google it, kids).  I also saw piercing change from something only the most hardcore punks and sexual freaks did, to being invited into posh homes to pierce 15-year-0ld private-school cheerleaders’ navels while their parents watched.  I was also fortunate enough to have had some opportunities to learn with some of the best pierces who have ever picked up a needle.

Q.  Modern body piercing has underpinnings of punks, gay leathermen, and teenyboppers, and here we talk about piercings so seriously–it’s a bit ludicrous, don’t you think?

A.  Heh . . . yes and no.  Remember, to each of those subgroups, their insular worlds are very serious to themselves.  I am very happy that there are people who look at piercing with truly scientific eyes, people who seriously explore material alternatives, and people who will constantly push the envelope of what is possible.  Because these people do what they do, it allows piercing to be easier and more fun to the average piercee.

Q.   We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?  What are the biggest changes you have seen?

A.  A very long way, indeed, in one sense anyway.  In another sense, things really haven’t changed much at all.  We are still using basically the same or similar jewelry and poking mostly the same holes with pretty much the same tools, with the exception of the newer arts like implants and microdermals.  Aftercare has evolved, but from 10,000 feet up it doesn’t look like much different than it did in the 80s (clean ’em and heal ’em).  The biggest changes I have seen have been in availability, and in the details.

Availability: From a time when there was only one known commercial piercing establishment, to today’s world where every town with more than, say, five or ten thousand people probably has a place you can go to get pierced by someone at least nominally claiming to be a professional is just mind-boggling to me.  The downside to this is that there has not been an equally huge increase in truly professional piercers, just a whole lot more hacks. There are only a few shops I would allow to perform piercings on me today (the two closest being a mere 3.5-hour drive away).  My all-time-favorite piercer has retired, for the moment anyway, which makes me very sad.

Details:  While many jewelry styles are essentially unchanged for the last 35 years or so, some have been subtly tweaked for better performance in certain piercings. Thoughts on appropriate gauge and sizes for initial piercings have changed.  Placements for many piercings have evolved subtly over time for better end results.  For example, once upon a time it was just accepted that navel piercings had a 50% probability of surviving.  Hopefully we are doing better today!  While the goals (successfully heal a piercing) and methods (keep it clean in support of healing) of aftercare have not changed, the methods and products are radically different.  In the early days we used Listerine for oral piercings, Betadine, Hibiclens, and BZK for others.  I can still remember the first discussions of replacing Betadine and Hibiclens with liquid Dial soap, and concerns that it “wasn’t strong enough.”  I remember how shitty it made me feel the first time I heard Hibiclens may be carcinogenic (I used it for YEARS!).  I remember the first time I heard that BZK could actually GROW bacteria, that saline solution might be enough with out soap, that perhaps we could get away without cleaning “regularly”–just doing it when truly needed.  Plus, the whole change in oral care from Listerine, to watered-down Listerine, to Gly-Oxide/Peroxyl, to saline rinses.  The changes to aftercare are definitely in the details, but it has made a world of difference in the quality of the piercing experience (my first nipple piercing took 6-7 YEARS to fully heal, owing in large part no doubt to being scrubbed daily with Hibiclens or Betadine.)  I don’t think piercing would be anywhere near as popular as it is today if it hadn’t been for all the evolutions in jewelry, placement, and aftercare, and how much easier they have made the whole process.

Chuck’s experiences are a mini-history of piercing in the more recent years, and a testament to the trial-and-error of early piercees that we are the beneficiaries of.  Thanks, Chuck, for your unique viewpoint!  I’ll post more about PFIQ, the Gauntlet, and all those early pioneers in later posts.

The “Chuck” image belongs to Wikipedia, or the network that produces the tv show.

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