I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
What does it mean to “live more?” I’ve been considering that question ever since I first saw a series of screengrabs from Spike’s tattoo competition reality show, Ink Master. Although I’d watched and written about Ink Master previously, I didn’t recognize this particular scene. “Taco Bell is a brand that believes in living más,” host Dave Navarro, wearing a bowler hat, sunglasses, and a goatee, tells the show’s participants. But then the subtitles are imposed over a clip of a somber, scowling contestant, as Navarro’s pep talk continues. “You are all examples of the live más mentality.” This contestant seems to furrow his brow, looking down into the pavement as he considers how he might have lived less más than he’d intended to. What kind of life landed him on a tattoo competition reality show on Spike sponsored by Taco Bell? Did he want más for his legacy? Don’t we all deserve a little más?
Such are the questions posed by the great American tradition of brands sponsoring reality television shows. It’s been this way since the dawn of reality TV: As a kid, I remember watching in awe as the Survivor contestants starved themselves in the nude on a desert island, ruining each other’s mental health as they competed for a million dollars and a Pontiac Aztek, a car I’d decided was the car of my dreams. “It has a mattress in the back,” I bragged to my sister, “for camping, or if you want to rest in the Burger King parking lot.” I was young, but I already had been indoctrinated with the live más mentality.
For all the thinking I’d done about Ink Master and this moment, I had zero idea which episode it was from. I first saw the stills of that fateful address on my Twitter timeline. Even though I’d watched the show and could understand the outlandishness without any other information, I still felt desperate to place the moment in its full contextual glory. But all the Googling in all the world couldn’t really help me track it down because Taco Bell turned out to be a major presence throughout the entire Ink Master series. I mean, of course it was. I can’t believe I was so naïve to think that living más would only be done in one episode — one cannot simply live más just once! The live más mentality must be exemplified every day, in every episode, in every questionable eagle tattoo created on the skin of a “human canvas.” (This is, by the way, what the people who get tattoos on this reality competition show are called. Can you imagine telling your parents you were featured on a show hosted by Carmen Electra’s ex-husband as something called a “human canvas?”)
There’s something about freezing these reality-TV moments in the amber of reaction GIFs and meme fodder that elevates the medium. It’s the language my generation understands. Our shared consciousness has most definitely been televised. We’re steeped in pop culture that values taking your most personal experiences — your job, your dreams, your marriage, your summer shore journey — and distilling them into easy-to-follow plotlines that hinge on “drama.” Drama can mean sobbing, or drama can mean sex, or drama can mean getting punched in the face: As long as the drama exists, it can be consumed. (And sponsored by Taco Bell or Honda.) And then that one shining moment’s bit of dialogue can be taken out of context and used on Twitter to illustrate a joke about just how much American consumerism has ruined our lives, or a joke about our shared depression, or a joke about ass eating. Living más is what you make it.
I did eventually track down the episode that contains the infamous “live más” moment — season five, episode ten. I scoured Ink Master forums to find the scene, a chunk of time in my life that I will never get back, one that I might one day reflect on as having been living menos. As it turns out, there was a time when Taco Bell had taken a break in sponsoring the show, leading one fan to post to the board: “I’m just glad Dave stopped wedging ‘Taco Bell’ into every sentence. He seems a lot less metal when he does that.” But nothing gold could stay. Navarro will keep wedging brands into his speeches, into his daily life, into the very essence of his being. And we will too, all of us, because we are all a lot less metal when we accept the world we live in. We are a brand that believes in living más. And we are all examples of the live más mentality.