Women wearing pants, comic books, rock 'n' roll and vampires didn't put young people on the paths to ruin that some parents expected. Neither will MTV's controversial new teen drama Skins.
The show, which attracted more than 3.26 million viewers in its debut on Monday, has drawn fire from conservative critics for its frank depiction of sexuality and drug use. The plot of the first episode, for example, centers around efforts to help a boy lose his virginity. Officials from the Parents Television Council, the conservative group which once criticized Glee for promoting pedophilia after actors in the show posed for a racy photo shoot, called Skins "dangerous" and wants MTV investigated for child pornography and exploitation charges.
Bowing to PTC pressure, Taco Bell (YUM) announced yesterday that it was pulling its advertising from Skins, but said it will continue to buy time on other MTV shows. That should soften the blow to the cable channel's bottom line which has been bolstered by its other trashy hit Jersey Shore. The Viacom-owned (VIA) network isn't oblivious to these concerns. According to The New York Times, network executives ordered Skins producers to "make changes to tone down some of the most explicit content" out of concern out of running afoul of child pornography laws. Among the problem scenes was one of a naked boy running down the street as part of a storyline about the recreational use of erectile dysfunction drugs. A network spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
The show, from what I saw of it, isn't pornographic. It is in horrendously bad taste, and MTV should have known it would offend some audiences. Scenes showing one of the male actors in his boxer shorts and one of the girls wearing an inappropriately low-cut dress were unnerving to say the least. I realize that at 43, I'm not the target demographic for Skins. Teens are, and that's the problem. More bothersome, though, was how parents and other authority figures were marginalized or reduced to being cartoon villains. The youthful protagonists seemed to do what they want, when they want. Critics in the U.K., where the original, ever racier, version of the Skins was produced and aired, don't understand the fuss.
A Reflection of Teen Reality?
"They bleeped out all the naughty language, but there was a bit of fairly vanilla nudity, some recreational drug-taking, and one or two scenes involving teenagers groping each other," writes Guy Adams of The Independent. "In the meantime, it's worth noting that, as ever, the prudish complaints are working wonders for the show's TV ratings."
The show is another in an ever-growing list things that parents of teens may worry about, but in a sense, Skins is less one of the problems than a reflection of them. Pregnancy rates among 15- to 19-year-olds jumped in 2006 for the first time in more than a decade, according to a government report released last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, found that use of marijuana and cocaine by young people is in decline. A TV show, no matter how offensive it is to parents, is not going to change either statistic, even though kids may think the characters on Skins are cool.
It's time to take a deep breath and remember that Skins is a work of fiction. Its depiction of teens is as realistic as the one of doctors on Grey's Anatomy or police officers on CSI: Miami, though it's far more compelling a show than older series like Blossom or The Facts of Life. Most teenagers know the difference between fantasy and reality. They realize that vampires don't exist and that being champions at Guitar Hero doesn't mean they are professional musicians.
Skins presents a teachable moment for parents about how the media profits from providing the type of content it feels audiences want. Parents probably shouldn't let their teens watch it unsupervised, and they should point out to them that the show is on the air in the first place because teens are like gold to advertisers, because they are tough to attract and their brand loyalties are supposedly largely unformed.
If parents want to discuss the show with their kids, that's as good a place as any to start.
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