Few scripted television shows have generated as much controversy in recent memory as MTV’s American incarnation of Skins, the British program famous for its frank depiction of sex and other sordid teenage pursuits.
The American version follows the debaucherous adventures of a group of teenagers in Baltimore. It features all the hallmarks of contemporary teenage life- unrequited love, ashamed virgins lying about popping their cherries, attention-grabbing girls taking too many pills, the requisite amount of booze guzzling, and gratuitous hetero and lesbian sex scenes. The Parents Television Council is very much against it, going as far as calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether the show is in violation of federal statutes on child pornography.
Unlike most other shows that feature adolescent characters, the actors on Skins are actually played by real, previously unknown teenagers. Ironically enough, the show carries a TV-MA rating, deeming it inappropriate for the actors themselves to watch, as well as the age bracket of the characters they play.
But, just like with any other teenage pursuit, if you tell them not to do it, it only makes them want to do it more. Case in point- despite the TV-MA rating, the show’s premier was watched by over one million people under 18, accounting for about a third of the total viewers. However, that number plummeted by half for the second episode and has been on the decline ever since – though it has shown growth among viewers 12-17 years old.
It seems that controversy may have caused many to check it out, only to discover the critics were blowing a lot of hot air. In a recent article at the Hollywood Reporter, university law professor Ronald K.L Collins decreed that in order for Skins to qualify as child pornography, “evidence would need to exist that children had been sexually abused during production- that, say, a shot featuring simulated masturbation actually involved a real-life teen masturbating”.
Call me desensitized, but after screening the first few episodes, I was disappointed that I didn’t find the show very controversial. In fact, it reminded me of a 21st century Degrassi high, albeit with slicker production values and a killer soundtrack. And no one tried to label that as child pornography when Joey Jeremiah paraded his exposed rear end around the gym!
Accurate depictions of adolescence are tricky to pull off, especially on network television. Achieving the right balance between risqué enough to be realistic and tame enough to please censors and parents’ groups is a nearly impossible feat, one that the American Skins doesn’t quite manage to pull off. From everything I’ve heard and read, the British version comes much closer to a realistic depiction of modern-day life as a teenager, succeeding in bringing us characters that we care about, as opposed to their vapid, arrogant incarnations on the American series.
While the show may not necessarily be as groundbreaking as the creators had hoped, I believe there’s still a place for Skins, and other shows like it, on television. Teens were having sex long before television existed, and they will continue doing it, long after new forms of media dominate our culture. By showing these situations on TV and in other forms of the media, it helps youth who may be going through the same issues, thereby giving legitimacy to their own feelings and concerns. It opens up the floor for discussion, especially for sensitive matters pertaining to sex and relationships, and that’s almost never a bad thing.
Who were your influences when you first started doing it? Furthermore, do you think TV is causing teens to have more sex??