Two weeks ago, the Parents Television Council published a venomous action-alert urging cable viewers to call on advertisers of the controversial new MTV show Skins to pull their sponsorship of the show. The council's chief concern was that Skins depicts children engaged in "adult-themed activity," and it's had success in scaring off a number of advertisers already,* even though the show has only been on air for three weeks.
The PTC has also succeeded in scaring the shit out of executives at MTV, who responded to allegations of child pornography (according to a New York Times report) by ordering the producers of Skins to cut some of the show's more explicit content. MTV was particularly frightened about this scene, which aired on Monday night:
Child pornography laws, according to the NYT, state that a picture of a naked child is pornographic "if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive." Are they serious? This is just a 17-year-old kid's bare ass, and if you find that pornographic, well, then that's your own issue. And anyways, in the same scene in the British version, you see the kid's testicles, too. (Nobody went to jail for that, did they?)
What's more, the Parents Television Council is fuming over scenes from the new series where "high-school children" are "discussing and engaging in sex... illegal drugs [and] alcohol." There are so many problems with this accusation I don't know where to begin. Wait, yes I do: firstly, if you actually watch the show, there really isn't any sex on it. Just like in real-life high school, the characters on Skins (particularly the male characters) talk about sex all the time, but they very rarely get to actually "engage" in it.
And secondly -- discussing?! Since when has any "discussion" on a TV show been enough to qualify it as "the most dangerous program" that has ever been "foisted on our children," as the PTC claims?
Not only is the discussion of sex, drinking, and drugs on Skins a good thing, the show's writers haven't gone far enough. Like any TV series that aims to give a true portrayal of adolescence, Skins needs to confront the issues that teenagers struggle with every day. Until the series deals with things like unplanned pregnancy and STD's -- things that both parents and schools too often lack the courage to address -- Skins is failing America's teenagers.
The thing is, however unremarkable some of the acting may be, and whatever else MTV got wrong when it adapted the British version of the series, Skins is still the most powerful show about adolescence in the history of television. Friday Night Lights is a close contender, but it's a little too virtuous, and a little too timid when it comes to tackling the thorny issues. Skins is so powerful because its portrayal of high school is not a cliché; there are no flat characters, no easy stereotypes.
And when the Parents Television Council says that Skins "glorifies" drug and alcohol use, they're right. Skins is powerful because it's brave enough to show that teenagers sometimes have a glorious time drinking and getting high. Those things can make you feel like a rock star, especially as a teenager, when intoxication provides a temporary respite from the emotional and hormonal stress of adolescence.
But the reason that Skins is not a dangerous show is because it always shows the consequences of the reckless behavior of its young characters: when they drink, we see them hungover; when they get high, we see them come down; when a girl takes too many pills, she nearly loses her life: the negative effects of substance abuse are always present.
So what if Skins has a little fun in the process? It's a soap opera, not a sermon. Instead of trying to get a good show canceled, the Parents Television Council should realize that it's not MTV that's getting kids to drink and do drugs and have sex. Kids were doing those things long before Skins was created, for reasons too various and complex to fit into a 40-minute soap opera. The PTC needs to get real, and to recognize that Skins is not dangerous or immoral, it's a (mostly) honest show that will help parents reach a deeper understanding of their kids, if they let it.
*The first advertiser to pull out was Taco Bell, but in this writer's opinion, Taco Bell really just needs to focus on making sure its food is real.