Teen show ‘Skins’ raises controversy

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By: Monica Cai

The norms and taboos of society are constantly changing, subject to the mercurialness of public opinion. The rules determining indecency, for example, have grown less severe over the decades, as the line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate becomes less stark. With the recent debut of “Skins” by Music Television Network (MTV), the question of propriety is once again raised. Many believe that the show is too racy and concerns that the show contains child pornography have been raised. Although the show does deal with mature content, it is a show intended for a mature audience and is only depicting the harsher realities of teenage life.

The “Skins” broadcasted in America is based off of a British teen drama written by Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain. Although the American show features different actors and writers, the storylines are nearly identical to those of the British show. Britain’s “Skins”, however, has been subject to far less controversy, receiving positive reviews and several television awards. Considering the amount of freedom America provides its citizens, one would expect far smaller backlash than what the show received upon its airing in January this year. The casual portrayal of sex and drug abuse has been criticized by many parents, and the Parents Television Council (PTC) filed a letter to the Department of Justice asking to charge the show with child pornography. The scandal caused several companies like Taco Bell, General Motors and H&R Block to pull their advertising from the show.

The charge the PTC brings against “Skins” has little basis. Although the cast does consist of some underage actors (three are seventeen and one is fifteen), there is no footage of them being racy enough to be declared child pornography. According to Bob Tarantino, an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer, it is extremely unlikely that “Skins” would be found to constitute child pornography under Canadian criminal law, as the show was filmed in Ontario. There are no shots with full frontal nudity and although the actors are shown in compromising positions, the scenes are no more sexual than what is shown on series like Gossip Girl. The true promiscuity of the show lies in the implications of what is not shown to viewers, something that has made many adults uncomfortable. However, the show only addresses real life issues that teenagers deal with everyday. Alcohol and drug abuse are no mysteries to adolescents and while the characters may view both as casual, fun experiences, the show’s bluntness in dealing with these issues can teach teenagers valuable life lessons.

A television show can be censored but life can’t be. It’s better for young adults to be able to talk about, watch and learn about the dangers life will present them than to be excessively sheltered and later overwhelmed.”

The show also goes beyond these issues, and although only a few episodes have been aired, “Skins” has already managed to deal with problems like sexuality, divorce, depression, anxiety, cheating and academic pressure. The show has been mislabeled as a series based on alcohol and drugs, but “Skins” actually digs a lot deeper, exploring the unique dynamic of every character’s family and personal issues each character is struggling with. For example, Daisy, one of the show’s characters, is struggling to support her family and herself. Her father, a single parent, works long hours for little money and Daisy is forced to take a part-time job to help pay the rent. Daisy also aspires to be a professional trumpet player, a career her father condemns. The difficulties Daisy faces in juggling school, music and her job and in pursuing her dream are common problems teens everywhere deal with. Another character, Tea, struggles with her homosexuality, and eventually decides to enter a relationship with a girl. Her story could help a viewer who is questioning her own sexuality. The show also demonstrates the extremely damaging effects of drug abuse, as Cadie, another main character, overdoses on pills twice and is sent to a clinic to rehabilitation. While the show is admittedly dark, the manner in which it faces so many issues head on is admirable. By watching “Skins”, teenagers can see the consequences of impulsive decisions and watch others deal with issues they may be too afraid to ask questions about.

There is no denying that “Skins” deals with mature content. MTV has already given the show an MA rating, indicating the series is only for viewers above the age of 17 to watch. Still, the fact remains that the content “Skins” deals with is content teenagers deal with in real life. A television show can be censored but life can’t be. It’s better for young adults to be able to talk about, watch and learn about the dangers life will present them than to be excessively sheltered and later overwhelmed.

The uproar caused by “Skins” has not only raised the question of what is going too far, but has also pointed out the dramatic differences between generations. The older generation is either in denial or sadly unaware of what the lives of many teenagers are really like. It is understandable to want to protect children but there is a point where one must realize when they can no longer be protected. “Skins” may deal with things like alcohol and drugs in an overly casual way, but the show still tries to educate teenagers. The chance of keeping teenagers unaware of the issues “Skins” deals with has already been dashed; current society has made sure of that. Parents’ efforts to get rid of a show like “Skins” are futile, as the purpose behind it has no successful outcome. It’s time to buck up and face the truth—the world out there is dark and twisted and “Skins” can help teenagers survive it.