Skins is a new scripted drama on MTV that focuses on a group of friends. They have sex and spend a lot of time trying to have sex. They take drugs and talk a lot about taking drugs. They don’t apologize for their behavior, suffer many consequences or think too deeply about what it all means. They’re also in high school.
The pilot episode of Skins, based on a UK show of the same name, was watched by 3.3 million viewers in the 12-34 age bracket. While its subject matter is nothing unique (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among others, covered it more than two decades ago), what is new is that the actors playing the rebellious teenagers are actual teenagers, aged between 15 and 19. This fact, coupled with the show’s graphic tone, was enough for the Parents Television Council (PTC) to say that: “Skins may well be the most dangerous television show for children that we have ever seen.” It’s a bold and alarming statement that deserves a closer look.
Yes, Skins is a raw depiction of what teenagers get up to when their parents aren’t paying attention, but what exactly makes it a broadcast version of the Apocalypse? For the concerned members of the PTC, it’s that the show’s gritty depiction of teenage life is somehow made more ‘real’ because the actors are the age they are playing. Yet, this would imply that teenage viewers take Skins‘ portrayal of sex and drugs more seriously than another show’s take on the same topic, like 90210 or Gossip Girl, simply because the actors aren’t in their 20s.
The PTC also claims that the mere act of broadcasting the show on television makes undesirable behavior seem “typical” and “expected” to teenagers but then adds: “That’s not to say it factors into their decision-making process.” To summarize then, Skins is to blame for promoting teenagers’ bad behavior, but teenagers won’t make decisions based on what they watch. So is it just Skins = bad?
The goal of the PTC is to help parents make informed decisions about what their children are watching. This is well-meaning. In the case of Skins however, the PTC’s statements are good for a headline but they are not that useful for parents, kids or our television culture. Instead of being afraid of Skins for its ‘kids behaving badly’ theme, we should recognize that it stirs debate and reflects many teenagers’ reality. If parents are concerned enough to monitor their children’s viewing habits, they’re probably also concerned enough to talk to their kids about what’s happening in their lives. More than likely, sex and drugs will come up whether or not they watch a show like Skins or never wander away from the Disney Channel.
The PTC’s criticism of Skins implies that teenagers’ experiences don’t deserve a voice unless they’re sanitized. That’s a lot more dangerous than a television show.