I suppose it means I’m a bit jaded when there’s very little that comes out of today’s media that I find shocking. But I realized last week that I’m not so jaded that I didn’t recoil when I watched MTV’s new teen “soap opera”, Skins. The opening scene of this grey and depressing adolescent world included shots of a bedraggled teen girl walking barefoot across a cold street after a night of doing who-knows-what. . . a night that left her looking like she had just survived a brutal assault. By the time the one-hour show had ended, it seems like that opening scene may have depicted a young girl who had been raped by life. Strong words, I know. But I’m seriously wondering – and brace yourself for some strong words again – if Skins might itself be an assault on our kids.

I’ve let some days pass since viewing the show’s premiere episode. I’ll be watching again tonight when the second episode airs. Watching the show takes a little bit of work. . . I had to get past the TV-MA rating and insert my unlock code. While inserting the unlock code I noticed that On-Demand had summarized the first episode with this little descriptor – “Tony tries to help his best friend Stanley lose his virginity.”

On the one hand, Skins gets some things about adolescence right. The great task of the adolescent years is identity formation. . . or trying to figure out who I am. The teen social scene is difficult to navigate and oftentimes confusing. Being a teenager isn’t easy. It’s also a fact that the world is a dark, depressing, and hopeless place for far too many kids. Some of them escape through erroneously seeking the redemption through sex and drugs. Maybe the show will play out in a way that shows that neither of those things can ever fill the hole in the soul, but judging from last week, nobody on the show is close to coming to that conclusion yet.

But on the other hand, I’m afraid that young viewers trying to establish their identity and find their way in the world will be tempted to take their clues and cues from Skins. If Skins is reflective of life as a teenager, then things are bad. If Skins is directive for teenagers trying to weave their way through life, then things are even worse. The kids on Skins live in a world filled with capable teens and incapable, idiotic adults. Kids rule. They live in a world turned upside down. It’s a world where vice is virtue and virtue is vice. It’s a world where twenty-five percent of the words in the adolescent vocabulary are slang terms for all kinds of sexual activity. It’s a sad world.

I wonder how Skins will begin tonight. And I wonder who will be watching.

8 thoughts on “Skins. . . .

  1. Walt this is very interesting. I have not seen this show yet though from what you share of it, your observations are very insightful. Sometimes I wish there was a way for adults to watch these shows as a way of educating ourselves on the lives of teenagers. So often we are out of touch. Of course, this is unrealistic–teens don’t respond well to media that is restricted to adults, especially when it’s about them. Would you say that this would be a good show to watch with teens and to discuss the content, or would you say that the content is toxic enough to even do that?

  2. Thanks for the post, Walt. I haven’t watched the show; I kind of depend on people like you to watch this stuff. You have a much sharper eye than I do, which is why you are the president of CPYU, and I am not (for that reason alone, Walt. That alone).
    But I think you hit on something interesting when you ask the question on whether or not Skins is reflective or it is directive. Unless I am incredibly naïve (please don’t comment), there is no way this show can be reflective of the teenage world from where I sit. In some ways I think something like this is what many teens aspire to, but just don’t have the guts to go and do. But there are pockets of this being modeled around the country.
    Whether it is directive or not, I would say it may be unintentionally directive. Like I said before, there are many teens who want to unleash themselves like this, but they just don’t know how or don’t have the guts to do it. Sadly, this might be the case more often than not. Which is why getting to the heart of teenagers is what is important.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Walt. I’d heard some buzz in the media about this show, and was curious what all time low MTV had come to this time. I am disturbed to hear that a show that hurts the heart of a grown man is being promoted as casually viewable to teens by a media giant that will never take responsibility for the ripple effects of their shoddy content.

  4. I have seen the first 3 seasons of the British show Skins that inspired its MTV counterpart. They are available streaming through netflix. The British version is far from tame – depicting a life where drug abuse, crime (even seriously dangerous crime), abusive sexuality, and total hedonism are the norm for teens. Some of the more disturbing plot lines involve overdoses and sexual affairs between teachers and students.

    These are serious issues that require serious conversations with students and parents and youth workers. The show seems intentionally hyperbolic, and I cannot imagine an MTV produced follow up being less exaggerated.

    Thanks for doing what you do Walt.

  5. When we take the “aberrant” and present it as “normal” then the overwhelming and predominate emotional response is “despair.” My take on “Skins” is that the producers believe that its “Art Imitating Life” without any concern about how “Life might imitate Art.”

    To produce “despair” as the only reality, without equally producing “hope” as reality as well, is to produce a spirit that is systemic of Hell. Optimistically speaking, in terms of what might be their motivation, what might be a “sincere” attempt to present a kind of adolescent reality, for all to see, they may in fact be producing a still more of what they want to critique.

    A couple of scripture passages to keep in mind…

    These kinds of show will argue that its “art imitating life” without bothering to nuance the conversation by stating this this might be art imitating a very narrow slice of life. If we are concerned about “truth” then lets be concerned about the whole of “truth.”

    This is how we know when origin of something is from Hell, because the emotional heart of Hell can be nothing other than despair. If there is no God and Humanism has failed, then what is left… despair…

    Isa 5:20-21

    20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
    21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

    Luke 17:1-2

    1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.
    2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.

  6. Thanks Walt. I had not viewed the first episode until today. I spoke to a group of middle school students and asked if they had seen the show. When half of them raised their hands I decided I needed to see it. (Just a quick note to JTJL, I would not say watching this with any group younger than 17 would be a good thing, even to prompt discussion. That’s just my opinion.)

    Here is my take. I think it is a little of both. MTV is taking some reality and blowing it out of proportion and adding, no consequences to the mix. I think the fall out here is that teens watch this and in their immaturity they aren’t able to separate reality and fiction. Therefore they end up trying things that land them in serious consequences. (They don’t get to walk off the set at the end of the day like these actors.)

    Thanks for keeping us informed and I hope that parents and teens a like see the impact a show like this can have and choose to steer clear.

  7. I’d suggest you give the UK series a watch. It’s saddening that people “in the business” can’t think enough to create something new.

    Instead, they take an established form of entertainment and “localize” it.

    Note: The age of consent is -lower- in the UK, where the show was originally created and marketed.

    Also, the age of purchase and socially acceptable enjoyment of alcohol is also lower.

    Are these things worth considering when importing a show from another country and -not- changing certain plot lines? Probably…

    The entertainment and amount of “sexual” content on non-American television is notably higher–but is that necessarily a bad thing?

    Instead, we saturize the content here with violence aimed at children from an early age.

    F–k, show ’em some brokenness; show ’em some love–even if it’s not perfect in its depiction. I much enjoyed the show in its original offering.

    @ ….”media giant that will never take responsibility for the ripple effects of their shoddy content.” …. it’s not shoddy content. . . and MTV … nevermind. I’m not gonna respond to the rest of that…

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