Show Still On Air, By the Skins of its Teeth

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Author: Cordelia Kenney & Kara McVey

MTV’s new series “Skins,” adapted from the popular British series of the same name, has become an attention magnet for its racy content, including semi-nude teens and substantial drug use. It has elicited a copious amount of controversy. In an attempt to veer away from strictly reality TV shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom,” MTV has fallen short of producing a show with meaningful, innovative material and has instead done a disservice to the U.K. version by diluting the original show’s substantial and thought-provoking messages.

Bryan Elsley and his son Jamie Britain are credited as the creators of both the original Channel Four “Skins” and this new American version. Elsley defended the “Skins” series in a statement published by deadline.com, saying that the shows “are not careless” and are “actually a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young people’s lives.”

Anyone who has followed the British series would agree that it is a serious, engaging show. Elsley later states that he receives innumerable letters of appreciation from teenagers thanking him for inspiring them to speak about their sexualities, mental health issues and other questions raised in the series. U.S. and U.K. fans of British “Skins” alike all seem to agree that the U.S. version does not inspire the same kind of openness, honesty and introspection. Instead, MTV’s “Skins” simplifies a teenager’s life down to partying, sex and drugs. Naturally, partying is a part of teenage life, but overemphasizing its role is not only degrading, but also exploitative of this demographic.

Despite Elsley’s contentions, though, advertisers like Subway, GM, and H&R Block are pulling from the series, citing fears that their brands will be associated with the controversial show. The Parents Television Council (PTC) has gone so far as to call it “child pornography,” since some actors on the show are as young as 15 years old. The PTC has also gone to the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary committees to get the show off of the air, abc.com reported. While the show certainly portrays sexual activities more colorfully than, say, “Glee,” decrying it as child pornography is an overreaction.

The show depicts chronic drug use, reckless decision-making and careless, random sex as everyday matters, but its racy sex scenes are on par with that of most teen dramas on TV. The U.K.’s version, by contrast, is far more explicit sexually, yet was able to gain public approval. The fundamental difference between the two, and the reason MTV’s version deserves the glaring eyes of American parents, is MTV’s decision to water down the actual meaningful content of the show. In “Skins” (U.K.) we see realistic teenagers—teenagers who are dealing with insecurity, dismissive parents, bullying, abuse and homophobia. What new perspectives on the teenage experience does MTV offer the viewer? None—only the stereotypical archetype of hyper-sexed, semi-deliquent, pill-popping urban teens.

By the end of the first episode, the characters have partied themselves into a stupor, crashed a stolen Escalade into a river and owe nearly a grand to a drug dealer. Most real-world teens don’t make $1,000 drug deals, prostitute their friends and steal cars. The U.K.’s version, now in its fifth season, began with virtually the same plot line and received similar criticisms of distastefulness.

But the U.K. version slowly won over critics through its more realistic rendering of teenagers’ private struggles and the consequences associated with their mistakes. So far MTV’s version has shown little interest in accurately portraying the complex relationships between its characters, and has instead glossed over much of the content that made “Skins” (U.K.) groundbreaking. Rather than the U.K. “Skins'” exploration of Tony’s feelings through a short-lived gay fling with his friend Maxxie, “Skins” (U.S.) features Tony having a make-out session with Tea, who is a lesbian. While the British “Skins” tried to encapsulate the various issues facing a group of teenagers—each of them with their own set of demons to face—”Skins” (U.S.) seems set on presenting these issues as secondary to the teens’ exciting lifestyle.

Rachel Thevenard, the actress who plays Michelle, comments in an Associated Press interview that “Skins” is a “pretty good representation of teen life. It’s not reality, but it’s pretty close.” Sofia Black-D’elia, who plays Tea, added that it is “less about glamour and more about the truth behind being a teenager, which isn’t very glamorous at all.” Most teenagers would agree that adolescence can be an emotional roller-coaster. The process of self-discovery and individuation is usually chock-full of mistakes and regrets.

Elsley defends this new version, saying in an statement published on deadline.com that “Skins” is a traditionally made television series which has won countless international awards and gained a worldwide audience for stories about the joy, misery and challenges of being a teenager.” But so far, “Skins” (U.S.) has shown us little of the real-life challenges. Take, for example, the second episode of both series. In “Skins” (U.K.), the second episode of the season focused on Cassie (U.S. counterpart: Cadie). The episode followed Cassie’s struggles to hide her eating disorder from her doctors, her blossoming feelings for Sid (Stan) and her awkward and dishonest relationship with her parents. By comparison, the second episode of “Skins” (U.S.) featured Tea, who, in the first 15 minutes of airtime, meets up with a girl at a dance club, sleeps with her and declares that she’s not interested in a relationship. Later in the episode, she makes out with Tony.

It is always hard to find realistic characters and storylines in television shows, but in the unfortunate case of “Skins,” the creators have crossed the line of believability by focusing on what they assume will get the most attention: hypersexual teens and drugs. By omitting the more serious and tougher issues of teenage life addressed in “Skins” (U.K.), MTV also loses the vital essence of the British version: the genuine, original writing and thoughtful probing of teenage life.

 

Cordelia Kenney is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at ckenney@oxy.edu

 

Kara Mcvery is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at mcvey@oxy.edu

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