February 1, 2011

Don’t Touch That Dial!

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How innappropriate is MTV series Skins?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or the many inches of snow that have befallen most of the East Coast, you’ve probably read/seen/heard something about MTV’s salacious new drama series, Skins. Based on a popular British television series of the same name, Skins is a supposedly realistic portrayal of high school, albeit a scripted one. But, according to the Parents Television Council, it’s also “the most dangerous program … ever.” If you’re not familiar with the PTC, they are an advocacy group founded in 1995 with the intention of keeping the airwaves safe for children. They are also the bane of most network executives’ existence. Usually, when the PTC grabs their pitchforks, I try to avoid covering it. Increased press coverage only helps their crusade, even if that press coverage derides their campaign. In this case, however, I’ve decided to make a special exception.The PTC raised concerns over the subject matter of Skins long before the show even premiered, but their campaign didn’t gain momentum until the New York Times ran a story suggesting that MTV executives were worried about the content of the show’s 3rd episode. Suddenly, advertisers were pulling their money right and left. Foot Locker, L’Oreal, Schick, Subway and Taco Bell were among the companies who decided that Skins was simply too racy for their taste. And, to make matters worse, the show suffered a 52-percent decline in ratings between its first and second episodes.The drop in ratings could be, at least partially, attributed to the fact that the show’s first episode was slotted behind a new installment of MTV’s ratings juggernaut Jersey Shore, whereas the second episode was not. Another possibility is that people simply didn’t enjoy the show’s first episode and chose not to return. Having watched the original UK Skins, I can say that the MTV remake is far inferior. In fact, the US version is stripped of most of what made the original so great. But, I believe this may be a rare example of the PTC achieving their goal and that’s disheartening. When the PTC went after Gossip Girl, The CW’s marketing team turned the negative press into a racy ad campaign. When they accused GQ of running photos of the Glee cast that “bordered on pedophilia,” sales of the magazine increased because of all the media coverage. In both cases, the PTC really didn’t have a leg to stand on since the casts of Gossip Girl and Glee are in their twenties. Alas, such is not the case with Skins, whose cast members range in age from 15 to 19. In fact, because the cast is age appropriate, the PTC can spout out seemingly unmerited statements like “It is clear that Viacom has knowingly produced material that may well be in violation of [several anti-child pornography laws].” Child pornography laws in the United States are best defined as any visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Though, in some cases, “a picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive.” The latter half of that definition may leave MTV liable, given how vague its wording is. The scene in question, which MTV chose to air unedited two nights ago, involved a 17-year-old male running bare-bottomed down the street after being locked out of his house. While the UK version chose to play the scene for laughs, the US version used it to show how down on his luck this character really was. Regardless, neither depiction was of a sexual nature. Then again, how would one even determine whether something is “sufficiently sexually suggestive?”This whole fiasco calls a number of things into question. First, why are our child pornography laws so vague? Secondly, with the age of consent varying among states, how can we effectively determine what constitutes a minor? And, finally, are the standards and practices of American television too rigid?The need for child pornography laws is apparent, but it’s somewhat disturbing that nearly three decades after child pornography was ruled illegal, we still don’t have a clear definition of what should be considered child pornography. In certain states, including New York, 17 is the age of consent; in others it’s as low as 16. Yet could scenes containing a semi-nude 17-year-old theoretically be considered child pornography? It doesn’t make much sense.Moreover, anyone who’s seen the British version knows the American one is tame by comparison. In the British version of Monday’s episode, there was a decent amount of full frontal nudity as well. We get far too worked about nudity and scenes of sexual nature in this country, considering the amount of violence and ludicrousness that permeate the airwaves. I mean, where was the PTC when E!’s Bridalplasty debuted in November? The US version of Skins may be riddled with problems but a lack of decency isn’t one of them.

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht