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MTV’s New TV Program Shows a Lot of It
An article from David R. Smith at

The Parents Television Council just called MTV’s Skins “the most dangerous program,” period. Surely that’s hyperbole, right? I mean, think of its competition: Gossip Girl, Tila Tequila, Real World and Nip/Tuck.

After watching
Skins’ pilot, I gotta say, the PTC might be on to something.

From the UK…With Lust
(The American version of) Skins debuted on MTV on Monday, January 17, 2011 at 10:00 EST. The hour-long, scripted “dramedy” is one of the latest television imports from Great Britain. The show is largely uncensored in its portrayal of teenage life – or at least MTV’s concept of it: indulgent drug use, alcohol-drenched parties in rich suburbs, the ups and downs in various relationships, dysfunctional families, etc.

Ummm…here’s a rule of thumb I’ve noticed over the years: when a TV show crosses the pond, it usually does so with the intent of crossing lines, too. Coupling (NBC), Three’s Company (ABC), and even All in the Family (CBS) are just a few examples; in one way or another, they each crossed lines.

Unlike the British version of Skins, which employs twentysomethings to pose as teenagers, the American version actually uses teenagers in front of the camera (and in script consultation, off-camera). While MTV might boast about this “attention to detail,” it just may be one of the biggest reasons the cable network is in trouble up to its neck over Skins.

That’s because the content of the show is definitely “adult” in nature, but it uses teens to portray the mature subject matter to millions of other teens watching via television.

Sadly, it appears as though Skins skipped customs inspection; here’s a teaser for the TV show. (Bear in mind that this isn’t an actual scene from any particular episode; it’s just promotional material, but it does a great job preparing viewers for the actual show.) The content of that teaser explains why the Parents Television Council called Skins “the most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children” in a recent Action Alert.

Intoxicating, Intimate…and Incomplete?
I watched the series premiere the night it aired…along with an estimated 3.3 million viewers from around the country. The pilot episode followed a group of (very diverse) friends through one whole day of their lives, from the sound of the alarm clock, through a raucous and risqué party, to the splash of a stolen Escalade sinking in a river, with $900 worth of marijuana inside (that had yet to be paid for).

In between were plenty of expletives (with the F-word apparently being the only one worth bleeping). Also acting as fillers were tons of sexy and risqué behavior and language: almost innumerable references to having sex (often using obscene and vulgar terms), derogatory references to body parts – especially genitalia, and even simulated scenes of teen sexuality. Finally, there were plenty of dangerous behaviors to observe, including lots of alcohol consumption and drug use. In fact, the show gets its name from the tiny white papers used to roll joints.

I’d say the show definitely earned its TV-MA rating (TV for Mature Audience Only) for its “L” (course/crude language) and “S” (sexual situations) ingredients. But the most dangerous message Skins conveyed involved an element not even found on the show: consequences.

In my opinion, the most irresponsible message in Skins’ pilot wasn’t “teens drink lots of alcohol,” or “teens take lots of drugs,” or even “teens have lots of sex.”

The most dangerous message was that teens in Skins do all those things…without any consequences. In short, Skins is TV without any accountability. (I know you’re thinking, “It’s MTV! What’d you expect?!”) But even Snooki (from Jersey Shore) got arrested for public intoxication!!!

The teenagers in Skins don’t even get their hands slapped.

Two scenes from the first show should illustrate my criticism. First, Cadie, an overly emotional and psychologically-impaired girl, overdoses on some unnamed pill and has to be rushed to the ER (in the aforementioned stolen Escalade). She was unconscious and not breathing during the entire wild ride, but as soon as the frantic driver whipped into the hospital parking lot, he turned to discover Cadie was not only sitting up in the backseat, but smiling. Her only concern? “I need to pee.”

So, drug overdoses can just be laughed off, huh?

The second example includes a botched drug deal. Tony, the lead character, convinces his friend Stanley to get drugs from a dealer – on “layaway” – with the promise to pay up within 48 hours. Unfortunately, Tony’s “distribution” plan blows up in his face and he couldn’t resell the drugs. His plans (literally) sink when the drugs disappear – along with the Escalade – in the river. But instead of having to worry about how they’re gonna pay off the drug dealer, explain the missing Cadillac, or check their friend into drug rehab, Tony and his buddy Stanley (awkwardly) lie in bed together discussing whether or not Stanley got laid during the day’s affairs.

Sorry. The disconnect is just too great.

On a slightly comical note…perhaps providing a third example to the gap in reality…none of these teens seem to care about their health enough to put down a joint or a beer, but every single one of them remembers to wear their seatbelts when stealing Escalades.

In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, “Riiiiiggggghhhhhhtttttt…”

Unrealistic Reality TV
MTV’s purpose with Skins – besides making millions of dollars – is to give viewers a glimpse of teenagers’ everyday reality. But their program didn’t strike a genuine chord.

At this point, for several reasons, I’m unconvinced of the show’s future. Sure, it has tons of gratuitous sex, drugs, and alcohol – which is a big hit with many viewers – but I think (and hope) young viewers will quickly realize the newest MTV show falls short on capturing actual reality. Reality includes accountability, and Skins offers none.

Further, the show was a bit lame and slightly boring. I know it’s not in the category of terrorist-fighting 24, and it doesn’t bill itself as CSI:Miami, Glee, or Hawaii Five – 0, but the plot was definitely understated (mainly because at center stage was just a lot of adult-oriented content). There was also very little conflict development (or resolution). For an hour-long show, there was a clear void of dramatic tension.

Finally, there were plenty of clichés in the first show, including the lineup of characters depicting the “perfectly diverse” set of friends. (Come on, how many practicing Muslims do you know who hang out with lesbians?)

Is this just another example of MTV’s failed attempts with scripted dramas? (Perhaps MTV should just stick with what they know best: other “reality” shows like Real World.)

Making Plans for Monday Nights
As with most of MTV’s new shows, Skins airs on Monday nights. If you, or a teenager you love, is wondering whether or not to watch Skins on Monday nights, here are a couple points to consider:

  1. The show isn’t cutting edge in any regards. I’m not saying the show isn’t unique; I’m only saying the show isn’t novel. Sure, it has tons of alcohol, drugs, and sex, but those elements can be found on other shows, as well. Skins just puts those elements at the forefront.

  2. As previously mentioned, the show fails to capture true teenage reality. If you’re a parent and your teenager wants to watch this show, just say, “No. We aren’t going to be watching this in our house.” If you are a youth worker and the teenagers you work with insist on watching the show, use this as a springboard for discussion. Ask them a myriad of “What if...” questions. “What if you stole an Escalade?” “What if a friend of yours overdosed?” “What if your life was centered on the next hit of weed or swig of alcohol?” They will quickly get the point.

  3. On Skins, MTV seems to miss the mark on what makes engaging television programming. Their one ace-in-the-hole is gratuitous and salacious sexuality. Unfortunately, that seems to be their only card. CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight (which replaced Larry King Live) also made its debut on Monday night. Ironically, it might give Skins a run for its money in the “riveting” category….

This show’s depth of engagement, reality, and character development is as shallow as its title implies: skin deep. But the dangerous real world elements it glorifies can cause pain that runs far deeper. For many, many reasons, MTV’s Skins should just be skirted.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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Comments on this post

   Jonathan McKee         1/31/2011 9:21:21 AM

Another article about MTV "standing by" Skins, despite the number of advertisers pulling out and despite the U.S. government investigation into possible violations of laws on the sexual exploitation of minors. Read about that here:

   Donald Wood         1/27/2011 7:25:43 AM

David, thanks for once again keeping us informed (and sparing me the pain of having to watch this stuff myself). I always enjoy your insight.

   Jonathan McKee         1/26/2011 10:38:54 AM

Great comments so far. SazzaF, I like what you're saying about the show being from a teenage perspective. In a perfect world where no teens watched MTV, that perspective would be helpful for adults to see. But unfortunately, I have to agree with Matt that this show is irresponsibly "normalizing" most of these harmful behaviors. So unfortunately, the show serves as- to quote my buddy Walt Mueller- a "map and a mirror." This show not only mirrors what teenagers are doing, it also maps the way for some of them. Great discussion. Thanks for all your input!

   Matt Furby         1/26/2011 10:10:19 AM

As always, David, thanks so much for the information. It's so important for us to be up to date and know what our kids are watching or hearing about at school. Thanks for wading through the stuff of the world to help us bring truth quickly to our students to counteract what the world tries. I want to respond to SazzaF. I'm not sure that comparing Skins to Die Hard or romantic comedies is a really fair comparison. I don't run into many men who really struggle on a regular basis with killing terrorists on their vacation. When it comes to RomComs, I'm not thinking that the idiotic plots are necessarily going to encourage our students to go out and self-destruct in poisonous environments. I'd rather compare Skins to things like Real World and Jersey Shore, to the ridiculous National Lampoon college flicks. The problem isn't that MTV is just translating students' fantasies for us to understand them. The problem is that MTV is NORMALIZING all the things that we don't want our students to fall into. Partying and drinking heavily is on an increase, and younger and younger students are engaging in risky behavior. The problem with these shows is that they aren't as far removed from reality as Die Hard or Knotting Hill, but carry very real, very accessible situations that our students can go experience this weekend, possibly even today. This show isn't safe, and we can't compromise by saying, "Well, it's not realistic so it's no danger." I think it's so important for us to help our students wade through the truth. I'm old enough to see the difference between fantasy and reality. Unfortunately, not all of our students are. The only reason I should want to see this show is to know what our students are seeing, so I can have a frame of reference when I discuss it with them.

   Dan Manns         1/25/2011 9:11:46 AM

thanks David! Excellent stuff as usual. I truly hope this show fails miserably. Perhaps one day MTV will air a program where pain, tragedy and heartache actually occur as a result of reckless and irresponsible behavior. Maybe one day deeper plots and real human drama will replace the sensational, illicit and gratuitous storyline of shows like 'skins'.

   Joe         1/25/2011 8:24:46 AM

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   SazzaF         1/25/2011 8:01:55 AM

Hi, I'm a Youth Pastor, a parent of teenagers, a culture watcher and I'm British so we're up to Series 5 of Skins. There's a whole load of things I could respond to in this article but the one I want to take up is the issue of consequences. The point of Skins is that it is a totally teenaged point of view and for teenagers there are never any consequences. It's only as an adult that you begin to realise that risky behaviours have consequences so what Skins is a a teenage fantasy about their lives in the same way that RomComs are a fantasy about love and marriage, or Die Hard is a fantasy about violence with no/few consequences. In Skins there are no consequences, parents and other adults are absent or irrelevant, and no school work or other work is ever done, and that's the whole point. So I would say that it should be compulsory viewing for parents and youth leaders because this is what the world looks like to teenagers, even thought it doesn't match the reality of their lives. Most research shows that most teens love and respect their parents and go to them for advice, but if you ask them they'll deny it and pretend they ask their mates. Most teenagers would like to think they just party hard the whole time but in reality they care about school work and family. In the sense that it's fantasy it's no more unrealistic than Glee, in which most emotional issues can be dealt with by expressing them in song, and yes one girl got pregnant but it didn't cause the rest to consider avoiding sex, nor did they really discuss contraceptive options, and the idea that anyone would think it appropriate to tell your girl's parents you got her pregnant by singing to them is just ridiculous - even teenagers aren't that dumb. As a youth pastor I reckon it's my role to really understand how teenagers see themselves in their world so that I can speak to them of the love of God in ways they will understand, and watching Skins helps me do that - it's how Jesus ministered to people, and he was also criticised for mixing with sinners.

   Brian King         1/25/2011 7:43:27 AM

Thanks for the article-- here's to hoping that it sinks under the lack of advertiser support...but you never know. Also, "skins" is a slang term for sexual activity too,(as in "hittin' skins") so that might be an influence for the title more than rolling paper.

   Jpack         1/25/2011 7:38:01 AM

I've read so many articles about companies pulling their advertising from the show time due to the content and the "child pornography" label the show is getting. I applaud Taco Bell, GM, and H&R Block and the others for not allowing their names to be associated with this. Now if only we can get families to do the same.

   Justin Werven         1/25/2011 7:25:19 AM

I've also read that because MTV used teenagers for the sex scenes instead of legal adults, they might be in trouble for child pornography. Great job MTV.

   Scott McQueen         1/25/2011 6:43:56 AM

I watched about half (or a little less) of the first episode after my teenagers went to bed and you were very much right on with the lack of consequences. In what I did watch I was glad to see the lack of depth in the script and characters.


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