Skins: What MTV is saying to your kids, and why

MTV photo via New York Times

I made myself watch Skins on MTV last night. It’s the latest offering from MTV causing alarm among parents and media watchers. It’s not the most unwatchable show ever, which surprised me, given the worthless drek that is typically flung at young people today.

The Parents Television Council is calling Skins the most dangerous show ever for children. Skins is indeed full of bad messages to youth. That would not be a big deal for the mature audience the show is supposedly intended for – that is, those 17 and up. The situations are over the top, and young adults have a well-calibrated absurdity meter.

But although many reasonable people see PTC as overly moralistic and prudish, here is where PTC gets it exactly right:  MTV scrupulously bestows a TV-MA “mature viewers only” rating, but then heavily markets the show to younger teens. That’s where their disingenuous claims of an intention to provide entertainment for a mature audience go right out the window. 

And the reason why this show is dangerous is that younger children – the 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds who will be watching this show – want to be like the older kids. This show sends the message that this is what older teens are doing. It gives them something to aspire to in a way that the behavior of adults – so much farther away from them – doesn’t occur to them to emulate.

Some of my concerns about bad messages, though, differ slightly from PTC’s take. It’s not so much nudity, or the depiction of ANY sexual behavior or ANY drug use among teens that is harmful, but; porn use as normalized, pimping the girls in the class as “cool” behavior, planning to get a girl doped up so she could be used for sex as no big deal, that doing drugs leads to hilarious hijinks, that girls should dress provocatively and show a lot of skin but not a lot of self-respect, that parents are clueless, and pushing the concept that a boy is a dweeby, pathetic loser if he hasn’t lost his virginity before reaching age 17. What’s a worse message to a vulnerable adolescent than that something is wrong with him?

Another thing PTC understands is that it’s not about quality entertainment or cultural progress or what’s best for our kids. It’s about making money. Their method is to go after the advertisers. PTC has already announced that H&R Block, Wrigley, General Motors, and Taco Bell have pulled support for the show. When I watched last night, the ad space was full of the cheesy  commercials for exercise products and vocational training you usually see on low-budget and late night cable. Pretty humiliating for MTV.

Updated Links as of Jan 30:

Parents Television Council alert

Wall Street Journal blog

New York Times on Skins: MTV’s Naked Calculation Gone Bad

Common Sense Media: Talking with your kids about Skins 

Mamarazzi Knows Best blog

Why Skins is sexist, at Ms. Magazine blog

Why Skins is feminist, at Feministing blog

Channel One, which some children are compelled to watch in school, is promoting Skins in cooperation with Teen.com

 

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