The Disembodiment of MTV’s “Skins”

Skins first aired on January 17th of this year, and attracted an abnormally large audience of 3.3 million viewers – for the first episode alone.  MTV produced the show and after months of publicizing it attracted a little more than just positive attention.  After the first episode aired MTV got slammed with an extremely controversial debate – the portrayal of child pornography.
Skin’s hoped to be MTV’s new hottest show by producers, and the station was due to pick up another hit show.  Their ratings were plummeting with only two shows that were holding up and attracting any notable audiences – them being Teen Mom and Jersey Shore.  You couldn’t turn on your television without seeing teasers for Skins, which depicted a very racy fictional interpretation of the crazy lives of teenagers.  MTV picked up the concept of Skins from the original British series, which started in January of 2007, which is still presently airing.  It was a huge hit over seas, and MTV was counting on the same explosion of interest in the states.

After the show first aired the interest and attention in the US wasn’t exactly where producers hoped it would go.  Skins is made to be edgy – and show teenagers doing risky behaviors such as drugs, and partying.  They display teenagers in ‘reality’ like situations – with scenes of different levels of intimacy and sex. “The remade episodes, like the ones in Britain, included simulated masturbation, implied sexual assault, and teenagers disrobing and getting into bed together,” says New York Times journalist Brian Stelter.

The main clip that pushed the boundaries of what is television-acceptable, and led to concerned officials, was during the episode that aired on January 31st.  A seventeen-year-old actor appeared naked running down the street, and constant jokes were made about his erection –  MTV’s executive producers were concerned by this scene before it even aired.

And it is understandable why – since displaying any nudity of people under the age of 18 is illegal.  MTV has been pushing these boundaries since it began.  It is one of the only stations that do so – that try to get as close as they can to that line of what is appropriate without crossing it – yet Skins crossed it.

Melissa Yandell an avid watcher of the show says, “I don’t think it should be a problem, I don’t know why yet – but I’m not bothered by it.  A lot worse happens in the world than some actress choosing to show her bootay.”  Though this may be true, and television consumers of today are used to seeing racy images, such as naked adolescents, it may go beyond offending its viewers – it may be a federal offense.

Vanessa Ho stated on her blog, “Child pornography is defined by the United States as any visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. In some cases, ‘a picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive,’ according to the Justice Department’s legal guidance. Anyone younger than 18 is considered to be a minor.”  – the youngest actor on the show is fifteen.

The Parents Television Council, a group that launches campaigns against television programs that can be portrayed as indecent, was also called upon to do an investigation after discovering the ages of the actors.  They were called upon to investigate child porn and exploitation laws.

The reason that the British episodes didn’t cause any controversy was that all of their actors were adults.  They portrayed teenagers, and the show was intended for an audience of young adults and adolescents but there was no use of stars under the age of 18.  Also Britain has “historically displayed a higher tolerance for TV eroticism than the United States” says  Brian Stelter, journalist of the New York Times – the content on the British series is almost identical to that of the United States edition.

After the controversy many of MTV’s Skins sponsors cut ties with the show.  Including Taco Bell, who reported to the New York Times saying that the show was “not for our brand” – after the executives allegedly asked the producers to cut some of the explicit content.  MTV’s only defense was that the show was geared towards adults and not teenagers – and that the content of the show shouldn’t be too explicit for that age group.  This was far from believable since the show itself makes fun of the present adult age group and promotes ideas of this generation’s teenager.

MTV is doing what they can to promote that Skins is just describing the world that we already live in.  “But objectifying teenage pathology, along with teenage bodies, is a complicated business — and the business that MTV is in.” (Carr, David – NYT)

WORKS CITED

Carr, Davis. “MTV’s Naked Calculation Gone Bad.” The New York Times [New York] NYTimes.com. 26 Jan. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1>.

Ho, Vanessa. “MTV’s ‘Skins’ Draws Child Porn Fears, Repels Advertisers (NYT).” The Big Blog. Seatle Pi. 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2011. <http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2011/01/21/mtvs-skins-draws-child-porn-fears-repels-advertisers-nyt/>.
Stelter, Brian. “A Racy Show With Teenagers Steps Back From a Boundary.” The New York Times [New York] NYTimes.com. 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/business/media/20mtv.html?_r=1>.

Stelter, Brian. “MTV Is Looking Beyond ‘Jersey Shore’ to Build a Wider Audience.” The New York Times [New York] NYTimes.com. 24 Oct. 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/business/media/25mtv.html?_r=1>.

Stelter, Brian. “Taco Bell Pulls Ads From MTV’s ‘Skins’.” The New York Times [New York] NYTimes.com. 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2011. <http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/taco-bell-pulls-ads-from-mtvs-skins/>.

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