Comparing MTV's Skins to Similar Controversies

More advertisers are abandoning MTV's controversial series Skins after the protests raised by the Parents Television Council.  First, Taco Bell pulled its ads, then Wrigley withdrew its commercials, now H&R Block and General Motors are also out.  While some might argue that the uproar over the show's content is nothing new, even MTV executives have been wary of the risks and are now considering editing future scenes to downplay some of the more troublesome content.

This is not the first time that critics have complained about fictional stories in which underage actors portray mature subject matter -- Brooke Shields has had risky roles in Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon, Jodie Foster played a young prostitute in Taxi Driver, and Dakota Fanning filmed a rape scene in Hounddog.  Linda Blair starred as a possessed girl in the graphic horror film The Exorcist and Chloe Moretz uttered harsh language and engaged in brutal violence as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass.  Defenders claim that child actors are protected on set and that creative editing is often used to convey certain plot points without crossing any boundaries.  The PTC claims that they have documented over 40 incidents of graphic content so far that depicts sexual activity, drug-use, or other extreme content in Skins that crosses the line into inappropriate and, they claim, illegal domain.

You might ask, haven't we heard this debate before during the release of the Larry Clark movie, Kids?  The problem with that comparison, and all the other examples I previously mentioned, is that Kids was an NC-17 rated movie and Skins is a television show on MTV, which boasts that its key demographic audience is 12-to-24-year-olds.  The argument that the original BBC version of Skins and the new MTV remake are targeted toward adults loses some strength when some of the early hype for the series positioned it as an edgier Gossip Girl.

MTV even initially played up the taboo elements of Skins, embracing its denouncement as "the most dangerous television show for children" in its marketing campaign, which included promos on social media and other venues that aimed to reach minors. 

I do not believe in censorship and I also think that storytellers should not be hindered from talking about the vices, temptations, and dangers that young people face.  But there is a difference between telling moral tales, such as the ones on Degrassi High, and glorifying sex and violence, especially if you have real, under-aged actors in the controversial scenes. 

We shall see where this story goes.  MTV's biggest problem, I think, stemmed from it not having a clear enough vision about what the goal of Skins was supposed to be.  What audience were they trying to reach?  What message was this show trying to convey? If glorifying the gratuitous sex and drugs storylines wasn't the purpose, the final product seems to depict the opposite. MTV just latched on to a story they knew would spark controversy, which they hoped would translate into high ratings and big profit. Deservedly or not, now they are facing the consequences.

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