MTV's Skins "controversy" much ado about nothing

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Woody Allen (via Juliette Lewis, in Husbands and Wives) famously said, "Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad TV." But that was 20 years ago. In the case of Skins US, it's not life imitating the bad TV, it's the bad TV imitating life.

Tonight was episode three of the US remake of Skins, the supposedly controversial episode wherein we -- gasp! -- saw a bare butt. A 17 year old male butt. Calmly walking down the street after being kicked out of his house by a junkie squatter who took over his bathroom, and after his mother abandoned him and his friends used his house for a massive, destructive party.

I know, I know. This is the very definition of "erotic."

Look: a bare butt in and of itself is not porn, no matter the age of said cheeks. This can easily be judged by the fact that it just aired on basic cable without an injuction or investigation from any federal agency. Now, if the butt wiggles seductively, or is caressed, or slapped, or buttered up under the strict orders of Marlon Brando -- then it becomes porn. This simply does not qualify. This is designed to draw outrage and indignation. This is courting controversy for ratings. This is what MTV does, and it's what it has done since at least the first season of The Real World in the early '90s.

It is a trap set for The Parent's Television Council, and like the Catholic League before it, they fell right into it. They are inept and ineffectual organizations, and their actions have the direct opposite of their desired outcome. They seem to get moral satisfaction by letter-writing, but that's pretty much all they seem to get out of it.

I would urge people to be slightly more cynical when it comes to marketing, and it looks like people are. There is a zero percent chance (a less than zero percent chance even) that MTV allows anything that could be legally construed as child pornography onto its air. Everything they've filmed will have been vetted (and vetted again) by Viacom lawyers. Viacom would not let MTV break the law, especially this law. The controversy here is that people are gullible enough to think Viacom would let this go, that GM, Wrigley, Taco Bell and H&R Block have all pulled their ads. (Taco Bell? Really?) I will eat my hat* if MTV ever faces obscenity charges on this.

Now, there are better questions when it comes to Skins US than "is this kiddie porn?" That's a rather annoying distraction from the real questions: Is this a good show? Was it necessary to remake it? If so, was it necessary to directly remake it, almost shot-for-shot, instead of drawing from the original concept and going off on your own direction thanks to skilled writers, like The Office did? What the hell happened to The Office anyway? Wait -- ignore that last one.

At 30, I'm not necessarily within the target demographic for the show, so it may be a case of old-fogeyism, but no, this is not a good show. The original Effie agrees with me on that point, but the original Skins wasn't that great a show either. It did have its high moments, mostly in the episodes built around Cassie and Effie, but it had its woeful moments as well. The biggest draw was the novelty of seeing Nicholas Hoult, the nerdy little kid from About a Boy filling out the role of Tony. That level of confidence seemed like an impossibility from the jittery, scrawny little kid with bowl cut just a few year earlier. But there is nothing like that here. The actors are entirely unknown non-actors in a fairly lame attempt to get credit for "discovering" a new star, like Dev Patel.

Instead, the novelty of the US version has to be teen sex and drug use. To this I gasp again. Teen sex and drug use was a novelty in 1994 when Larry Clark made Kids and pissed off the entire world, but isn't so much anymore. Part of that is MTV's doing, in fact. And Clark went deeper with the AIDS subplot anyway. And Kids sucked, too.

So, yes, kids really are like this. That should be the real outrage. In fact, kids were worse than this when I was a their age 15 years ago, and they're actually much worse than this now that they all have credit cards and cell phone cameras. These kids don't do big things. If you want to be outraged about something, be outraged about that.

*hat will be made of delicious bacon.

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