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"Skins": MTV's Lighthearted Take on Underage Sexuality and Overdoses

By Heather Turgeon |

skins episode and controversy

MTV "Skins" pilot final scene

The new MTV teenage drama “Skins” has been in the spotlight since its pilot episode aired last week. Executives are worried that some of the scenes in the show, which features underage high school kids getting hot and heavy, popping pills, and streaking naked in the streets with erections, may actually violate federal child pornography statutes.

Apparently, re-edits are in progress to cut around the most provocative images.

This weekend, Salon writer Tracy Clark-Flory highlights the fact that “Skins” is just the latest to shock and disturb the public when it comes to underage sexuality. She pulled together 14 of the most controversial images and films:

She starts in 1856, with Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” who Clark-Flory says can be called the “first child pornographer.” He took photographs of half-clothed and naked children than were accepted as art at the time, but later seen as inappropriate.

From Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver” and Brook Shields in “Pretty Baby,” the Calvin Klein ads and the controversy around 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, and more recently, Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair. What’s okay and what’s offensive and dangerous is a long-standing conversation.

The boundaries seem a little looser when art is involved. But when it comes to “Skins,” I don’t know if we can play that card. As David Carr of The New York Times points out, it’s a re-hashing of a British show. And its raw disturbing portrayals aren’t new — remember the 1995 film “Kids”?

It’s hard to offend me. But I do think “Skins” goes too far. Not because it depicts teenage sex and drug overdoses, but because it does it with snappy background music and a smile — the tone in some scenes is downright Gilmore Girls. Except someone gets naked and high, a friend OD’s, they crash an SUV into the river in a druggy haze and almost drown, and they all chuckle about it. Cue heartwarming music. Best night ever.


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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “"Skins": MTV's Lighthearted Take on Underage Sexuality and Overdoses

  1. Sara says:

    MTV is getting so much publicity over the uproar that everyone is making. I expect it to get huge ratings tonight. You obviously watched.

    I do not see how this show is any more harmful than shows like Jersey Shore (which portray real people) that are watched by the same audience. While many kids could aspire to be like the kids on Jersey Shore and the characters are celebrated the lives of the kids on Skins (at least the British show) suck and they face repercussions for their actions.

  2. brian says:

    The “uproar” over the content of the show is most definitely generated by MTV. Jersey Shore preceded Skins on its premiere night and at the beginning and end of each commercial break MTv programmed a commercial for skins. Thats at least 20 commercials for one show in an hour! MTV knows they have a bomb because of the actors and adaptation so they play up the controversy to create publicity.

    While it is most defintely true that teenagers in both Britain and US act this way, it is also true that many teenagers are intelligent and can express emotion (unlike the Aspergers-esque renditions of teens the US Skins portrays). Yes kids can be careless and sometimes they straight up don’t care, but these are not realistic portrayals of American youth. They are creations of mid-40′s TV producers who did not grow up in this generation. Yes kids are different, but they are real people too. Caricatures like this should not warrant controversy. They warrant a rewrite.

  3. heatherturgeon says:

    @brian: agreed. kind of like the completely calm and unphased girl in the photo here, watching her friends potentially drown.
    @sarah: I only watched the pilot, and so far, no consequences. maybe they come in later episodes?

  4. Stacey Mimbs says:

    I love this show!!! Skin is a show about several different kids that are friends and all of them are totally different from each other, but they all are friends and except one another. We all know that being a teenager is one the hardest parts of your life, cause kids can be cruel. I think this show skins is telling kids its ok to be different and there are other kids that will except you for who u are. …… Im hoping .

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