Monday, January 24, 2011

Hating "Skins"

The commotion over MTV’s Skins generally misses the sad truth of that show. Our youth won’t be corrupted by MTV. “Kiddie porn” isn’t a well-defined category. Making Viacom scream “uncle” over this show won’t be a victory for decency and good taste.

Skins is a symptom, not the disease. Lance that boil and the infection remains.

Economists use “revealed preferences” to study human desire. We know better than to ask what you like; people lie. If we really want to know what you value, we’ll look at what you buy.

The sad truth of Skins is that we asked for it. Perhaps you didn’t, but your neighbors did. They started asking years ago, even before they expressed shock but were still titillated that Brook Shields let nothing come between her and her Calvins, nothing at all.

Teens and children are sexualized all the time. The parents of the pouting little sex-pots of Toddlers and Tiaras might deny it, but they make of their children objects and extensions of their own desires. Cheerleaders perform for the titillation of the boys and men in the stands. Movies and TV shows that focus on teens are full of sexuality, much of it more explicit than was in the first episode of Skins. The difference is that they have adult actors rather than minors playing those sexually charged roles.

If our concern with Skins is that the actors are minors, we deceive ourselves with legalisms. If our concern is that it’s aimed at minors (and it clearly is; MTV’s claim that the show is for adults is laughable), we forget about the other shows and games we direct at minors. If we hate it for its moral and intellectual vacuity, we forget that it’s barely a step away from Ferris Bueller and Risky Business.

We’ve bought and paid for Skins. It’s ours.

Cultures and societies usually get what they deserve. We claim to hate toxic political speech, but a quick glance at the comments to news stories and political commentary shows that many of us prefer cutting come-backs to reflective discussion. Snide and snark are all the rage on TV. We don’t like our politicians, but who voted for them? We say we like Masterpiece Theater, but Snookies dominate the airwaves.

Skins might be toned down or forced from the airwaves, but it’s what our culture deserves. If we want it to be otherwise, we should demand better and buy better.

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