MTV and “Skins”
by Fr. Mark A. Leondis
Oh MTV, you’ve done it again! You have once again pushed the envelope of programming aimed at tweens, teenagers, and young adults. Every other year since your inception, you seem to re-create your programming to “push the limit.”
I remember vividly in August of 1981, MTV launching it’s first “music video” by the Buggles entitled, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” That day changed the face of music and television forever. The original tag line was “you’ll never look at music the same way again.” Bands of the 80’s began caring as much about videos as they did their music, and music didn’t look the same as incredible amounts of money were spent advertising, creating and offering something quite different for millions of viewers.
With the emergence of the Internet and videos being watched on the computer, MTV changed their emphasis from videos to programming. And this programming was methodically planned by marketers and advertisers who cared nothing about the young people themselves, but on how they could make money.
MTV and other outlets have continued with this formula. From the animated series “Beavis and Butthead” with its crude and vulgar language, to reality shows such as “Real World” and “Road Rules” where young people continually drink, have sex and get into fights; from game shows like “Singled Out” which make dating all about looks and fashion; to prank comedy shows like “The Tom Green Show” and “Jackass” with absurd stunts making fun of themselves and others; from scripted “reality” shows like “The Hills”, “Laguna Beach,” and “Parental Control” which make sex and intimacy a joke between young people; to the 2009 popular hit “Jersey Shore,” which portrays young adults who selfishly live consumed lives with little regard for others.
Their newest show, “Skins”, is MTV’s “shock and awe” at its best, or shall I say at its worst. Their portrayal of pill-popping, “lusty” teenage actors as young as 15, is both disturbing and unsettling. Even advertisers, Wrigley, Schick and Taco Bell to name a few, have decided to pull their ads during the show.
Although, MTV has “toned down” their content since the premier a few weeks back, they have no plans on cancelling the show. Parenting groups are asking Congress and the Justice Department to investigate the show to see if it violates laws on the sexual exploitation of children. Their target audience is 12-34 year olds . . . you read it right, 12-34 year olds. As a parent of a tween, I see a problem with the suggestion that my ten year-old should be watching the same content that a 34 year old is interested in. For children, the content of the show is purely provocative; while the content borders on child pornography for the older end of the spectrum.
The reality is that Madison Avenue has more to do with programming than MTV. Teen Marketers understand the child as a customer – not as a person. They look for ways to sell “cool,” which is their product. A few years back, PBS produced a Frontline series entitled “The Merchants of Cool” which accurately describes the relationship between youth culture and Madison Avenue. They highlight that youth culture is being created not by the teens themselves, but rather by teen marketers. They look for 20% of the young people who are the trendsetters, who then set the stage for the other 80%. Teenagers in 2011 are the most marketed group of young people in the history of humanity.
The problem with “Skins” is that it glamorizes the behavior of a small percentage of young people, and not the real demographic.
In reality, isn’t “Skins” just a reflection of the other programs that adults watch on a nightly basis? Isn’t “Skins” just imitating its older television siblings like the Bachelor, The Real Housewives, General Hospital and the salacious talk shows that exist on a daily basis?
At a time in their lives when young people are forming and defining their individual identities, what they need most is positive imagery and role models who will guide them along the way. In my 16 plus years of full-time youth ministry, I have seen shows such as this come and go. But the important element in this is to teach our young people that they don’t need to watch these shows to be cool or to fit in, especially when all they do is bring a negative influence to their lives.
The bottom line: We must give our young people the necessary tools to become good decision makers. We must teach them to “learn to discern.” Discern what is beneficial and what is destructive to our souls. Discern what elements make up a healthy lifestyle. Discern the content of the music they listen to, the video games they play and the television shows they watch.
We will never be able to stop the “industry” from producing this negative stuff, but we can empower our youth to recognize its inherent dangers. In so doing we can help them understand the importance of living a “pure life,” and choosing wisely.
Fr. Mark Leondis is the Archdiocesan Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. In his 16 years of full time youth ministry, he has served as the Metropolis of Denver Youth Director, Archdiocesan Director, has taught classes in youth ministry and Christian education at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and serves as the Chairman of the OCF Board of Directors. He lives in New York with his wife and 2 children.