The latest hot and sexy word out of MTV is that their new show Skins, based on the old show Skins, might be in trouble for child porn because it’s just that racy and out of control. On the front page of today’s New York Times, unnamed executives worry that the “provocative new show…may violate federal child pornography statutes,” which could deem even pictures of a partially clothed teen “child porn if it’s sufficiently sexualized,” according to Time. But as a few commentators have pointed out since the news hit the web last night, this plays perfectly into MTV’s plan to sell Skins as the “most dangerous show ever.”
First, more from Brian Stelter in the Times:
They are particularly concerned about the third episode of the series, which is to be broadcast Jan. 31. In an early version, a naked 17-year-old actor is shown from behind as he runs down a street. The actor, Jesse Carere, plays Chris, a high school student whose erection — assisted by erectile dysfunction pills — is a punch line throughout the episode.
The planned changes indicate that MTV, which has been pushing the envelope for decades, may be concerned that it pushed too far this time.
That doesn’t sound very sexy, but it’s enough to push the narrative forward and to get Time‘s James Poniewozik to ask, “Is MTV’s Skins Child Pornography?” Simply, no, it’s not, but beyond the headline are some valid questions:
Does the fact that the actor is shown (but not shown naked) in other sexual scenes therefore make this scene more sexualized? Does the presence of other sex scenes involving other characters elsewhere in the episodes make the scene more sexual? Would the scene constitute pornography if it were, say, an underage actor running naked down a street in a war movie? Are depictions of teen characters in sexual situations inherently pornographic, or does the use of teen actors drive it over the line? What’s dirtier: two adult actors playing teens having sex, or a teenage actor shown naked in a scene that doesn’t involve sex?
But let’s call this what it is: hype and subsequent overreaction. This isn’t Luke in the ’90s. No one is getting charged with anything, but a lot of people are going to watch just for the controversy (3.3 million tuned in for the premiere), which is just how MTV wants it to work. Anonymous official sources in television tend to work the same way in entertainment as they do in politics: with axes to grind and story-lines to propel. Skins keeps inching toward the line, they tell us. Wait, look now! Skins is pissing all over the line.
“Of course, the main reason MTV’s target audience will continue to tune into this lackluster remake of the British version is because of its purported edginess,” wrote Adrien Chen at Gawker. Meanwhile, Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair feels similarly: “For other instances of MTV publicity stunts, look no further than nearly every annual iteration of the Video Music Awards, a broadcast that inevitably includes an unforeseen act of animosity (cf. Bruno and Eminem) or adoration (cf. Britney and Madonna).”
And let’s not forget season 1 of Jersey Shore, in which Snooki was punched in the face. For weeks when the show started, MTV teased a grown man hitting a woman under 5′ with a closed fist. Then came the controversy and sustained hype, which led to huge numbers for the network, and when the episode finally aired, a minor edit. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And voila: Jersey Shore keeps winning.
On the first episode of Skins, MTV bleeped multiple instances of the word “fuck.” When it comes to the third episode, they may throw a black box over a kid’s bare butt, though that’s not the point. We’re all yapping about it, so the plan already worked (to be confirmed by next week’s numbers). Litigation is unlikely. Any outrage to follow is nothing but noise.
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