The media firestorm kicked up by the Parents Television Council over the new MTV drama “Skins,” illustrates that when it comes to television, it's fine to carry a gun, but woe to those who have sex.
Since the debut of "Skins" on Jan. 17, the PTC has successfully pressured advertisers such as Taco Bell and General Motors to pull their commericals from the show and they've called for a federal investigation if it breaks child pornography laws.
Not that the sex in question isn't provocative. The racy show — an Americanization of a hit British series — centers on a group of teens who are routinely depicted abusing drugs and coupling.
Of course, teen sex and substance abuse have serious consequences, but why are the same groups currently moaning about "Skins" largely mute when it comes to television depictions of murder and bloodshed?
Given the national hand-wringing that took place after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), it is shocking that the discussion has turned so quickly from violence to sex.
“If this show gets a foothold in the culture, how will it impact what we see on television going forward? There’s enough sociological evidence to show that young TV viewers who are exposed to highly sexualized material are more likely to have more sexual partners throughout their lifetimes and be involved in teen pregnancy,” Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the PTC, told TheWrap.
But are a handful of hedonistic young adults really worth all this fuss?
“We should have a larger conversation about violence, but Americans have a gun fetish,” said Lisa Bloom, a lawyer and television legal analyst on CNN and CBS News.
Take the murders that crop up on dramas like “CSI” or “Sons of Anarchy." Or, sticking with reality TV, look at the weaponry that pops up on TLC’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” The hit series regularly contains shots of the former vice-presidential candidate visiting gun shops or rhapsodizing about various fire arms. Yes, she unloads rounds into hapless caribous not people, but in the wake of the Giffords' shooting, that behavior is as objectionable as the house parties the “Skins” kids attends.
"The reality is all people have sex lives, but not everyone goes out and shoots up or bombs a place. Some people are just really uncomfortable with their children getting ideas that might lead to losing their virginity,” Jessica Wakeman, from the women’s pop culture blog TheFrisky.com, told TheWrap.
Though the PTC cites reports that find a correlation between sexually provocative entertainment and sexually promiscuous teens, there are myriad behavioral health experts that argue there is also a relationship between violent shows or movies and aggressive behavior.
In a 2003 study, University of Michigan psychologist L. Rowell Huesmann found that watching violence on television encourages children to engage in criminal activity or spousal abuse as much as much as 15 years later.
The PTC counters that it has tried to keep the spotlight fixed on the issue of violence, sponsoring studies about the impact that bloody or gory content has on American youth. It says, however, that there are more rules on the books governing nudity or sexual depictions on television.
“Violence is a problem, but despite attempts in the past to incorporate violent TV into legislation, we don’t have sufficient recourse or remedy,” Henson told TheWrap.
It is indisputable, however, that from its campaign over GQ’s sexually charged photos of the cast of “Glee” to the current assault on “Skins,” the PTC has generated the most headlines and heat from sticking to sex not violence.
In this particular case, the organization may have a point that “Skins” goes too far. Even those who believe that the threat posed by sex is overstated, expressed shock over the explicit nature of MTV’s show. In particular, the network’s decision to cast actors between the ages of 15 to 17 and not twenty-somethings playing high schoolers, has come under fire.
“I think the show is appalling and there should be a serious investigation as to whether it violates the law,” Bloom said.
A spokesperson for MTV declined to be interviewed for this article, but in a blog on the Huffington Post on Monday, series co-creator Bryan Elsley denied the charges of the PTC and others that the series is reckless or dangerous.
“Our approach is not careless. We've created a supportive and protective environment for everyone working on the show. And of course [we] abide by the law, and give respect to our work colleagues, who in this case are young, energetic and exciting people with so much to offer to an imperfect world,” Elsley wrote.
Note to Elsley: Next time you want to avoid a media backlash, give the teens a rifle, not a joint. And make sure it’s the one for fighting, not for fun.