Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Skins" Proves Teens are Immortal

The American (kinda) version of the UK teen drama "Skins" had it's hour-long premiere on MTV last week. As it wasn't aimed to my demographic, I had planned on ignoring it-- even though widespread moral panic is building over it, and advertisers have been marching away from it one by one. But when I read a review in the Washington Post that said it had no redeeming social value, well, I just had to see it. That's strong sauce!

The main character in "Skins" is Tony, this new century's Ferris Bueller, and the bunch of Hollister model-looking high-school-age kids in his orbit. He and his friends conduct themselves in most ways in the manner of hard-core hedonists, much as Ferris did-- but he was about cutting school to go to Chicago, not getting his friends laid, trashing nice houses, stealing cars, treating adults with undisguised contempt, and dealing stupendous amounts of weed. (then again, it was Ferris' dumb idea that lead to the destruction of Cameron's Dad's Ferrari, and therefore Cameron's implicit, offscreen murder.)

It's a strange-looking, strange-sounding show as well. "Skins" is, as mentioned, a remake of a British show of the same name, and as far as I can tell the scripts have not been altered one bit for American audiences. So the dialog is chock-a-block with English slang (like the word skins itself, which means rolling papers) and Clockwork Orange-like cadences that sound bizarre coming out in American inflections.

Make that Canadian inflections: It's set somewhere in America (Baltimore, I read) but it's shot in Canada, an often torrid show set in the cold, bland interior and exterior spaces of greater Toronto. I did not detect any vowel risings among the pale, pale cast, but the Canadian-ness of it all just makes the British dialog even weirder-sounding. This all means "Skins" may be thought of as an apocalyptic "DeGrassi," or "6teen" if it had imitated "The Jersey Shore" rather than "Friends."

Folks out there are afraid that "Skins" is some form of child pornography. It ain't: It's a teen drama with teen actors portraying teens who are obsessed with sex, not a vehicle for distributing illegal images of naked kids. Still, considering the ages of the actors, they are skirting the edges of the law: If there is a nude scene with an actor under the age of consent, it's technically child porn, and from the look of things on "Skins" it's just matter of time.

And yes, the amazing thing about this show is how it shows kids doing irresponsible, even dangerous kid stuff without consequences-- an after-school special from hell, a nihilist "Sweet Valley High." From the Hayes Office to broadcast TV standards and practices, moral balance has been a bedrock requirement of popular entertainment. The good are rewarded, the evil punished, actions have consequences.

But the funny thing about life is there often aren't consequences. Plenty of mobsters die in their own beds at age 99. Don Draper had raw eggs cracked into his Caesar Salads for years, and he's only gotten healthier. It's impossible to prove, but I'll venture a majority of petty criminals are fairly successful-- Maybe only the greedy or stupid ones get caught. Perhaps consequences are merely a social construct, how we pattern-seeking human beings find ways to make sense of a chaotic world. We seek authority and the certainty of morality in a Godless universe where morality is as substantial as a moonbeam.

And what are consequences to teenagers? Teenagers, bless 'em, think they're immortal, that they'll live forever. This is the key to understanding "Skins," a show that just confirms this conditional worldview. As a fun coincidence, this widely held teen belief is also the reason why, in times of war, teenagers get drafted.

Just food for thought.

1 comment: