Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling, or, Skins Has Come to American TV...

The teen show Skins debuted on MTV this week on 17 January 2010. MTV's Skins is a toned down version of a E4 show about young teens, Skins, which has run on E4 since 2007 and is now in its fifth series.

Despite being a toned down version of a British show (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2011/jan/18/mtv-skins-us-being-human) Skins is drawing the ire of many of America's self proclaimed protectors of public morality. The Parents Television Council, the same group that named Buffy the Vampire the worst television show of 2002 in large part for its portrayal of pre-marital sex and a lesbian couple, has called Skins "the most dangerous television show for children that we have ever seen" (MTV's 'Skins' Is 'Most Dangerous Children Show Ever,' TV Watchdog Group Claims, Huffington Post, 23 January 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/mtvs-skins-is-most-danger_n_812589.html) and has accused Skins of trafficking in child pornography (TV Watchdog Calls For Child Porn Probe Of "Skins", New York Times, online edition, 20 January 2011). The PTC is urging the US government, the same US government, one assumes, they prefer to downsize save when it comes to moral regulation, to investigate in order to ascertain whether or not Skins is violating child pornography laws (TV Watchdog Calls For Child Porn Probe Of "Skins", New York Times, online edition, 20 January 2011). The US Mexican food chain Taco Bell pulled its adds from the show presumably displaying their commitment to their own image and profit margins ("Taco Bell Pulls Ads From Skins", 21 January 2011, online edition). Conservative Fox demagogues Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity blasted MTV for airing the show at all ("Taco Bell Pulls Ads From Skins", New York Times, online edition, 21 January 2011).

Of course this is not the first time that America has seen moral panics over TV shows. I can still recall the moral panic over PBS's Sesame Street (1969-). Sesame Street, some said, with its psychedelia and jump cut editing would, they feared, turn American school children into LSD addicts. I remember the moral panic helmed by conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms over the Channel 4/PBS adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1993, 1994) because of its portrayal of drug use and homosexuality. I recall Jerry Falwell's claim that the BBC's and PBS's Teletubbies (1997-2001) was a homosexual plot to brainwash American children into toleraating of homosexuals. I remember the controversy over NBC's short lived Book of Daniel (2006) for its portrayal of an Anglican priest addicted to pain killers who talks to a Jesus and who questions some aspects of modern church doctrine. I recall the controversies surrounding CBS's short lived Swingtown (2008) for its portrayal of a group of 1970s sexually liberated swingers.

One could say a lot of things about American moral panics over TV programmes. One could point out how limited the commitment is of some Americans to "artistic" freedom. One could point out how some American corporations are seemingly committed only to the freedom of commodity fetishism (art equals number of readers or viewers "art" reaches which equals money) but only when the show will not impact its bottom line, profit. One might ask why PBS has been a major target of America's moral watchdogs. One could wonder why a show that got generally good reviews from British critics and was only limitedly controversial in the UK has, even in its toned down US version, proven to be so controversial in the US even before it aired. Or, if you are a misanthrope like me you might simply revel in and be entertained by yet another silly moral panic erupting on the American cultural landscape yet. Don't beam me up yet.

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