Eduardo Moisés Peñalver January 18, 2011 - 1:06pm
Matt Zoller Seitz discusses MTV's latest:
Like the original, it revolves around a group of improbably glamorous, self-assured teens who have tons of casual sex and do massive amounts of drugs (mainly pot and pills) under the noses of clueless and/or ineffectual parents and teachers. Their behavior has no serious repercussions at least not the sort youd see illustrated in one of those old social hygiene movies that were an integral part of high school back during my heyday, the 1980s, a quaint time when everybody drank bathtub gin and drove jalopies with rumble seats. On "Skins,"consequences are mainly melodramatic rather than medical or social.
He then goes on to ask and answer the following question:
Is "Skins" bad for kids? Well, if shows directly influence behavior, over and above whatever morals that parents teach their kids a big "if" -- then yeah, maybe, I guess so. But on the other hand, I have yet to witness a scenario in either series that I didnt personally fantasize about in some form or another when I was the same age as the teens that comprise this programs target demographic. WhenI was in eighth grade (prime "Skins"age, I'm guessing)I snuck into explicitly violent and/or sexual R-rated films almost every weekend, furtively tried out adult substances, and spent hours futzing with the aerial on top of my parents TV set after they went to sleep hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of fornication on a scrambled pay-per-view broadcast channel. If Iwere that age again in 2011, Id probably watch "Skins" religiously for a couple of seasons, then get bored and move on to something else. The series would have been absorbing, silly, sexy and trashy no matter what critics said about it. The fact that it's officially considered Bad for Kids makes it awesome.
Maybe having kids has turned me into a fuddy duddy. But it seems a little strained to call the idea that a show like this might influence kids' behavior "a big 'if'." I did and thought about most of the things Zoller Seitz describes himself as doing and thinking about as well. But the key difference is that they were all pretty labor-intensive and mostly unsuccessful. Yes, you could stumble across a discarded (or unguarded) adult magazine in my childhood, or you could work really hard to decipher some scrambled Spice channel static. But the sheer difficulty of getting these limited results was a message in itself. In contrast, extremely sexually provocative content is now at the fingertips of any kid with an unmonitored internet connection. And the ubiquity of this content sends a very different message. I don't think anyone knows where this will end up, but to pretend that it doesn't represent a significant change in our culture and that it won't have an effect on children's behavior seems obtuse.Sure, the onus must be on parents to keep their kids from watching age-inappropriate content. But the sheer amount of parental surveillance required to pull that off has increased dramatically. There's no good solution to this, as far as I can see. Censorship is a nonstarter. And Internet filters just don't work, unless they've gotten a lot better. In the early days of the Internet, my parents installed Net Nanny software on their home computer for the "protection" of my younger brothers. It didn't seem to work too well, and it became something of a running joke in our family. Until they bought a new computer, the software would pop up at the strangest moments, like when my brothers were working on term papers and happened to type in a flagged word into their reports. My youngest brother quipped that the net nanny had become a little senile.
About the Author
Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.