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It started with The Real World. Then Jersey Shore. And now Skins. MTV has a long history of ruffling feathers with each new debut, but this time, it might have gone a bit too far.

Although it is mostly scripted, Skins aims to mirror the reality of life for today’s teens. The cast includes teens, most of who had never acted before, engaging in sexually provocative and obscene acts, doing drugs, and creating further drama. Because most of the actors are minors, under the age of legal consent, scenes that depict them engaging in illegal acts may themselves be illegal.

MTV has defended itself against these charges by claiming that Skins depicts reality for teenagers. Yet ironically for a show targeted toward teenagers, it has earned a rating of TV-MA, which means it is not suitable for viewers under the age of 17 years. Despite the rating, the first episode of Skins attracted 1.2 million viewers under 18 years—which should come as no surprise, in that teenagers often want to do just what they are prohibited from doing, especially if that something has been published by MTV.

MTV also notes that it toned down depictions of drug and alcohol use, violence, and sex compared with the original version of the show that aired in the United Kingdom. On both these points, MTV may be factually correct. But by publicizing this form of reality, it is also shifting what viewers regard as standard, rather than obscenity.

Discussion Question: Is MTV behaving in an ethically responsible manner in broadcasting Skins?

Brian Stelter, “A Racy Show With Teenagers Steps Back from a Boundary,” The New York Times, January 19, 2011.

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