A boy drugs a girl at a party in order to have sex. A guy is told to lose his virginity by 17 or his friends won’t associate with him. Guys have sex with guys for drugs. Girls pleasure themselves. Underage drinking leads to almost death.
A 15-year-old girl loses her virginity in a supply closet to a boy who doesn’t want to go “public” with the relationship. The girl is then falsely accused of suicide. A mother tells her daughter, a product of teenage pregnancy, she would be “prettier” by wearing “more revealing clothing.” The same mother chose to get breast implants instead of attending college, and, along with other characters, is not a stranger to explicit language.
No big deal, right?
Apparently, that’s MTV’s attitude about broadcasting two television series -- Skins and Awkward, respectively -- that have more than just nudity, sex, drugs, and underage drinking in common. They are also both the prodigy of a network that used to stand for Music Television.
Let’s not forget MTV’s series TheHard Times of RJ Berger, which tells the story of a nerdy boy who is ignored in high school until his pants fall down, allowing his peers to discover that he is “well endowed.” Yes, that is the basis of the plotline . . . along with his parents making a sex video, his much older employer trying to convince him (while barely dressed in a loosely hanging bathrobe) to have sex with her, losing his virginity to a girl in the hospital because “it’s the right thing to do,” and calling himself “God’s urinal cake.”
Apparently, MTV’s hit show Jersey Shore, which documents the lives of Italian-American “Guidos” and “Guidettes” partying their summer away, is the least of the network’s concerns. And that was already a stretch.
When did shows like Skins, Awkward, TheHard Times of RJ Berger, and Jersey Shore become a spectacle for America to see? Some say it began with MTV’s show True Life, which documents the lives of porn stars, teens who have “hot moms,” sex addicts, prostitutes, bisexuals, drug addicts, and those in other unappealing lifestyles. Yet, True Life began in 1999, many years before these other provocative shows aired. What makes these newest MTV series different is their shamelessness in exposing nudity and sex scenes that are, literally, borderline pornography. True Life at least exposed the negative sides of these lifestyles as well, instead of glorifying and glamorizing sex amongst young, unmarried adults as the new shows do.
My question is this -- what happened? What happened that MTV producers now think this content is appropriate to air?
It helps to look at the shift in MTV's focus, from music to TV series. MTV stands for Music Television. On a given 24-hour day, this music television network plays six hours of music videos. Thus, ¼ of air-time is music while ¾ is television shows. And what’s even more interesting is that the time the music is played, from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., is when its audience is either asleep or at school.
MTV made a shift from just music to a full-service network to increase its profits, which is understandable. Yet MTV was making a large profit after its transition in 1986 and before shows like Awkward and Skins, so why the need to show complete nudity and sex scenes now? I suspect the answer is a desire to increase profits even further. Again, this is understandable. When, however, does wanting to make more money become greed? In my opinion, it occurs when a company is willing to do whatever it takes to make this money, when a company like MTV is willing to solicit teens and exploit their desires for a larger profit.
But take heart: The network’s plans to leave the music days behind in search of inappropriate teenage shows to increase profit aren’t necessarily working. The network’s newest idea, to document the journeys of young adults “ready to hand over their V-card,” was put to rest this spring. The network pulled the casting call for Lose It from its website before its May 28 expiration date, simply stating that it was “a preliminary casting notice, and we're not moving forward with a pilot” (according toFox News).
To add more hope, MTV also pulled the show Skins (whose title plays on how much skin is seen in the show), after only two seasons. The network said that its version of the show didn’t connect as well with the U.S. audience as it did with the U.K. audience, where the original show is in its seventh season.
For these feats, we can think groups that have the courage to stand up for good morals. One such group is the Parents Television Council, which, within hours of the Skins premiere, called the Department of Justice to open an investigation on child pornography and exploitation of actors as young as 15.
While some may claim that the PTC is too conservative, they weren’t the only group to raise concerns. Taco Bell actually pulled its advertising campaign for Skins, saying that the show does not fits their brand.
Indeed, progress is being made. Yet, we can’t stop the fight at two canceled shows. Other shows, such as Teen Mom, are still regulars on MTV’s schedule. Perhaps the fight starts with changing the minds of teens, some of whom call the shows “true to life.”
Yet as a teenager myself, I hardly equate these explicit shows to real life. While I may have chosen to live a fairly conservative life, I also do not consider myself to be completely blind to the realities around me. While underage drinking and drug use may be prominent, I do not believe, at least from what I have seen and heard, that young adults are willing to have sex anywhere, anytime, with anyone . . . certainly not in the supply closet at summer camp.
But what I think could happen is this: Younger people, perhaps even middle-schoolers, who haven’t experienced the “real life” of high school could perceive the “sex anytime, anywhere, with anyone” mentality as, indeed, real life, and perhaps gravitate toward this lifestyle. MTV does, after all, portray the actions in the shows as “normal.”
In fairness to MTV, the network does provide ratings for its shows. In fact, Skins is rated TV-MA, which means that, before it was canceled, it couldn’t be broadcast before 10 p.m. and that it was made for viewers over 17.
But there is a contradiction: The show is ABOUT HIGH SCHOOLERS. So, the show is even too inappropriate for the people in the show to watch, as well as the audience it caters to? No wonder it didn’t succeed.
The media has been asking this question recently: Has MTV gone too far?
The answer is yes. MTV has, for a long time, been much more than just music television. And what it has become should give everyone cause for concern.
Image copyright MTV.
Megan Schultz is an editorial intern at BreakPoint and a student of broadcast journalism and political science at the University of Missouri.