‘Skins’ Draws Child Porn Complaints

by | January 20, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Skins

Skins (MTV)

Skins (MTV)

On Monday, controversial new teen program “Skins” debuted on MTV to good ratings and bad reviews.  Critics pointed out that the show was a watered down version of the British original, which was filled with sex, drugs, and swearing. 

Now, the Parents Television Council has added fuel to the fire.  According to The Hollywood Reporter, the conservative watchdog organization has asked the Federal Government to investigate the show, claiming that, “In addition to the sexual content on the show involving cast members as young as 15, PTC counted 42 depictions and references to drugs and alcohol in the premiere episode… It is clear that Viacom has knowingly produced material that may well be in violation of [several anti-child pornography laws.]“ 

Has MTV’s “Skins” Campaign Gone Too Far?

PTC also launched a boycott of one of the show’s sponsors, Taco Bell. And it worked. By Thursday, Taco Bell announced they were pulling their ads due to the show’s racy content.

“Upon further review, we’ve decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming,” spokesperson Rob Poetsch told THR.

The phrase “child porn” conjures up images of graphic sex scenes featuring underage actors.  Unlike most teen dramas that star actors in their early twenties, “Skins” made an effort to cast actual teenagers in most roles. 

According to the New York Times, MTV executives are worried that some scenes from upcoming episodes may fit the legal definition of child pornography and have ordered the show’s producers to edit the episodes to remove the potentially offensive content.

The Times notes child pornography is “defined by the United States as any visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. In some cases, ‘a picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive,’ according to the Justice Department’s legal guidance. Anyone younger than 18 is considered to be a minor.”

Actress Thora Birch was only 17 when she filmed a suggestive topless scene in the film “American Beauty.”  The film won the Oscar for Best Picture and was not considered pornographic.  The PTC has swayed the government in the past.  Their members successfully pressed the FCC to fine CBS for an episode of the procedural “Without A Trace” that featured a brief, nudity-free scene of a teen orgy.

As a cable channel, MTV is not subject to FCC rules.  Generally speaking, basic cable channels opt not to air the f-word or full-frontal nudity.  MTV chose to air “Skins” after 10 p.m. and give it a TV-MA rating to minimize the number of children who would watch it. But unlike the broadcast networks, it cannot be fined by the FCC for airing graphic content deemed offensive.  The British “Skins,” which also starred teen actors, aired on BBC America and is available right here.  There were no legal issues with that program.

“Skins”: MTV’s Sinister Plot Exposing Kids to What, Exactly?

This begs the question: Is MTV truly concerned that the FBI is going to arrest “Skins” producers and network executives, or is this all an elaborate marketing campaign?  The headline-generating controversy could make the show seem more titillating and attract viewers who are hoping to see something scandalous.

In the second season of  “Gossip Girl,” when its characters were still in high school, the CW marketed the show with the tagline “OMFG” and billboards that featured the show’s stars in sexy poses, coupled with quotes from critics and watchdog organizations proclaiming it inappropriate for teen viewers. 

This could be taking it one step further: The show’s so edgy that it’s illegal.  MTV gets to air a series that contains little of what has not been seen before, while claiming that it is pushing the boundaries.  How long before the “too hot for TV” scenes end up on the DVD extras or the web site?

Granted, American society is growing increasingly hypocritical about teenage sexuality.  While Miley Cyrus can dance on a stripper pole at an awards show meant to be watched by children, average teens are being arrested for sending sexy cell phone photos of themselves to their significant others. 

MTV may be genuinely concerned that the government might launch an investigation or that advertisers will bow to pressure from the PTC and avoid the show. The only people who are likely to be truly upset by the changes to upcoming episodes are the show’s British producers, who must be frustrated by MTV’s prudishness, and the PTC itself, who will have less to complain about.