by Christopher Paslay
MTV is at it again. In their quest to make millions by pushing the boundaries of decency and self respect, the television network that long ago aired music videos recently premiered its series “Skins,” a racy show about the lives of nine high school friends stumbling through adolescence. The glorification of sex, drugs, and a general lack of moral character are the hook that brought in over 3 million viewers during its début episode.
A quick visit to their website will reveal how its producers are exploiting America’s addition to sex by repackaging soft-core pornography and selling it to minors. Only their attempt to cross the boundaries between the XXX adult world and the “TV Mature Audience” world may have gone too far.
The Parents Television Council is urging a boycott of the new show, and there have been talks of a criminal investigation to determine if MTV has broken any child pornography laws, being that some of the actors on Skins are as young as 15; Taco Bell, concerned about inappropriate content, pulled its advertising from the show.
Aside from accusations of criminal behavior, Skins will no doubt serve to further desensitize teens to gratuitous sex and drug use, and will only have a negative influence on attention-spans. Imagine trying to teach Shakespeare to a class of thirty 15-year-olds who are hopped-up on a healthy serving of Skins?
MTV’s exploitation of minors is nothing new. On January 30th, 2007, I published a commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined, “Trashy Teen Novels Glorify Bad Behavior”. This article, nearly four years old to the day, raised the same concerns about MTV that parents, prosecutors, and advertisers are making today.
Below is the article. It’s similarity to the MTV Skins controversy is quite curious.
Recently, I was in the teen section of a large bookstore skimming books for my 10th grade English class when I came across the young adult novel Beautiful Disaster by Kylie Adams. Captivated by its provocative cover—a dripping wet, bikini-clad blonde relaxing on the side of a swimming pool—I opened the book and began reading.
Within a dozen pages I was introduced to a cast of characters so unscrupulous and trashy that I thought I was reading a romance novel by Danielle Steel. The only difference, of course, is that all the characters in Beautiful Disaster were minors. Their ages ranged from 15 to 17, but this didn’t keep them from binge drinking, swearing, using illegal drugs, and engaging in promiscuous sex; one of the characters, a 15-year old girl named Shoshanna, actually had breast implants.
As if the book’s content wasn’t shocking enough, I then stumbled upon Gossip Girl, the first book in a scandalous series by Cecily von Ziegesar. Like the characters in Beautiful Disaster, the teens in Gossip Girl have a passion for sex, lies, and expensive booze. The excerpt on the book’s back cover best summed-up their lack of decency: “Welcome to New York City ‘s Upper East Side , where my friends and I live, go to school, play and sleep—sometimes with each other.”
Over the past five years, teen fiction has taken a nosedive right into the toilet. MTV Books, a joint venture between MTV and Pocket Books, seems to be on the forefront of the downward spiral. MTV Books has no qualms about using sex and violence to win over the attention spans of children. Although some of my colleagues feel this is an even trade-off because it keeps 16-year-old students interested in reading, I feel it is completely irresponsible.
For starters, publishers don’t have to corrupt minors to win their readership. There are many ways to get teens interested in reading—it just takes a little bit of time and creativity. Second, 16-year-olds aren’t even the ones reading these trashy books to begin with.
As a high school English teacher, I get a good perspective on what’s hot when it comes to young adult fiction. I see what books my students read and what they dump in their lockers, and it’s everything from test-preparation manuals to Japanese graphic novels to fantasy. From my experience, most 16-year-old students wouldn’t be caught dead reading anything within the “teen” genre. High school kids are too cool, too grown-up for teen books.
Upper classmen are getting ready to head to college or go off to work, and they have little tolerance for the fairytale crushes and catty gossip found in most contemporary young adult books.
It is the middle school students, ages 11 to 13, who are reading the teen genre. They’re the ones picking up books like Beautiful Disaster or Gossip Girl in order to see what it’s really like to be a teenager in high school. Of course, what they read isn’t real at all. It’s a lot of superficial nonsense, a make-believe world filled with steamy sex, vodka bongs, and pool parties. It’s a fantasy land where 15-year-old girls get breast implants and drink martinis on South Beach (on the back cover of Beautiful Disaster, in her author photo, Kylie Adams is shown drinking a martini).
The sad part is that adolescents really want to fit in; they want to be accepted by the popular crowd. Although teen fiction may not be a direct cause of teen violence and suicide, I do believe it has an impact.
The material found inside books such as Gossip Girl and Beautiful Disaster undoubtedly produce sexual frustration in hormone-laden young readers. The question is: How do young readers end up venting such frustration? Not by having sex in some luxury hotel with a beachfront view, I can tell you that. A more realistic scenario probably involves a over-eager boy stalking a female classmate by making unwanted sexual advances, or sending her obscene text-messages.
It’s time to clean up young adult fiction.
Publishers of contemporary teen books should stop peddling soft porn to minors, and go back to promoting storylines with substance and moral character.