MTV’s ‘Skins’ Peddles Soft Porn to Minors



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.



Why Lower the Drinking Age? To Avoid Responsibility

by Christopher Paslay


I’ll tell it to you straight: The Amethyst Initiative, the movement by college administrators to lower the drinking age to 18 in the United States, is a sham.  A fraud.  A farce in five acts.


Founded by John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, and supported by presidents from over 100 of the nation’s top universities, the Amethyst Initiative argues that current drinking laws actually encourage binge drinking by college students on campus. 


“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” said John McCardell.  “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”


John McCardell and his colleagues have dressed up the Amethyst Initiative quite nicely.  At first glance, the organization’s aim to support “informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old drinking age” seems almost respectable.  So does its mission to “call upon elected officials to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.”


But when you cut through all of Amethyst’s political rhetoric, the organization’s ulterior motive becomes clear: To free America’s colleges and universities from the responsibility of dealing with underage drinking. 


I am not the first person to suggest this.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving has spoken out against McCardell’s campaign to lower the drinking age as well.


The Amethyst Initiative’s reasoning is quite faulty when you examine it closely.  Their central tenet is that “Twenty-one is not working”.  On their website they liken the current drinking age to prohibition, and insist that “alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.”


In other words, just like with sex, the “abstinence-only” model isn’t working.  If we lowered the drinking age to 18, kids wouldn’t feel pressured to “binge” drink.  They’d be exposed to alcohol three years earlier, and as a result, they’d learn to drink responsibly. 


Please.  This is the familiar “the United States is too puritanical” argument, an attempt to compare the drinking habits of Americans to those of the Italians, Spanish and French.  The argument is that Europeans—liberal and unrestrained—grow up drinking wine with meals from a young age, so there is no need for rebellious, clandestine binge drinking. 


There is only one major flaw with this argument: America isn’t Europe.  And despite the election of Barack Obama, we will never be.  Unlike Europeans, Americans can’t quite grasp the concept of moderation.  Our culture clearly believes the motto that more is better.  This is true from fast food to SUVs, from a person’s annual income to a woman’s breast size.  More, more, more, more, more.     


The problem of college binge drinking is much more complex than age.  To combat alcohol abuse on American campuses we must first fight our culture’s need for instant gratification; in short, our society must start teaching its young people about dignity and restraint. 


Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a well known American Buddhist abbot, addressed the need for Americans to resist their self-destructive impulses in his essay entitled, “The Dignity of Restraint” (I highly recommend clicking on the link and reading the whole thing).  In it Bhikkhu states, “If we don’t have any restraint, we don’t have any control over where our lives are going. Anything that comes our way immediately pulls us into its wake, and we lose our sense of priorities, of what’s really worthwhile, of what’s not worthwhile, of the pleasures we’d gain by saying ‘No’ to other pleasures.


It’s important to realize the role that restraint can play in finding true well-being for ourselves. It helps us realize that we’re not giving up anything we really need. There’s a part of us that resists this truth, and our culture hasn’t been very helpful. The lessons our culture teaches us—to go out and buy, buy, buy, be greedy, give in—are all over the place. And what kind of dignity comes from following those messages? The dignity of a fish gobbling down bait.


I find Thanissaro’s phrase “give in” very telling; that’s exactly what the Amethyst Initiative is asking lawmakers to do: give in to underage drinkers to spare universities the inconvenience of a true crackdown. 


Will dropping the drinking age from 21 to 18 temper a young  person’s urge to consume alcohol?  Not on your life.    


The Amethyst Initiative is a bunch of smoke and mirrors.  College presidents must find solutions to campus alcoholism rather than trying to pass the buck by redefining the law.