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“Skins” Episode 3: Whatever you do, don’t watch it!

MTV’s “Skins” is dangerously close to pornography. It depicts teenagers having sex. Also, there are drugs. Filthy stuff. And if you want to see the worst of it, tune in to Episode 3, airing January 31 at 10/9 central. Who knows what scandalous things you might see!

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UPDATE: A lot of people are finding this post by searching for Skins Episode 3, which is no longer available on MTV.com. I’m really sorry I don’t have a copy of the episode available here. This blog post was written before Skins Episode 3 aired, commenting on the media hysteria about it. If you’re interested in writing, media and television, you should visit the Breaking Copy home page and browse our latest headlines.

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If you read and watch the news, you’ve been led to believe “Skins” is filled with offensive content. In reality, “Skins” is a work of edgy fiction in the mold of young adult novels, Broadway shows like “Grease” and “Rent,” and your everyday over-achieving high school drama club. It’s also a retread of a British show that’s been airing for years to high acclaim. It’s probably going to be very good television. It won’t be pornographic by any definition of the word. What else is it? So far, it’s a study in very shrewd marketing.

MTV has perfected the art of spinning controversy into ratings. It’s amazing it still works after all this time, yet it clearly does. If you ran MTV, wouldn’t you do the same?

Usually it starts with a newspaper dutifully reporting a single complaint by an easily provoked interest group. Who makes the first move doesn’t matter; it’s inevitable and somebody’s got to start it. Hit speed dial for that old standby, the Parents Television Council. Yesterday, “Skins” broke out with a page-1 report by Brian Stelter in The New York Times:

“In recent days, executives at the cable channel became concerned that some scenes from the provocative new show ‘Skins’ may violate federal child pornography statutes. The executives ordered the producers to make changes to tone down some of the most explicit content. They are particularly concerned about the third episode of the series, which is to be broadcast Jan. 31.”

Next come the rewrites and commentary. “Is MTV’s ‘Skins’ About to Break Child Pornography Laws?,” asks CBS News. Lisa de Moraraes, the wry TV critic for the Washington Post, writes in today’s paper: “The MTV suits seemed particularly exercised by Episode 3, set to air Jan. 31 – mark it on your calendar.”

Skins photoA story like this is good for journalists and their employers because it will get views and ratings—while serving readers and audiences, who get valuable water cooler currency (and blog fodder).

It’s good for the Parents Television Council, who get legitimacy and attention.

And it’s good for MTV. Someone involved in marketing the show obviously spoke to the Times. Serious repercussions are remote. Some sponsors will flee (adios Taco Bell) but not enough to stop the show from making money. Since this is on cable, so the government’s only interest is in whether crimes were committed during production, and they almost certainly weren’t. And really: Is this worse for children than Toddlers and Tiaras?

This is history repeating. Anybody remember this November 2009 story from the Newark Star-Ledger?—

“‘Jersey Shore,’ the MTV reality show that claims to lift the veil over ‘one of the Tri-state area’s most misunderstood species … the GUIDO’ (as per its press materials), is offensive to Italian-Americans and shouldn’t air, says Andre Dimino, the president of UNICO, the national Italian-American service organization based in Fairfield. UNICO, which also protested the portrayal of Italian-Americans as mobsters in ‘The Sopranos,’ says ‘Jersey Shore,’ which premieres Dec. 3, plays into another stereotype — young, dumb fist-pumping guys with a severe hair gel addiction.”

After that article, everybody started talking about “Jersey Shore,” which went on to become a huge hit, beloved by viewers fully aware that it’s trashy and makes fun of people. Now in its third season, “Jersey Shore” is still printing money.

I could spend an hour on Google digging up ten more examples of MTV and the news media scratching each others’ backs with stories of fabricated controversy, from “Beavis and Butthead” to Madonna videos to every episode of the VMAs.

But instead I’ll leave you with this clip from “The O’Reilly Factor” about “Skins.” Witness one controversial TV show helping out another controversial TV show. An outraged Gretchen Carlson declares, “In the third episode upcoming, there is a depiction of a naked boy!,” then adds “I think MTV got this child pornography thing out there on purpose!”

Wait, did she just say something that makes sense?

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under News & Journalism, Television