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The world of television teen dramas has historically been populated by actors far past their high school years. Who could forget Luke Perry’s receding hairline while playing a sixteen-year-old on the original Beverly Hills, 90210? New shows like the 90210 remake and Glee have continued the tradition and feature a thirty-one-year-old and a twenty-eight-year-old, respectively, to play characters barely old enough to drive.
However, MTV’s new show Skins, is dealing with a different problem due to its more age-appropriate casting: potential violations of a federal child pornography statute. Based on a hit show from Britain, Skins is a scripted teenage drama — a slight change from MTV’s typical reality fare like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom. The producers of the show sought out new faces for the cast, and the actors are all under nineteen years old, with some as young as fifteen. Though an MTV spokeswoman described Skins as “a show that addresses real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way,” other commentators have noted the show’s risque scenes of underage drinking, sexual activity, and illegal drug use.
One such scene, set to air on January 31, originally showed a seventeen-year-old actor from behind as he ran naked down a street. Although MTV has stated its certainty that the show will comply “with all applicable legal requirements,” the scenes appear to at least arguably constitute child porn. The federal government’s definition of child pornography encompasses any “visual depiction . . . that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” The definition of sexually explicit conduct includes, among other things, the “graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.”
Viacom executives have reportedly told the show’s producers to make changes and tone down upcoming episodes of Skins. Nevertheless, the provocative scenes at issue have already led groups like the Parents Television Council (“PTC”) to demand a federal investigation into the alleged violations. Calling Skins the “most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children,” the PTC is encouraging viewers to boycott the show’s advertisers. In response to the controversy, some of the show’s major sponsors have already pulled their advertising from Skins, including Taco Bell, Wrigley, and Subway.
Despite the fact that parents are concerned, early reports show teenagers are tuning in. The first episode of Skins set a premiere episode record for MTV among viewers ages twelve to thirty-four. Though MTV is known for pushing limits, the racy material in Skins may actually violate the law in this case. Perhaps the show would have been better off using the teen drama formula of casting actors nearing their quarter-life crisis to avoid the legal implications of mature content mixed with underage actors.
– Megan DeLockery
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