I was a teenager when MTV decided not to air her "Justify My Love" video, a decision that was considered newsworthy for some reason. I was very into Madonna at the time (what some might consider an example of "foreshadowing"), and was really, really interested in knowing what my favorite pop star had done. My father, being an obliging chap, recorded the episode of "Nightline" during which the video was aired and discussed. I was, as the kids these days would say, totes excited. Imagine my dismay then, when I eagerly pressed "play" on the old VCR, only to find that someone had paused the recorder during the part where the video was shown, and restarted it for the subsequent analysis and discussion. Someone, it turns out, was not so very obliging after all. This was an example of what I understand to be "parenting." (I have since managed to pollute my mind with the video in question.)
I bring all of this up to make two points about the new MTV series "Skins," which they gleefully ripped off from the BBC. I've seen a couple of episodes of the British original, which seems to revolve around the louche lives of a bunch of desultory teenagers. I found it kind of dull, but then again I'm old. Here's what the Times has to say:
Last week, my colleague Brian Stelter reported that on Tuesday, the day after the pilot episode of “Skins” was shown on MTV, executives at the cable channel were frantically meeting to discuss whether the salacious teenage drama starring actors as young as 15 might violate federal child pornography statutes.
Senior executives are now considering additional editing for coming episodes, but that’s a little like trying to lock the door after a naked 17-year-old has already busted out and gone running down the street, which is precisely what one of the characters does in Episode 3 — with a pill-enhanced erection, no less.
In retrospect, MTV's refusal to air Madonna's video seems downright quaint, doesn't it? In two short decades they've gone from a firm "no stylized video orgies" stance to possibly violating child pornography laws. Strong work, MTV! Shall we expect hard-core porn in another twenty?
The other thought that crossed my mind reading the Times article this morning was that today's well-intentioned parents are pretty much outta luck if they wish to keep their kids from watching this show. (Lord knows, if I were still an adolescent now, the chances I would be allowed to watch "Skins" are somewhere between "diddly" and "squat.") Media technology being what it is, would-be viewers of any age can find the content with minimal effort on the Internet.
Now, the debate about whether shows like this corrupt otherwise innocent youth or merely reflect the already-corrupt state that they're in is nothing new, and I'm not going to cluck my tongue that society is going to crumble before our eyes because of this particular program. I do think that MTV has done more than any other single media outlet to make our popular culture more obnoxious, idiotic and crass, and yes, I am including Fox in that statement. However, I suspect the Republic will survive yet another assault on its crumbling sense of taste and decorum.
What are modern parents to do? Here's my plan for when the Critter wants to watch whatever horror MTV or the like has made popular when he's a teenager -- I plan to suffer through watching the damn thing myself, and then make him talk to me about it. (If I can suffer through "V," I can suffer through anything.) Trying fruitlessly to prevent him from watching what will then probably be streamable right into his visual cortex seems a waste of effort. Watching it myself and making him listen to my opinion will serve two purposes -- I will be able to at least temper the malign influence of the show with my own perspectives, and I will be able to suck all the pleasure out of his watching it by making it a chore. Nothing is less cool than something your parents make you talk about.
If I can ruin something tantalizing and prurient for my own adolescent son, I will consider myself a success as a parent.