Six advertisers have pulled their commercials. Public statements -- both accusatory and defensive -- are flying. A criminal investigation has been requested, and there are reports of anxious, closed-door meetings among MTV execs. Rewrites are pending.
All this, and the controversial teen drama Skins (Monday, 10 p.m. ET) has only aired two episodes so far. What's going on?
Simply put, the show is about a group of teenagers obsessed with sex (hetero sex, gay sex, solo sex, virginity-losing sex, sex with erection-enhancing pills, sex in public, unwelcome sex, etc.) And while this isn't completely new territory for a network whose banner series include Jersey Shore and The Real World, Skins might have taken the racy subject matter too far.
How so? Some of its aggressively promiscuous, scantily clothed characters are played by teens under the age of 18. That means that, moral concerns aside, the show may have crossed a legal line: According to the Parents Television Council, which called for the criminal investigation, certain scenes may violate federal child pornography laws.
In the wake of these allegations, MTV released a statement that was the equivalent of a shrug. Spokesperson Jeannie Kedas insisted that the show would comply with all applicable legal requirements. And then she offered the old "this is just real life" line. "Skins is a show that addresses real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way," she said in a statement. In other words, "Get with it, you old fogies. Teens these days are sexually ravenous, drug-addled, insatiable participants of illegal activities. Get used to it."
The real reason MTV has championed the show is, of course, to get high ratings and big ad dollars. Their adolescent audience is curious about sex, so they look for ways to deliver it to them as explicitly as possible. And it has worked. The first episode of Skins set a network record for viewership. Well over 3 million viewers aged 12 to 34 watched the show. Over 1 million of them were under 18. No doubt the Parents Television Council, which condemned the show before it aired, helped drive lots of the viewers to their sets.
The skirmish didn't keep MTV from releasing its trailer for this week's episode. Its hot-and-heavy, lesbian PDA plays like a taunt, as if daring its wide-eyed viewers to look away. MTV would probably say that, actually, it's meant to attract the millions of teens who already relate to this behavior.
Even if this were true, the adults who've created this show are romanticizing promiscuous, underaged sex, and that is just plain mean-spirited. No doubt many, many current-day adults -- including the suits at MTV -- made some ill-advised sexual choices when they were teens. Some have had their lives damaged by teen pregnancy or an STD. Others didn't suffer hard consequences, but now they look back on those days and realize the risks they took. It's a rare adult who doesn't look back on his or her mistakes and feel immensely lucky for averting disaster. Then there are the adults who turn around and make TV programming which tempts the next generation of teens to take the same stupid risks.
Skins encourages viewers to empathize with reckless kids. No, it's not instructing teens to make stupid choices. But it's putting the ideas out there, and calling them "real-world issues confronting teens in a frank way." That's like saying, 'Look, kids. This is what other people are doing. What do you think?'
Yes, some teens will hear about this flak and say, "Grow up. You don't understand." But that's because they've bought into the lie that they have to be hyper-sexual at an early age. Sadly, by the time some of them realize their mistake, it will be too late. But even that's good news for MTV. More candidates for Teen Mom!
Do you think MTV's Skins goes too far? Chime in below!