In our opinion: MTV, other networks taking smut to new lows

Published: Monday, Jan. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The real shocker would be if MTV were to produce a sharp and witty show that upheld traditional values as a way for teenagers to empower themselves and develop healthy relationships.

Yeah, right.

Instead, what we get from MTV and other television networks is a steady stream of predictable and banal "shock" programs designed to attract attention by outdoing each other in ways to debase young minds, targeting women in particular, all while hoping to attract an audience of behaviorally impoverished hipsters large enough to pay the bills. The latest example is a show called "Skins," which is so far over the constantly sliding line of decency that even some MTV executives worried they might be running afoul of federal laws against child pornography. Because of this, the New York Times reports, an upcoming episode has been tamed a bit.

"Skins" uses teenage actors aged 15 to 19, some of whom never have acted before. Federal law prohibits any depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit behavior. The nudity in this show, combined with the sexually charged dialog (the first episode featured teenage girls talking about, among other things, wanting to be drugged at parties in order to enjoy elicit encounters), makes one wonder how authorities would react if they found a copy of it lurking on a suspected pedophile's hard drive.

Thank goodness Taco Bell decided to pull its advertising from the show, even though it attracted 3 million viewers to its initial episode. It appears that only pressure from advertisers or from the law will have any deterrent effect on the producers.

Whenever we write about such things, some well-meaning people accuse us of merely granting more attention to the programs in question, in effect giving them more of what they want. But "Skins" is not directed at the adult audience that is most likely to read this editorial. It is directed at teenagers, without any thought for their moral or physical health. Parents need to know about this.

Defenders of such programs typically argue they are painting a realistic picture of life — one that sheltered people need to confront. That is a destructive lie. Many teenagers have no desire to live such a lifestyle and are made to feel odd or abnormal by such portrayals. And even if such behavior is acceptable to some, shows like "Skins" fall far short of a realistic portrayal, which would have to include all the agonizing and sorrowful consequences.

Plenty of reliable research has been conducted into the affects of promiscuity on the adolescent mind. The American Psychological Association has drawn a strong connection between indecent material and the sexualization of girls and women. The result, it said, is that fewer girls pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while young men begin to view girls more as objects than as human beings.

That's similar to the concerns family therapist Terry Real expressed about "Skins" on "Good Morning America" last week. He said the biggest concern is in how the show portrays "girls feeling they need to service boys in order to keep them." This, he said, is a "backlash to the empowerment of girls."

It's the sort of thing that ought to attract a congressional investigation, as well as the outrage of all parents.

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