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Britain pushes Gossip Girl envelope with Skins



“When Jerry Springer briefly visited the UK to make a British version of his show, he was reportedly astonished by the amount of foul language he heard…There is an old joke about an English tourist asking a New York taxi-driver, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me the way to Carnegie Hall, or shall I just go and Eff myself?’ Nowadays the joke works better with an American asking the way to Picadilly Circus.”British author Lynne Truss, in her book Talk to the Hand


Ms. Truss’ acerbic observation is more than borne out by one of the latest television imports from Britain, the unbelievably foul teenage soap opera Skins


First shown on the British pay-TV channel E4 last year, Skins is carried by the BBC America network in the U.S.  BBC is included on Direc TV’s basic-level “Choice” package and Dish Network’s “America’s Top 200” expanded basic package, as well as on many expanded basic cable TV packages – meaning that millions of Americans are forced to pay for the show.


But the program is of concern not only because many American satellite and cable subscribers are required to subsidize it; rather, it is the show’s rancid content which should cause every parent who receives BBC America to look into blocking the channel.


The PTC has frequently warned parents about the content on such American-made teen-targeted programs as the CW network’s Gossip Girl and its new 90210. These programs are glorify teens drinking, smoking marijuana and having sex, both with adults and with one another; but contrasted with their overseas counterpart Skins, they appear almost tame.


Skins (the word is slang for the papers used to roll marijuana “joints”) follows the lives of a group of teenagers in the British city of Bristol. Main characters include the manipulative Tony, his girlfriend Michelle, Tony’s friend Sid (who is secretly infatuated with Michelle), the Muslim Anwar and his gay friend Maxxie, and the party-hardy Chris, who is having sex with his teacher.  In just the last two episodes to air on BBC America, viewers were bombarded with overwhelming amounts of profanity, drug references, and scenes of teens having sex.


On the September 7th episode airing at 10:00 p.m. ET, loser Sid, who is failing his classes at school, encounters Maxxie and Anwar, who urge him to skip class and do drugs instead in the following scintillating dialogue:


Maxxie:  “F*** that. Why don't you go to the green and get stoned instead?...F*** it.”

Sid: “I gotta go to this lesson.”

Maxxie: “F*** it, man.”

Sid: “F*** it?”

Anwar: “F*** it.”


Though the f-words are muted for American broadcast, they were not in the original British broadcasts; nor is any effort made to disguise what is being said. But failing grades, drugs and profanity are far from the only things on Sid’s mind. Later, viewers see Sid masturbating in bed, as he gazes at a photo of Tony's girlfriend Michelle. Pictures of topless women – some blurred, some not – cover the walls, and a bong is seen on Sid’s bedside table. As Sid pleasures himself, Tony walks in and notices the picture of his girlfriend, and the use to which Sid is putting it. Naturally, living in the Skins universe, Tony is not at all disturbed by seeing his friend masturbate to a picture of Tony’s own girlfriend, only remarking, “Is that a picture of my girlfriend? Wondered where that went.”


But even more is depressing Sid. While many teens undergo rough spots in their relationship with their parents, most do not see the level of antipathy shown between Sid and his father.  When Sid arrives home bloodied and bruised from being assaulted after a night of drinking, he is lovingly greeted by his father:


Sid's father: “Where the f*** have you been?...What's that smell?”

Sid: “Piss.”

Sid's father: “Yours?”

Sid: “Someone else's.”

Sid's father: “You snuck out. You even did a half-assed job of that.”

Sid: “Dad, you're such a...”

Sid's father: “Such a what? Such a f****** what? Such a f****** what?”

Sid: “Dildo.”


Sid's mother smirks.


Sid's father: “F*** the pair of you!”


Later in the episode, Sid's father tells Sid that his mother has left them.


Sid: “Because you’re f******* useless, aren't you? You sodding idiot. You stupid bastard! You f****** stupid bastard! That's my f****** Mom and she's f******* gone.”


Fortunately, Sid can turn to his teacher for comfort:


Sid: “My dad thinks I'm a complete f***-up and can't stop acting like a f***- up, and no matter what I try I can't stop pissing everyone off.”


Teacher: “Do your f****** coursework Sid, or else you’re f*****.”


But Sid is only one member of the crushingly depressing teen ensemble at the center of Skins. At a live stage show, Michelle bursts into a dressing room, to find her boyfriend Tony fondling a Posh Girl’s breasts.


Michelle: “What the f***!... What the hell is going on?”

Tony: “The simple act of performance, sweetie. What do you think?”

Michelle: “Bulls***, Tony. God, you're such a wanker!” (to the Posh Girl) “You can f*** off too…You whore!”


Michelle slaps the Posh Girl.


Posh Girl: “I'll kill you, you f****** flat-chested, c***-sucking spastic horse –f*****!”


And when Sid calls Michelle to commiserate, she responds with:


Michelle: “F*** off! I don't want to speak to you wankers... I can't take your s***... You both f***** me over!”


Remember: all of the above occurred in only ONE episode of the teen-targeted program. Lest such content be dismissed as an anomaly, let us examine the next episode, from September 14th at 10:00 p.m. ET (only 9:00 p.m. Sunday night in the Central and Mountain time zones). That episode found the fun-filled Skins gang on a school-sponsored field trip to Russia. The hapless Sid has been charged with smuggling drugs past the Russian authorities, with Tony being quick to get to the bottom of matters:


Chris: “Where'd you hide the drugs then?”

Anwar: “I don't have any. I thought you were bringing ‘em.”

Tony: “Don't panic boys. I've got a back-up plan.”

Maxxie: “Not up his ass?”


Later, Sid expresses his frustration at being unable to “move” the drugs.


Sid: “I pushed and pushed but still nothing.”

Tony: “What the f*** are we gonna do here without any drugs?”


Among other travails in the episode, Tony expresses interest in having sex with the gay Maxxie, while Anwar is concerned about being in the same room with Maxxie when he has sex. Idly looking through Maxxie's sketchbook and seeing a close-up drawing of a penis, Anwar checks his own penis, thinking this is a sketch of his genitals. Anwar then walks over to the window and sees a young, sexily-dressed Russian woman. Anwar ogles various parts of her body, while trying to decide whether to tell his friends about the woman immediately or masturbate first: “Wank or tell group?...Wank or tell group?” Ultimately, Anwar brings the Russian girl, Anka, back to his room, and seduces her tenderly:


Anwar: “If only you knew the things I'd love to do to you. Rub my fingers through your hair. Kiss your lips. Kiss your neck. C** on your t***.”


But Anwar is not the only one to enjoy sex with an older woman on his school field trip. After repulsing a fellow adult teacher’s advances, schoolteacher Angie grabs teenage student Chris, kisses him and proceeds to have vigorous sex with him. Afterward, she remarks:


Angie: “Chris, this was a one-off. I don't have sex with my 17-year-old students…And you do know that this can never ever happen again.”


After this mature statement, teacher Angie immediately jumps on top of Chris and starts kissing him, and they have sex again. In a world where all too many teenage boys have recently been sexually assaulted by adult woman teachers, such a portrayal is irresponsible at best.


Yet this is what passes, not only for entertainment, but for realism among the international entertainment industry. The show’s creators claim that Skins is representative of most average teens’ everyday lives; but even Skins’ producer, while praising the show for being "edgy, funny and rude," has stated that she is unsure whether the show is appropriate for teens.


In spite of this fact – or perhaps because of it -- in its short life Skins has been heaped with awards. Demonstrating that British critics and “creative” personnel are as out-of-touch with real life and parental concerns as their American counterparts, Skins was nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards (equivalent to the American Emmys) for Best Drama and Break-Thru Talent, and won for Best Title Sequence. Skins  was also given the prestigious Europe-wide Rose d’Or award for Best Drama in 2008. And the program has earned another mark of fame: the drama has become so popular in Britain that any occasion involving heavy drinking and recreational drug use is now referred to among teens as a “Skins party.”


In the earliest days of the American republic, the nation’s Founders took pride in the fact that the United States were not like Europe, which they saw a victim to its own moral turpitude and decadence. Unfortunately, today Hollywood’s so-called “creative” personnel have rejected the Founders’ passion for rectitude, and instead consider Europe a model of “progress.” Be it ever so depraved, if Europeans are doing it, then American entertainment, they feel, should and must follow suit.  


And that is the real danger of Skins. Historically, British programming has had a tremendous influence on American television. Many hugely important and popular American programs, from All in the Family and Sanford and Son to Three’s Company, were inspired by British programs with similar premises. American television has already begun glamorizing teen drug use and promiscuous sex; but now, with the added cachet of an award-winning British program to point to as a model (and from which to draw additional examples of horrific teen behavior), American programs aimed at teens, bad as they are, may see an exponential increase in explicit content…which will, in turn, lead to far greater parental concern, and potentially, to far greater problems for teens who see such programs as worthy of emulation.


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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