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Embracing Skins

The cast of MTV's Skins, a gritty, shockingly honest look at teenagerhood.

On the heels of getting dropped by yet another sponsor and seeing its ratings decline dramatically, it seems Skins is undergoing a lot of what it depicts on its show: a sudden crash after brief euphoria.

After a premiere of 3.3 million viewers, the second episode pulled only 1.6 million, a dramatic drop by any standard. And all the while, the show is continuing to take heat from the people that watch it.

The Parents’ Television Council declares that it needs to be investigated, implying it's dangerous for kids.

But that’s not the way I see it. That’s not the way teenagers see it.

Skins creator Bryan Elsley has never made a secret of his intentions with his hit UK program with a cult-like following. “It’s a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young peoples’ lives,” he wrote last week in the Huffington Post. “It tries to tell the truth. Sometimes that truth can be a little painful.”

And anyone who has ever tuned into Bryan Elsley’s show would have felt this pain. Anyone that could get over the sensationalism of drugs and sex would be able to see Skins as a harshly, and perhaps sadly, enlightening vignette of teenagerhood in the 21st century- a time when young people are infused with invincibility, sex is glorified, and drugs flow freely on the streets. And anyone would be able to see the intense emotionality of teenagerhood as Skins portrays it to be, the intense emotionality of real life.  

Viewers confront Cassie’s anorexia as she fails to, question long-held beliefs as Anwar grapples with religion, and reach out to Maxxie as he is ostracized. It is fitting that these are the stories of Skins: for if even sensationalized characters must undergo the small tragedies of teenagerhood, you are not alone in your trials.  

“I have lost count of the letters we have been sent by viewers who tell us that that they have been able to approach their parents or teachers with their difficulties after watching the show,” Elsley writes. “It is something we take a great deal of pride in.”

So let teenagers live and learn and grow alongside Elsley’s brilliantly human cast of characters; let us experience the drugs, the sex, and parties as Skins depicts them. Let us see that there is little glory to finding out the test came back positive, little glory to scrubbing the vomit off your carpet, little glory to being assaulted after failing to repay a drug dealer. Let us realize that there is little glory to the Skins life.

Let us learn this from television, lest we learn the hard way.  

But let us also learn to stand by our friends even as they fall from grace, as the cast does for protagonist Tony after his life is derailed by a bus accident. Let us be moved by Maxxie’s challenges of sexuality and Anwar’s challenges of culture in hopes that we can be more accepting in years to come.

Most of all, let teenagers learn the most pervasive lesson of Skins: that in an often-overwhelming world, we are never alone in confronting our challenges.

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