Surprise! Conservatives Freaking Out About “Skins,” Sex, Drugs (UPDATED)

ETA 1-22-11: H&R Block, GM, Taco Bell and Wrigleys have now also pulled advertising from skins. MTV said they’re confident that advertisers will work with Skins and that not every company is right for every show. Then they released a trailer that contains a lesbian kiss.

Sofia Black D’Elia, who plays Tea The Lesbian, has said:  “It’s what teens are doing. It’s the way teenagers believe, I think, especially you know in certain situations when you come from home lives where your parents don’t really support you or really listen to you. That’s what most of these kids are going through. And so, um, the drugs and the sex, they’re vices, and that’s what teenagers have.”

At HuffPo, Tina Wells points out that parents should teach their children, they shouldn’t let MTV teach their children for crying out loud. It’s good, you should read it. The Los Angeles Times reminds parents that monitoring the TV is their own job.


When the credits rolled after the first episode of Skins MTV (which debuted to fairly impressive ratings, drawing the most 12-34 viewers than any other MTV series launch), the very first reaction that came into my head, and, consequently, the thing I immediately said out loud: Man I can’t wait for allllll the parents to flip their shit over this.

Lo and behold, they have.

Acording to Deadline Hollywood, the Parents Television Council is “calling on the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committee and the Department of Justice to open an investigation for possible child pornography and exploitation” on MTV’s Skins (a remake of the British show), which many of you disliked for other, and often entirely opposite, reasons.

To some degree, the pressure has worked — Taco Bell has pulled its ads from Skins and the PTC is now encouraging its members to target GM next. The Hollywood Reporter also reports that The New York Times reported that “a number of executives met on Tuesday over concerns the show could violate pornography laws” although MTV would not confirm this.

The PTC is concerned with sexual content on the show involving cast members “as young as 15” and “42 depictions and references to drugs and alcohol in the premiere episode alone.”

In the past week, the Parents Television Council has been the target of derision from snide television “critics” and representatives of the entertainment industry – all because we dared to suggest that MTV’s new show Skins was not suited for viewing by children. But any objective viewer – that is to say, one whose livelihood does not depend on manufacturing corrosive programming, delivering children’s eyeballs, hearts, and minds to advertisers, or fawning over the entertainment industry in print – would be forced to conclude that the PTC is exactly right in its estimate of the show. For its exhaustive, soul-crushing portrayal of high-school children obsessed with drugs and sex, MTV’s Skins (10:00 p.m. ET) is the Worst Cable TV Show of the Week.

The Parents Television Council Highly Subjective “Worst Cable TV Show of the Week” column (done in a jarring “recap” style with sentences like, “Snooki” notes, “I look like a hooker.” Whatever “Snooki’s” other flaws – and they are ample – at least she is capable of honest self-evaluation), zings Skins like so:

– Like Dawson’s Creek, Gossip Girl, and dozens of other shows before it, Skins is a ludicrous caricature of what teens wish life was like…or more accurately, what pathetic, sex-obsessed middle-aged network programmers going through midlife crises wish their teenage lives had been like.

Tony’s obsession with his friend’s virginity borders on the pathological. Is any teen really that concerned about whether or not his friend is a virgin?

– After some more hilariously overblown “hip” dialogue (despite the show’s alleged “authenticity,” Tony certainly talks like a character in a scripted drama. Well, a really poorly scripted drama)…

When BBC America aired Skins, the Parents Television Council regularly rewarded it with its “Worst Cable TV Show of the Week” Award, saying Skins “makes Gossip Girl look like an ice cream social.”

Season 3, Episode JJ: “…in the Skins universe, everyone in high school is having sex with everyone else – all while high on pot or stoned on pills (preferably both at once). Just like real life!”

Season 3, Episode Thomas: “Though initially sweet-natured and obedient to his parents, a few days experiencing the depravity of the psychotic Skins gang turns Thomas into yet another pot-smoking pervert.”

Parents Television Council 101

So first — for those of you unaware — a little background on The Parents Television Council, the fine human beings responsible for 99% of FCC complaints.

The PTC (Parents Television Council), whose supporters have included Charlton Heston, Billy Ray Cyrus and Joe Lieberman, identifies as “non-partisan” and was founded in 1995 by L Brent Bozell III, a douchebag conservative writer & activist and head of The Media Research Center, which we LOATHE and which seeks to “expose liberal bias” with an annual operating budget of 10 fucking million dollars. 

The Council basically launches campaigns to hold advertisers and networks and cable companies accountable for television content the Council deems as harmful to children.  They hate Dawson’s Creek and Will & Grace, they love Sunday Night Football and Seventh Heaven.

Things the Parents Television Council have rallied against include The World Wrestling Federation, Bono saying “fuck” at the Golden Globes (the FCC received only 234 complaints, 217 of which came from the PTC), someone saying “fuck” during an episode of Big Brother, masturbation in That 70’s Show, Janet Jackson‘s nipple, a “teen orgy” scene in Without a Trace, a live broadcast of the unedited line “who the fuck are you” in The Who‘s Live 8 performance, female nudity in NYPD Blue, Paris Hilton‘s Carls Jr ad, “Dick in a Box,” and The Gossip Girl threesome.

In 2009, The Parents Television Council pushed its members to complain to the FCC and ABC’s Dick Clark Productions about Adam Lambert‘s “oral sex stimulation” scene in the 2009 American Music Awards broadcast.  In October 2010, The PTC called the Britney Spears episode of Glee “an endorsement of narcotics abuse, public masturbation, and school-sanctioned burlesque.”


Is Skins Bad For You?

Jace Lacob has a good piece in The Daily Beast called Skins Is Not Kiddie Porn in which he breaks down the laws and explains why Skins isn’t breaking them and also mentions that in next week’s episode, Tea will be masturbating to a poster of Aubrey Hepburn. He also speculates as to why these concerns are being raised now, as opposed to during the development process:

The more cynical among us might wonder whether the story in The New York Times was intended by MTV to generate controversy and bring more viewers to the series in the first place by playing up the more salacious aspects of the show. Which, if true, is extremely troubling, if not vile.

He goes on to say that the real problem with Skins MTV is that there is “a washed-out quality to everything,” and that it “seems calculatedly obsessed with the filth factor, pushing that content front and center while failing to realize that the original was so successful because it mined the rich interior lives of the lads and lasses of Bristol for narrative effect.”


Speaking to The Today Show, psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein said the show “does start to show the not-so-pretty side of all this stuff” in future episodes and could be “a launching pad for conversations betwen teens and their parents.”

“I think this is what’s happening. I think we have to start to think about the fact that a lot of kids, as the clips showed us, they’re having sex, they’re drinking, they really are getting pregnant. They’re doing things that we don’t want to talk about.”


What Do We/You Think?

We discussed some of these issues earlier this year when parents in France started freaking out that their kids were having “Skins-themed parties.” TV clearly does influence teen behavior in a myriad of negative ways. But I consistently endeavor to suggest that blatant drug use, sex and cursing is far less damaging to a tender child’s psyche than the secret, insidious messages buried below the surface of all television programming everywhere. With sex and drugs on the table, a conversation becomes necessary and the materials are at the ready and ripe for parental discussion. We SEE these things, and then we can talk about them.

But it’s the things we DON’T “see” and therefore rarely discuss or acknowledge that really fuck up kids — like the symbolic anihilation of GLBTQ persons and people of color on TV, or the stereotypical ways in which those minorities are portrayed or the rampant misogyny that cornerstones most successful programs or how TV values commercialism, superficial things and consumption above all else. I’m more worried about how underweight the cast of 90210 is than that “Oscar” has sex with an older woman or that a wasted Naomi describes “sex” as “a random physical act.”

For example, the PTC attacks an epsiode of Two and a Half Men for its repeated references to erections and masturbation, aka “strong sexual content.” Now I HATE TWO AND A HALF MEN. Reading the PTC recap inspires wrath in me as well, but not ’cause Alan spends most of the episode jerking off — because the plot and language is, per ushe, deeply misogynistic, homophobic, sexist and — just for funsies — ageist! Masturbation is an easy thing to point to and an even easier thing for concerned parents to address though I don’t know why they’d care as masturbation is totally natural and fine.


Rest assured few parents will sit their kid down and explain how biphobic it is on a show which NEVER SHOWS GAY PEOPLE OR INTELLIGENT WOMEN to have a “bi-sexual” one-off character who left her girlfriend for her male roommate after the three shared a series of threesomes and has a job providing sex shows on her webcam.

Sorry PTC, but when I want to bitch about how television and movies are sending damaging messages, I’m gonna turn to Bitch Magazine, GLAAD, the NAACP, AfterEllen and Jezebel.

Is Skins problem-free? Of course not. Which is why parents (a whole entire Council’s worth, even!) shouldn’t let their kids watch Skins if they think it’s damaging. DUH.

But insofar as it displays at-risk behavior, it certainly shows consequences of this behavior — Skins kids fail out of school, die at alarming rates, get hit by cars and consequently paralyzed, get pregnant, get expelled, go crazy, lose friends, fuck up relationships, pass out, become homeless, go to jail, are unusually depressed, have heightened emotional conversations that might be a little smoother if everyone weren’t on coke, and get in trouble constantly.

In Conclusion

So, the PTC is announcing victory today because Taco Bell has pulled out as an advertiser on Skins MTV as of yesterday.

So basically it took Taco Bell four days to decide to pull it’s advertisements from a 10pm TV show blatantly advertised as being raunchy.

In other news, it took Taco Bell FIFTEEN YEARS, culminating in a four-year boycott initiated by The Coalition of Immokalee Workers to respond to Union pressure about unethical treatment of its immigrant farm workers in Florida and commit to paying ALMOST LIVEABLE wages and to “ensure that indentured servitude is strictly forbidden.”

Just saying.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3202 articles for us.


  1. Pingback: SURPRISE! Conservative Media Watchdogs Freaking Out About “Skins” – Autostraddle | Conservatives for America

  2. As far as the legal aspect’s concerned (on the nudity thing) I’m kinda torn, because they’re minors and even minors taking pics of themselves naked are facing child pornography charges right now in the US… So I’m not so sure the PTC’s that much in the wrong on that level.

    And good point on the alarming BMIs on 90210, I’m appalled everytime.

    Also I’m tired of this “facing consequences” trend. Most kids party hard and misbehave during teen years and they all end up just fine. Telling them they’ll most likely suffer horrible mental diseases, fail at life and die prematurely if they so much as transgress a single rule is pure brainwashing.

  3. Laughed so hard at “school-sanctioned burlesque.”
    On a serious note, I’ve got to say that the drug use, drinking, and sex issues portrayed in Skins are only slightly dramatized versions of what kids were doing just a few years ago when I was in school. Then again, I went to high school in Los Angeles and then Miami, so maybe I’m not the person to go to with questions about “average American teens.”

    The PTC can put blinders on their eyes and go sing hymns, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re not looking where they should be. But of course they don’t have a problem with the homophobia in other media or damaging images shown to children (right on with the BMI… jeez).

  4. These people are gonna end up really bummed when they figure out pretty much everyone IS stoned on a regular basis at some point during their high school career. They must have been the poor kids that first weren’t allowed to make friendship bracelets/play tag as kids, and that extended to not getting any pot in high school………We’re letting they’re rage from exclusion pour out onto our tv shows. Blastholes. Sure as hell ain’t making no friendship bracelets for them now.

  5. the reason all the kids at my school love skins so much is because skins IS them. i know a girl who can be effy, can outdo effy, without a problem. having sex? taking drugs? wild parties? 80% of the people i know have that covered. it drives me mad, all this watering down the media in general does. the denial of the parents and conservaties etc that this happens, they way they have to prevent even a fucking tv showing something that scares them.. it makes me so mad. their not porno junikes, their frequently rather amazing people. ‘their different to you, and now their on your tv…. OH HELL NO HOLD MY BIBLE!’ im sorry but i cant stand it >:( this is exactly what skins is meant to do, break boundries. show something real for once.

  6. Compared to high school, this show is pretty tame. And doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
    Parents tend to forget who raised their kids

  7. “…all while high on pot or stoned on pills”

    does this mean…
    surely not…
    but, perhaps there just might be a chance…
    … marijuana pills!

  8. I wonder what would happen if the PTC turned all their righteous indignation, money, and energy towards helping real life children and teenagers who were in dangerous situations.

    • Next thing you know, elderly people will be jaywalking! Lawlessness everywhere! The poor law enforcement officers will have their hands full.

  9. Billy Ray Cyrus supports the PTC. The PTC is adamantly opposed to children being exposed to sex, nudity and gratuitous hip thrusting. Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter is Miley Cyrus.

    I’m just going to leave that there.

  10. “But I consistently endeavor to suggest that blatant drug use, sex and cursing is far less damaging to a tender child’s psyche than the secret, insidious messages buried below the surface of all television programming everywhere.”

    Yes. Here’s how I break it down for the average pro-PTC mouthbreather:

    You know bullfight? Bullfighter wave red cape to distract bull. You bull. People at top of power pyramid are bullfighter. Skins red cape. Prejudice and ignorance are sword. Bad. Kill you.

  11. One thing that I love about skins is how it treats the characters like adults. Yes, they’re teenagers, but they’re not pitied for their age, as is so often the case. They have sex and do drugs, but they also have to deal with the consequences. Not the kind of consequences that we often see on cheesy after school specials, but real consequences.
    The PTC may describe Skins as a caricature, but the fact is that Skins is real. It reflects the lives of teens all around the world. If they’re truly a “Parents” Television Council, they will stop nit picking every little thing on TV and start taking an honest look at what is going on in their kids’ lives.

  12. Also, how do you run your adult life if you think some kind of council or commission is needed to determine what material you see?

    • It would probably make more sense to have a council for how you should fix your dinner since lots of people make bad food choices. Everyone would be a lot healthier if more people were more concerned about what’s on their dinner plate instead of on their teevee.

      • In my community, they dump 600 lbs of tater tots in a public trough and ring a bell each noon. A neighbor doesn’t own a TV, and grows tomatoes and basil. He is on every no fly list and is considered a domestic terrorist.

  13. “Tony’s obsession with his friend’s virginity borders on the pathological. Is any teen really that concerned about whether or not his friend is a virgin?”

    Yeah, because no one in high school is ever pathologically concerned about their friend’s state of virgin-ness, let alone that of the entire freaking school.

  14. Apparently, these people spent there entire lives in church. And were homeschooled or attended one of those “christian” schools. Oh, and never hung out with the preacher’s kids – I can remember some really wild behavior from a few of them.

  15. Wait, wait… They hate BONO??? And Glee has “school sanctioned burlesque”?
    Aside from really wanting school sanctioned burlesque to be real… Who are these people? WTF?

  16. Riese, I love you for writing this.

    What I continue to find truly amazing is that these PTC folks apparently have all the time in the world to launch ludicrous campaigns against *television shows* – so that I can’t help but wonder how much time they spend on actually, y’know, trying to be decent parents for their own damn kids.

  17. “…in certain situations when you come from home lives where your parents don’t really support you or really listen to you.”

    and i feel like parents aren’t going to listen to that either.

  18. I love Skins and am super excited for the US version, think the PTC is bogus and parents should talk to their kids, etc.

    But I just can’t believe that this is what the majority of teens experience the majority of the time. Is this really accurate these days? My high school experience, and those of 98% of the people I know, was in NO WAY like this AT ALL.

    I don’t think that’s a problem, TV takes the most exciting bits and jams them all together and some small pieces were things myself and friends of mine had to deal with. But everyone’s comments have really thrown me.

    Is this what real life is/was life for most people??

    • This is EXACTLY how I feel. I’m in no way against Skins because of the supposedly pornographic content–I’m actually just confused at the overall marketing/following.

      I didn’t graduate that long ago and I don’t quiiite remember high school the way Skins portrays things…It’s basically a less-realistic Gossip Girl. It’s like someone made a gritty show about college kids but then decided 16-year olds would make for a better plot fit…

  19. se it wasn’t made clear by the brilliant article above, MONITORING TELEVISION IS NOT MONITORING BEHAVIOR.
    The fact that the kids on 16 & Pregnant are my age doesn’t make me want to have a kid. The fact that the kids on Skins are drinking and doing drugs doesn’t make me want to drink and dope anymore than anything else.
    Just last night, I had to leave the house of this girl with super conservative parents because she brought out some Ecstasy and that’s not my scene. She doesn’t own a TV, but somehow figured out that hey! Drugs get you high! Being high makes you feel good! Drugs make you feel good!
    I’m so tired of people thinking that teenagers are 100% monkey-see-monkey-do. It’s only about 50%, and a lot of that comes directly from the parents.

  20. I’m not a parent but I wouldn’t want my child watching Skins. It is severely depressing to think that young people are being influenced by this show.

    • Why?

      Even if the drug/alcohol use is a lot more than what I personally experiences as a teen (although other people in this thread have attested that it matches their experiences), a lot of other things Skins shows are what teens think and feel and do.

      Teenagers can be fucked up. Everyone has problems.

      My parents were shocked when I was finally forced to tell them that I had friends who were depressed, who cut, who didn’t eat, who didn’t sleep, who had thought about dying. And none of them even did drugs or got drunk. They didn’t believe me even more when I told them that some of my friends had told their parents they were having problems, and those parents didn’t do a damn thing.

      I come from a very privileged demographic.

      Shit happens everywhere.

      You can argue that teens don’t need to watch this in the media because it will reinforce their feelings of messed-up-ness, but I gotta tell you, I strongly disagree with that sentiment.
      I think it’s very beneficial that teens see portrayals of the way they feel (sure, with some hyperbole because that’s how drama works). It gives them something to connect to.

      If teenagers are messed up, it’s not because of the media they consume. Teenagers….are just messed up, period. It’s what happens what you’re that age. Things get weird.

      (P.S. I do not mean to personally attack you, just share my point of view. I mean no offense, just trying to provide an alternate view)

  21. lolololololololol.

    HA. These kids watching the American version of the show are missing out on SO much more. If this PTA thing even saw a glimpse of what the British version offered…people would flip shtt.

    The American version sucks anyways. I don’t think anyone would be too upset if it was pulled from the air.

  22. It saddens me that this gets such a huge uproar, but they’re probably a-ok with all the violence-inciting and gun-crazy rhetoric that goes on over at FOX News.

    Also, just for funzies I flipped through some of what they had to say about the UK version of Skins as well as some other shows I watch, like Glee. I like how they try to keep it subtle that they think homosexuality counts as “family-inappropriate” by just mentioning it in their litany of wrongs but never outright condemning it. You really think anyone is fooled, PTC?

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