The story of the MTV remake of the British teenage drama Skins has played out just the way the continentals would like it to: the American version is derivative, crap, prudish, and, according to a front page story in today’s New York Times, possibly illegal , since it may violate child pornography laws. Both the British and American versions show implied teen sex, masturbation, assault, only the British version implies a little more strongly. I can’t defend the American version; I am a huge fan of the British show and am afraid to watch MTV’s version, since it’s gotten such terrible reviews.
But I can say this about the reactions: defenders of both versions, and its creators, always say the same thing about the show: “It may be the most realistic show on television,” as Jessica Bennett wrote in Newsweek . This is puzzling, since the show is not at all realistic. The main character is a psychopath who gets hit by a bus, his sister refuses to speak all her life, another character lives in a magical insane asylum, all the parents are never around so never object when the kids go to all night raves in creepy mansions where each room is painted a different neon color, and they have scary encounters with drug dealers. It’s a teenage fantasy about teenage life lived at the heady, reckless extreme. Also the show involves traditional narrative arcs which revolve around a different character in each episode. In other words, it’s drama, not realism.
From this confusion I can only conclude one thing: Reality TV has reversed the meaning of the word “realistic.” We have now all fully digested that reality TV is not real at all, but that it involves mostly narcissistic types put in scripted situations and pushed to the extremes. In our minds, reality TV and TV dramas have somehow switched places, so we perceive a very traditional, tightly written television drama as “realistic” and Jersey Shore as fake.