From the advent of rock ‘n' roll to the invention of Silly Bandz, critics have always found an excuse to describe the staples of contemporary youth culture as "raunchy," "inappropriate" or "too dramatic." Lately, popular television shows whose characters are condemned by these adjectives are inadvertently claiming that real people in our generation deserve criticism as well.
"Skins," a British show with an American spinoff that premiered on MTV last February, asserted in one of its first commercials that it was a look into the real lives of teens. Yet, I can't shake my memory of its first episode.
The show's teenage stars manage to steal a significant amount of marijuana, commit grand theft auto and nearly overdose on sleeping pills all in one night. This leads me to wonder what MTV's advertisers could have possibly meant by making such a claim. What were they trying to say about our generation? Their faulty imitations of our "real lives" seem to be doing us a severe injustice, or at least driving stolen SUVs into lakes and "gym, tan, laundry" aren't involved in my reality.
Unlike "Skins," "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" from ABC Family preaches strong morals with such ferocity that it becomes ridiculous. Its writers chose a unique method of encouraging abstinence: keeping at least one of the characters pregnant almost constantly in some sort of dramatic coincidence. This being said, its resemblance to the real life of any American teenager seems unlikely.
Even "reality" shows like "Jersey Shore" are more like parodies of our generation than accounts of true events. The characters act in such self-centered and exaggerated ways that it seems almost impossible for them to have once been any less than celebrities. The members of the cast are entertainers first and regular people second.
Moving from one extreme of television morals to another must be shocking for kids who decide that they're old enough to transition from cartoons to reality TV. The mixed messages that MTV sends by juxtaposing shows such as "Skins" and "Jersey Shore" that promote one set of morals with "16 and Pregnant," a show that seems to require a plug for abstinence between every commercial break, are probably almost as confusing to some current teenagers.
Yet, despite every word you've just read denouncing them, I can't lie and say that I don't watch any of the shows I've mentioned. They're funny shows and the drama is entertaining, but I can't figure out why many of us love them so much, especially when they make our generation look ridiculous by claiming to be realistic.
Maybe it's because we wish we had the courage to act as boldly as the people we see on TV, or maybe it's because watching them makes us proud that we would never act so stupidly. It's obvious that the scenarios playing out in these shows are nowhere close to resembling reality, despite what ads may say.
Yet with "Jersey Shore" and similar programs producing the highest ratings that MTV has seen in years, there can be no doubt that they are changing society. Maybe it's not so much that the shows are shaped after us as young adults, but that we are growing more and more to resemble them.