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The Real Problem With MTV’s “Skins”

10:00 AM, Feb 1, 2011 • By BEN SHAPIRO
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This argument has a long, manipulative history going back to the late 1960s, when ABC, the struggling third broadcast network with large metropolitan affiliates and a younger audience base, began making the statistically flawed argument that urban viewers aged 18-49 were better consumers than older, rural viewers. Over time, that ageist proposition became an article of faith in the broadcasting community. Even today, shows that target the young are considered more valuable than those that draw a huge Baby Boomer audience.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s young adults are short on cash and fluent in the art of using Tivo – they fast forward through commercials. Older Americans meanwhile comprise a large and growing percentage of the total population. They also tend to earn more until they retire. Many have no idea how to use Tivo. If there was ever a target audience for television advertisers, it is middle-aged Americans and their elders.

These facts are inconvenient to television programmers, however, who have a personal interest in pushing liberal shows. As I have discovered, most network executives – and television creators – will freely admit that they see their objective as more than market-catering. As Doug Herzog, president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, told me, “[T]hrough the medium of television we try to make the world a slightly better place.” 

To achieve that “better” – i.e. a more liberal – world, Herzog and his television colleagues believe they must constantly push the envelope on social and political issues.  This is an evolutionary hangover from the 1960s, when legendary producers like Norman Lear, Susan Harris, and Larry Gelbart used their shows to attack the status quo. And they succeeded brilliantly. The television left achieved its goals: abortion on demand, legitimization of the drug culture and draft dodging, moral acceptance of promiscuity, even socialized medicine. 

Today’s television liberals don’t want to attack this status quo. Yet in order to redeem the crass commercialism of television they must find a way to remain in the ideological vanguard. They do so by freaking out mom, dad, and the grandparents with ever more exploitative and grotesque material, which they proclaim to be “cutting edge.” In short, the authentic vanguard of the 1960s television generation has become an empty gesture focused merely on shock value. Hence, Sofia Black-D’Elia, speaking about “Skins,” brags that it “is really pushing the boundaries for teen drama because I think Skins goes where other shows are afraid to.” 

This is nonsense – we all know that some teens drink and smoke pot and have sex. “Skins” pushes boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries. And the television creators and executives who live in their plush penthouses in New York and beachfront properties off of Sunset Blvd. watch the hubbub and congratulate themselves for their willingness to challenge bourgeois morality.

Unfortunately, the right fails to recognize what’s going on. The market argument has silenced them. Rather than focusing on the root of the problem – the industry’s discriminatory leftism and manipulation of the advertising market – they focus counterproductively on its symptoms. Until conservatives wise up and make the case to advertisers that their money is better spent on mature Americans rather than pubescent ones, the same leftist true believers will continue manufacturing material like “Skins,” defining deviancy down one show at a time.

Ben Shapiro is a columnist with Creators Syndicate and for BigHollywood.com and the author of Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, forthcoming from Broadside Books.

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