Published by John Sharp on 2011-01-26 | 486 views
Marisa Guthrie of Reuters argued today that the brewing controversy over "Skins" is bad for the MTV brand - because advertisers are forming a line in the wake of allegations of "child pornography" and the like, and pulling their ads.
Hogwash. First of all, when it comes a brand like MTV, controversies like this are milk and honey. The MTV audience isn't looking for safe and sweet prime-time fare. They are looking for something to wake them up, add some energy to the moment, throw up some new ways of looking at the world.
"Skins" is perfectly cast for its audience - and because the smarter advertisers know this, not every advertiser is going to wet their pants and run away. Some may even be brave enough to see this will see this protest for what it is - the constant pushing of the moral envelope by radical conservative groups.
Nothing of this sort happened when the show was aired in England. Zip. Emotional parents did not write letters to Taco Bell. No one tied it to fields of dead birds or floods or lakes filled with dead fish as yet another sign of the End of Days. The show just ran, and quite successfully. UK advertisers seemed to have been content to back what was, in essence, a very similar show. So why is the show provoking controversy in the US?
Consider this: in many US states, such as Texas, it is legally possible to marry (and, presumably, have sex) when you're 14 years old. In Arizona and Hawaii, you need to be 15. But in Minnesota, a note form your parents and a nod from the judge will allow you to bed down with a 13 year old. Think this only happens in the Wild West? In New Hampshire, girls can marry (and again, for clarification, have sex) at age 13. Even in the heart of civilization - New York City - 14 year olds can wed.
So now that we've established that in at least three of the four largest US states, children can legally marry and have sex, what is this controversy about, exactly? And, if having sex at this age is such a big deal, then why don't these advertisers penalize New York for allowing "under-age sex" by pulling their ads from Times Square?
Over the years, the smarter programming executives at HBO and MTV - including the folks that green-lit "Skins" - there have recognized that there is for more audience to be gained from "telling it like it is" rather than "telling it like your politicians/parents would like it to be." Smart managers step in behind their shows and support them through these temporary outbursts - because they know that if they don't, their opponents will out-talk them, which is what is happening here.
This would appear to be already happening. The producers are being vocal in their defense of the show, but MTV management? Deers in headlights. Yes, rather than fight off the "kiddie porn" charges as the baseless BS they are, they've chosen, essentially, to not say a whole lot. Which is a bad idea. In the Internet age, you have three options: stand fast, capitulate, or "not hold an opinion."
If you're not prepared to apologize deeply, or take and stand and fight until the fighting is done, you may as well stand on the rail and dive over - because the argument is going to be taken out of your hands, and you'll be handed the outcome.
TV channels tend to oscillate between being run by lawyers and being run by programmers. If there is any looming threat to MTV from "Skins", it is this: if this thing gets really out of control, the lawyers will be brought out of their coffins to take over management of the channel - which will see this brand wander back into the wilderness and relive one of its occasional periods of lost relevance. And that would truly be bad news.
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