How to Portray Gay: MTV’s “Skins” and its Newest Addition
February 3rd, 2011
Skins, the UK’s foremost captivating teenage drama, has made it stateside. And, only after two episodes, it has managed to stir up an equal amount of drama off the small screen. Skins premiered in the UK in 2007 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon — although some may say it was the cultural phenomenon that Skins was depicting. The 45-minute episodes are steeped in teenage melodrama, sex, drugs and alcohol, all packaged in a fashion that oddly unleashes recollections of a very real adolescence.
MTV’s rendition of Skins stays true to form with enough sex and narcotics to go around. Indeed, even the script was scantily revised for the US audience. But, in between all of the “shagging” and “getting pissed”, there’s a glaring modification to the beloved British drama that may signify more than a little use of creative license by MTV. I’d love to ramble ad nauseum about each of multifaceted characters of Skins, each to whom I have an undying connection; but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll quell my enthusiasm.
Maxxie Oliver, a well-rounded, out-of-the-closet gay teenager, whose sexuality was skillfully integrated into the storyline, was replaced by MTV with Tea Marvelli, who “girl-on-girl culture” Web site Autostraddle proclaims as the “Awesomest Lesbian Character Ever”. And, while the speculation of MTV’s reasoning behind the switch has led to some very predictable hunches, the choice is a bold one.
In the same fashion as the original, each episode documents a particular character. Last week’s episode followed Tea. After less than three minutes into the episode, Tea receives cunnilingus from her classmate Betty. After ditching her hook-up, Tea walks to class with her friend Daisy, who asks, “Are you up for breakfast or did you eat enough last night?” While Tea’s character is unarguably as dynamic as the rest, the hypersexual environment in which Skins lies lends a hand in perpetuating the fetishism of lesbians, especially those of an adolescent variety. In my resolute skepticism of MTV, I believe this is the catalyst behind the switch — a desire to amplify the risque exploits of nine teenage characters to garner attention and ratings, rather than letting the lives of impressionable teenagers develop organically on the small screen.
Regardless of the mechanisms that led to Maxxie’s demise on MTV’s Skins, Tea’s raw and unabashed lesbianism may be more than meets the eye. Tea’s frank feminine sexuality is arguably unpalatable for many, particularly an American audience. However, MTV seemingly straddles a tightrope, using the safety of lesbian eroticism to carefully depict a teenager growing in command of her sexual desires and passions. On the show, Tea’s sexual conquests and sexual development seem to go beyond mere sex appeal — they serve as truthful aspects of the depiction of strong and commandeering identity development in adolescence.
Although I would prefer to see an American Maxxie Mondays at 10, MTV has made a veritable attempt at creating a complex lesbian equivalent. For a television series renowned for its depictions of gay and lesbian youth, Skins must not be adulterated with exploitative and gratuitous lesbian action for the satiating of a certain (male) sexual fixation on the exoticism of the lesbian. Rather, MTV should have as much audacity in portraying Tea’s powerful and headstrong lesbian identity as it has in portraying weed smoking, MDMA use and underage drinking.