Having only just jumped onto the Skins bandwagon (about 5 years too late), I quickly became addicted and binge-watched the entire seven seasons. Generation two was definitely my favourite: Effy, Cook and Freddie were obvious favourites, although I also loved Sid and Cassie from the first generation. It got me to thinking about the representation of youth culture: the reckless house parties, the struggle to achieve educational success, the pressure on ambition for the future. Skins definitely takes a unique approach to the representation of this topic, in many ways being wholly realistic and others being slightly exaggerated. Focusing on generation two alone (seasons three and four), the show is a marker of representation for various themes in the lives of the British youth.
Possibly my favourite thing about Skins: it doesn’t make a taboo of mental health. I’ve written about it on my blog before, but in a day and age when depression and anxiety is rife amongst young people, I think it is super important that the topic is discussed and young people understand that there is help out there. Making a small reference to generation one – Cassie’s eating disorder takes precedence, and the episodes surrounding her, delve deeper into the world of alimentation struggles. The episodes depict not only the physical struggle of eating disorders, but the mental struggle too, and I think the episodes did a really good job at conveying the intricacies of such a disorder and opened the audience’s eyes to something which, in a world of social media and image expectations, is rife. Additionally, going back to the focus of this article (generation two), I think the execution of Effy’s storyline is actually, in turn, a positive thing. I’ve read many things stating that Effy Stonem is ‘goals,’ in how she dresses, in how she behaves, in having Freddie and Cook be in love with her. I strongly disagree with this, Effy was an extremely troubled character, and I think the producers intentionally made her this way to make her an anti-role model. She isn’t someone to aspire to, yet the producers don’t degrade the issue of depression: they are conveying depression in a different light. I think a lot of the time, the stigma around depression leaves people with the idea that it is something which has set signals and indications: maybe the said sufferer can’t bring themselves to do much, cry a lot of the time, avoid contact with other people etc. And I’m not disputing the fact that those are common symptoms. (Disclaimer: I am certainly not a doctor, these are merely my thoughts!). But what the show does so well is show the opposite side to these conventions: the erratic behaviour, the overcompensation with emotions, the lack of crying, the acting like everything is fine. Effy has ‘psychotic depression,’ and I think that the producers were skilled in showing a different side to depression, especially when you consider the society we live in, where youths have easy access to drugs and alcohol, and partying is a social norm. What is questionable, however, is their portrayal of help and rehabilitation. Yes, Effy was rehabilitated, and she had therapy too – both great options when regarding her state of mind. But her therapist turned out to be slightly psychotic himself, and killed her boyfriend. True, it makes for a great, entertaining storyline, but how well did this contribute to the portrayal of depression, and how to help the problem?
I think that when you think of Skins, sex is one of the first things that comes to mind. There is a lot
of sex throughout the seasons, but particularly in generation two. Effy and Cook, Effy and Freddie, Naomi and Emily, Katie and Freddie, the list goes on. I don’t want to critique Skins too much when it comes to the topic of sex, but I am slightly torn. I say I am torn, because I feel there is two approaches to this topic: the accuracy of the representation, and the influence of the representation. In regards to the accuracy, I think that Skins does a good job at conveying a realistic image of sex in today’s society amongst sex. This is not the stone age anymore: young people do not wait until marriage, having sex is a social norm, and it is much more accepted than it was. Sexual freedom and even promiscuity is much more accepted in society nowadays than it ever was, and whether you agree with that or not, that is just how things are.
Personally, considering myself a feminist (i.e. equality between both
genders), I think that everyone has the right to a sexual prerogative, and nobody should be judged on their sexual choices. Thus, the conveyance of this group’s sexual escapades: their freedom, their promiscuity, is wholly accurate, if not slightly exaggerated for the purpose of entertainment and storyline. On the flip side, the influence of this representation is the opposing argument. I am fully aware that this point brings with it a range of contradictions, but playing devils advocate, I think there is definitely room for hypocrisy in regards to this topic. But, I think that the rife inclusion of such sexual scenes, is desensitising for an audience of young people that already don’t value sex as something of importance. While I don’t think that sexual freedom should be stigmatised, I also don’t think that sex should be passed off as something so unimportant. Effy’s flitting from one boy to his best friend, while being her choice and entirely not for the judgement of anyone else, is something which dispels the element of emotion and feeling. I feel the show failed to convey the feelings inflicted due to this and thus the characters just seem to be entirely hedonistic and pleasure-driven. As I previously wrote, I am an advocate of sexual freedom and it is very much a social norm, but I think that equally there should be an emphasis on feelings and importance of sex.
Alcohol & Drugs
Once again, alcohol and drugs are two things that are becoming much more normal in society these days. This isn’t necessarily something which I support in as much as I support sexual freedom, but there is no escaping the fact that they are two things that are very accessible to young people, and Skins conveys this entirely. Generation two, I would argue, are the generation that abuse drugs the most, and spend the most time drinking alcohol. The endless house parties (a staple in youth culture these days), the smoking of weed in ‘The Shed’ with Freddie, Cook and JJ – they’re passed off as normal parts of everyday life. I’m not sure how accurate this representation is, I’m not a spokesperson for the whole of my age group nor my generation, but I don’t consider drugs to be a normal, integrated part of life for most of my generation. I don’t agree with the way that the group pass drugs around like they’re merely sweets, as I think this negatively affects and even influences an audience of young people through, once again, desensitisation. Additionally, in linking points together, there were episodes where Effy used drugs and alcohol to remedy her problems – her psychotic depression, her torn feelings between Freddie and Cook, her familial problems. This is more than certainly one of the most negative parts of the show for me, as I think that this isn’t a message that should be sent to the youth of today – drugs and alcohol are not a remedy for life problems. Aside from this, I think the exposure to drugs and alcohol in the show are partially accurate of how exposed the British you actually are, if not a little exaggerated for entertainment purposes. But what I think the show does well, is convey consequences of drug and alcohol use – the characters often end up doing things they regret in the morning (i.e. sex) and this is shown profusely throughout, and so I think that the show gives a sense of consequential and purposeful happenings thanks to drug and alcohol use.
Friendships & Relationships
Moving onto a more than positive point is Skins of conveyance of relationships and friendships, I think this is the one thing that the show does absolutely perfectly. Nothing is romanticised, the real dynamics of relationships are conveyed – the pressure of expectations, of being young in today’s society, the pressure of the future, they are all factors that effect the groups relationships, both romantically and platonically. Emily and Naomi for instance, are a couple which are effected by Naomi’s desire to travel, thus causing arguments, a breakdown in their relationship. While discussing Naomi and Emily, I think that Skins representation of homosexuality is skilled too. The show successfully conveys the struggle of being homosexual in society without degrading the sexuality itself – it shows how Naomi struggled to come to terms with her sexuality while Emily struggled against the reluctance of acceptance of her family. The show is unapologetic, it conveys every last detail and thus becomes a respectful yet honest representation. What I also love is the solidity of their friendship group, no matter what happens within the group, their friendship always remains and they’re there to support eachother, even in the absence of parental guidance (i.e. in the case of Cook, Effy, even Thomas etc). I think this is a really good thing to convey, and a good example to set to an impressionable audience, and above all I think it really demonstrates the importance of friendship in today’s society. Additionally, I love the diversity of the friendship group. From their demographics – Thomas coming from the congo, to same-sex couples such as Emily and Naomi to Effy who suffers from depression. With regards to their familial situations: Emily and Katie who come from a nuclear family, Cook who can’t rely on either of his parents, Freddie who sadly lost his mum. The group is diverse yet fully functioning, and I think Skins sends the greatest of messages that no matter who you are, where you come from or what has happened: friends are amongst the most important things in life.
Disclaimer: all images used in this post were taken from weheartit.