Pornography is difficult to define, wrote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, but "I know it when I see it."
So do I. Not only is MTV's Skins not pornographic, it's less offensive than a lot of the stuff (are you listening, Gossip Girls?) that the CW network aims at tweens and teens.
But that hasn't stopped the self-righteous Parents Television Council. It's one of a zillion Washington-based non-profits whose main purpose is to solicit money from older people who are always worried that our culture is going to hell in a handbasket. A lot of the dough goes into executives' pockets, helping them gain access to at least some of the corridors of power in the nation's capital. According to Charity Navigator, President Timothy F. Winter was paid $167,280 in fiscal year 2008, nearly 3.5 percent of the entire organization's expenses.
The PTC issues various warnings and protests about things that it thinks shouldn't be on TV. That's OK, though I think people should decide for themselves, and real parents, not some special-interest lobbying group, should pay attention to what their children watch. The group has already gotten some skittish advertisers to pull commericals from Skins.
But now, because some of the actors are under 18 and portray various sexual shenanigans (with bodies always covered), it's calling on the attorneys general of every state to investigate the show to see if it's "child pornography." The law officers have lots more important work, and this sort of grandstanding by the non-profit is no better than HBO or Showtime or, the current worst culprit, Starz, throwing a nude scene into one of their series episodes, just to get attention.
Thursday, another Washinton non-profit with the misleading name of the Culture and Media Institute, operating under the umbrella of another deceptively named outfit, the Media Research Center, issued an article excoriating Glee as "a raunchy showcase of lewd behavior."
The center's president, L. Brent Bozell 3d, who used to run the PTC before he segued to the bigger pro-censorship organization, made $170,267. But he's not even the highest paid executive. That would be the "development director," charged with raising money for the group. Thomas Golab took down $203,575 in 2008, according to Charity Navigator, and the men's salaries together also totaled more than 3 percent of the organization's entire expenses.
Glee is sexy. It's also one of the most entertaining shows in TV history. It has also helped a lot of real high school outcasts feel a whole lot better about themselves and find the strength to carve their own paths in the cut-throat social world of teenagers.
Skins, as realistic as Glee may be fanciful, can do the same thing. Here's what the youngest actor on the show, 15-year-old Eleanor Zitch, told TV critics at their summer meeting in Los Angeles: "I know a lot of people, who are my age, and who go through those things and live, kind of, like, that lifestyle. ... start to, like, break away from, kind of, their childhood, maybe try and rebel more." (There's probably, like, lots of money to be drained from adults for an organization demanding better syntax and elocution from teenagers.)
In the '50s and '60s, TV portrayed (falsely) beautiful families with perfect wives and mothers, and millions of real women turned to drugs, alcohol and other unhealthy crutches to try to keep up. Old people are right. The culture is always getting more crass, but I'll argue that "dirty" shows like Glee and Skins, by portraying viable role models and characters that teens can recognize, are serving them a whole lot better than those family perfection shows of yesteryear served their audience of housewives.