THE BLOG

Do We Feel Shame?

12/12/2016 11:40

SKAM - Shame in Norwegian - is a starkly honest show about the lives of students at a High Schools in Oslo. First aired in 2015, its quickly became the country's greatest international TV hit. Now in its 3rd season, the show has a strong online following around the world - to membership of which I must admit.

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Credit: NRK

The show's greatest asset is its ability to deal with extremely controversial topics without reducing us - that is young people - to stereotypes. NRK does not shy away from honest portrayal of controversial issues like teenage sexuality, substance abuse and mental health. I for one have found the show infinitely relatable and a welcome alternative to the usual bottle of Stoli I take to bed with me every night.

The drama's progressive values are a refreshing contrast to everything that got down in 2016. In the words of The Guardian's Sarah Hughes it is easy to say what it is not - The Skins or some other controversial teen drama. The producers avoid banal linkage of certain behaviours with particular social groups. The heavily drinking teenagers are not some delinquent benefit-scroungers and the Sana - the main Muslim character - is sharp and even accepts Isak's homosexuality with the words "Islam says that all people are equal".

SKAM's embrace of social media is equally important. The show's characters have Instagram and Facebook accounts that post photos and text screenshots in real time throughout the week, which then get assembled into the full episode on Friday. This is indeed the factor responsible for the show's blow up online popularity, with multiplying fan accounts. We are immersed into the world of the characters, as if they were real people. We obsessively check their Insta and other accounts, as if we were waiting for Kim Kardashian to drop her latest selfie.

Some have blamed these format innovations for foreign networks' reluctance to take up SKAM. Perhaps, the tide has changed with the announcement that an English remake of the show will be made for the American market. In my opinion this is not necessarily a good thing. US adaptions of European TV tend to be pale shadows of the originals, as the provocative content gets watered down to appeal to the broadest possible commercial audience.

For me this is the creates concern when it comes to SKAM. This is our chance to create media truly fit for the 21st century - fully engaged with modern technologies and democratic in its values - that should not be wasted. The loss of the show's unashamed willingness to engage with ordinary and negative aspects of adolescent experiences needs to be avoided, since this is precisely the reason for its popularity.

The importance of NRK's progressive production values should not be underestimated too. When Media in most countries is dominated by connections and unhealthy levels of competition, NRK gave "real people" the chance to act. There is none of the usual cosmetic gloss of American TV with perfect looking people living superficially perfect lives.

Even if we are shocked by some characters' actions, they remain relatable - Even's bitter girlfriend Sonja is the notable exception for me. They are just like the people you meet in your daily life, which is of course precisely who the actors are - real teenagers. Some even have "proper jobs" working at the call centre.

The bottom-line is the show as it stands now is a perfect example of what a truly democratic TV should look like in the 21st century.

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