In the infancy of media targeting teens, the content depicted the struggle between youth and adults. This was phase 1, when teen angst in media was adult-directed. Adults ranging from teachers, to police, to parents were easy targets for creators who were looking to empathize with teens. Movies from "Animal House" to "Porky's" to TV shows like "Happy Days" were all comically crafted ecosystems where teens bemoaned and, in some cases, rebelled against the powers that didn't understand them.
As teen culture's need to express itself increased in strength and depth, the focus of its angst shifted to being peer-directed. This maturing society was no longer rebelling against the governing powers, but fighting internally, as different class systems emerged. John Hughes reflected this shift in "Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink" and "Sixteen Candles," which examined the class warfare that was the next step in this culture's evolution.
The third target of teen angst was the Teen Self. Movies, books and TV now celebrated inner-directed angst. In films like "Super Bad," "American Pie" and others, teens' insecurities, self-reflection and age-appropriate neurosis are the villain. Barnes & Noble has an unprecedented amount of shelf space dedicated to a section titled "Teen Paranormal Relationships." As if pimples and periods weren't enough, we've thrown myth and monsters into the mix to augment the need for teens to feel conflicted.
MTV's "Skins" demonstrates the latest phase of teen angst, one that is society-directed. As with most cultures, evolution quickens as the state matures, and the shutter-quick advance of technology has propelled this last phase. The creation of virtual lives, avatars and on-line communities has created a generation of "Realitieens, who have the ability to be, do and say whatever they want. Facebook has given teens a way to present their ideal selves. Reality TV celebrates actions without repercussions.
Teen culture, now at its apex, is limited by nothing including consequences, and is looking for its next target. It is rebelling through text messages and YouTube. The revolution will be tweeted in 140 characters. And the content will be bold and uncensored. "Skins" leads this shift. Its characters are the heralds of this latest angst.
It is, however, a sad commentary on the state of MTV that it thinks the only path to success with teens is shows like "Skins" and "Jersey Shore," "The Real World" and "The Hills." MTV has fashioned a viewfinder that shows a young generation that is bereft of ambition, decency and inspiration. MTV should consider that it is time to encourage a gentle move to the next phase of teen rebellion, one where teens rail against complacency and narcissism, and celebrate a youthful optimism.
Fox's "Glee" manages to entertain and capture ratings by blending thoughtful stories about teen pregnancy, homophobia and diversity. In "Married with Children," Ed O'Neal presided over the most cynical interpretation of the American family ever on TV; now in "Modern Family," he's the patriarch of the most enlightened. MTV, if Al Bundy can evolve, so can you.
MTV's earliest brand I.D. and perennial award statuette was the iconic moon man. It depicts an astronaut planting the MTV flag on the moon as if somehow announcing the station's charter to stake claim to a new, wondrous territory. It is time MTV started acting like the pioneer it once was. Now that would rock.