What Skam Does Right: an essay by me because i’ve lost all chill
so there’s an infinate number of “““teen””” shows and films that deal with “““teen””” problems that are aimed at The Youths to try and tell us how to deal with our own lives. and there’s some obvious issues that we all know and love like when it’s written by 40-somethings who think the way they experienced highschool in 1979 is how it works now and generally have no clue about modern teen culture, slang, fashion, life, everything, etc.
that said, there’s still a lot of media that manages to avoid being like that. but i still think skam takes it to another level, like yeah, by how it’s marketed and the use of social media and everything the fandom has already discussed at length, but also the way the narrative structures ignorance as a concept.
often a narrative focused on Teaching Life Lessons has a clear character representing the Bad Ideas and a clear character representing the Good Ideas. makes sense, we want these troubled teens to know right from wrong, and they’re not smart enough to understand anything thats not a totally black-and-white plot filled with two-dimensional sterotypes right?? right. so say in a typical coming out narrative we have the Highschool Bully or the Shitty Parent or Religious Zealot or someone similar, and they spurt ALL the bad ideas, all the homophobia and ignorance, and the audience knows they’re wrong because they’re framed to be Evil and their beliefs Evil and everything they do is Evil. then we have the character, often a protagonist, who is Gay and Struggling and has Never Done Anything Wrong Ever. in the end, good overcomes evil and yay teenagers learn that queers are like people or something. then switch ‘gay’ for literally any other minority, make a different Teen Movie about sexism or racism or ableism, rinse, repeat.
like there isn’t anything really wrong with this formula it’s just wildly overdone and insanely simplistic, more of a fable than a representation of how life actually works. real life is messy and grey. there is no definitive light and dark side of the force kinda bullshit….. which finally brings me to skam.
in skam, everyone has a purposfully acknowledged percentage of sheer ignorance, things they understand and things they reeeeally don’t. think about magnus being a bit of a dunce about isak’s sexuality, but then turning around to school him on bipolar (this post explains it very well). this is how real life works. nobody is the ideologically flawless character, teaching the ideologically backwards character that they are Wrong About Everything. everyone is pulling everyone up, everyone is making an idiot of themselves, everyone is learning.
i feel the dichotomous narrative often Specifically Tells the audience which are the good ideas and which are the bad based on what character says them - the issue is this lesson can’t expand outward to anything that the narrative doesn’t directly deal with. a story saying “homophobia is bad” limits itself, it doesn’t leave the door open for people to consider maybe racism or transphobia is also bad unless those issues are directly acknowledged.
with skam, over and over again, communication is highlighted as the best way to solve any issue. it gives a range of examples, yeah, but in the end it teaches HOW to deal with new issues, not simply a list of behaviours not to emulate. it’s never “don’t be That Guy”, it’s “everyone can be That Guy sometimes, it’s gonna happen, you’re gonna be ignorant about something, but here is how you overcome and deal with it…” and i just really fucking love and respect that.