While One Million Moms (roughly, rounded up to the nearest million) were screaming about the dangers of satanic corruption at the hands of Lucifer, they should have been screaming about Scream. The MTV show based (loosely) on the film series of the same name follows the exploits of 20-something smokin’ hot actors playing high school teens as they have parties, fall in and out of love, and more than occasionally get sliced open by farm vehicles.
But while the show does an okay job of being this generation’s answer to The OC, the show is an ethical shitshow filled with collection of sociopaths who are both too independent and too immature to make good choices during these crucial years of their development. And unfortunately since all one million of our nation’s moms are busy boycotting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Fox shows about Satan, it’s left up to me to think of the children.
Let’s clear the table a bit. First of all, the grisly murders are gross, sure, but nothing a generation raised on Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead can’t handle. There are but a few on-screen murders, with the rest being meticulously set up and then left to the imagination. Often, we get reaction shots of the witnesses to the murders covered in blood to help us piece together what just happened. What does that say about us as a culture? Who knows? Who cares?
The real dangers of Scream are not in its violence, but its sexual politics. This is a show – ostensibly about high schoolers – is made for an audience of preteens. How do I know? The way sex is handled in Scream is borderline cartoonish in all the ways one might expect for an audience that only abstractly knows about it, but desperately wants to learn more. Relationships are depicted as bafflingly mature (couples talk seriously over coffee, drive one another to and from school, meet in each other’s room for reasons other than to make out), while at the same time play out as blatantly superficial. Even the adults in the show bounce between relationships made to represent a teenage girl’s fantasy – smoldering romances mixed with devastating betrayals of trust.
Following the conventions of many horror films, sex is continuously used to signify virtue throughout the first season. Those who have too much of it are capital “B” Bad. Those who don’t have it are pure, innocent, and missing out. When a (girl) loses her virginity to a (more experienced guy), it’s a big deal and she’ll never be the same again. One guy comes close to having sex only to find the one girl who was interested has been cut down. Between exploring the profound loss of such a young life and the nightmarish implication that this poor guy’s one chance to “swipe his v card” has just evaporated (actual dialogue), guess which one Scream dwells on?
For its audience, the show is signalling a weird and shallow obsession with sex. Couples prove their love for one another by having it. Not getting it can either mean you are a loser or a naive angel who hasn’t quite figured out the ways of the world. And absolutely no virgins die, not that their are many by the end. Dying is for sluts.
The way the teens in the show spend their time is also hilariously troubling. Let’s consider just one scene.
Kieran, Scream‘s resident new kid and rugged hot guy, has a fight with his dad and heads to a bar to blow off steam. Sitting at the bar, looking forlornly into his third or fourth beer, he notices one of his classmates flirting with a middle aged man. Let’s unpack this.
An 18-year-old boy somehow got into a bar. Sure, fine. But his goal isn’t to party or get shitfaced or whatever kids normally do when experimenting with alcohol while they are underage, he wants to drink away the stress of a fight with his dad. Like he’s a fucking coal miner. Like he’s fucking Norm from Cheers. Meanwhile, his classmate – who is also 18 – is cruising for sex with wealthy middle aged men. Kieran is exhibiting signs of becoming a future alcoholic. Meanwhile, rich girl Nina is being exposed to a serious risk of sexual violence.
Neither of these disturbing facts are explored in the show. I kept expecting a moment for the other shoe to drop and it never came. This was just supposed to be normal behavior in the Scream universe. Troubled, brooding guys drink away their problems like Norm from Cheers. Prissy rich girls rebel by screwing Norm from Cheers. Big whoop.
The sexual identity stuff is even more troubling. To the show’s credit, it features a lesbian relationship. To the show’s discredit, one of the girls dies and the other one, Audrey, spends most of her scenes insisting she isn’t gay.
Again, there is a window there for the show to explore the way homosexuality is experienced in high school. For the LGBT kid, being “outed” can be a very real fear. A smarter show might harvest that for a contemplative look at what true fear really is. Instead, Scream screws it all up. The show “outs” Audrey with a leaked tape of her and her sort-of-girlfriend making out that goes “viral.” Her classmates are predictably ruthless. However, the show never bothers to sympathize with Audrey. Not one of her friends seems concerned over the fact that this situation is fucked. In fact, by show’s end, the plot seems to forget Audrey’s sexuality entirely, including the fact that her school is filled with pubescent homophobes. And this despite the fact that Audrey is hands down the most interesting character in the show.
And then there’s the teacher-student relationship which isn’t only condoned, but romanticized. The teacher (who is probably the same age as the actress playing the student tbf) never really gets in trouble for the fact that he’s most certainly committing something that is kissing cousins with what the law might consider statutory rape. He has read books and poetry and stuff and he really gets the girl. What’s not to love about their relationship, right? A question you might have: Is the girl portrayed as “an old soul” who is tired of immature guys in her class and has finally found her match? No, she’s a whiny immature teen with very little to offer the teacher beyond her body. On the flip side, the teacher’s motivation is left open ended and the implications are sad.
Empathy, or lack of it, is a major problem throughout. The sheer number of bodies piled up by first season finale would have most of these kids in weekly therapy for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, they let most of the violence fly over their heads while they were busy figuring out who to make out with next. Instead, we repeatedly have beloved characters die horrifically only to be forgotten roughly three days later. This apathy is applied unevenly. The very first victim, Nina of the bar, is obsessed over – despite being an awful person whom nobody actually liked. On the other hand Riley, the girl who almost got to swipe our intrepid nerd’s v card, is forgotten almost entirely within two episodes of her death. The police show similar levels of bias that tend to align with those of their children.
All of these issues amount to a staggering level of amoral chaos in the show’s message. Nobody expected MTV’s Scream to carry a Pixar message, but holy hell, the messages it does send are bad. Greed, lust, envy and homophobia are given so many free passes it begins to look like the show encourages them. While the show occupies itself with the (frankly lame) mystery of who the killer is, it never bothers to take a look in the mirror. The killer’s dumb identity and silly motivation revealed at the end just reinforces how similar she is to all of her victims. Nobody is blameless in a den of thieves.