Youth Culture Window
Move over Michael J. Fox! Your role as the iconic teen werewolf has been remade by none other than MTV. And if you’ve ever watched MTV… you know what to expect. Russell Mulcahy, director of many of Season 1’s episodes, sums it up well. “We had three 'S' words that became our mantra throughout the shoot, and that was to make it scary, sexy and surprising.”
Perhaps he forgot a few S’s. How about, “subtle lies” or “selling out.”
On June 5, 2011, MTV released their much-hyped show Teen Wolf following their annual Movie Awards show. The show gets its name from the classic 1985 movie starring Michael J. Fox, but it gets its plot from the culture MTV has built since then.
The TV show centers on Scott and his buddy Stiles. (Those were the same names used in Fox’s movie, too.) Whereas Michael J. Fox was a player on the Beaver’s high school basketball team, MTV’s Scott is on Beacon Hills’ local high school lacrosse team. Both Scotts are average; the original was a nerdy misfit, and the latter is an un-athletic asthmatic. However, both of the boys’ athletic prowesses are greatly enhanced by their werewolf DNA.
The two Stiles on the other hand…they’re pretty much identical: troublesome, mischievous, and the providers of comedic relief.
But while the original Teen Wolf was billed as a comedy, MTV’s version is anything but. The pilot opened up with cops and K9 patrols performing a grim, nighttime search for the body of a dead girl who had been brutally murdered. As the pilot moves on, a beautiful new girl named Allison Argent moves to town and Scott falls for her, but she brings a secret with her that (much later) reveals a connection between Scott’s werewolf kind and the men in her family tree. When MTV throws in the handsome and mysterious Derek Hale, another werewolf, the plot is thickened enough to draw in teen viewers who like fantasy entertainment.
Basically, Teen Wolf is a Twilight Saga meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets True Blood meets Gossip Girl.
The recipe is working because the show is a raging success. Perhaps the question we should be asking is, is the show appropriate for the literally millions of teenagers who are watching it weekly? Or do parents really know what messages their kids are gleaning from MTV in this new series?
Making a Werewolf
How is this show surviving with a somewhat tired theme? First, recognize that this particular theme is still popular with millions of young viewers. Just look at the success of the Twilight Saga; in the MTV Movie Awards show that aired just before the Teen Wolf premiere, the latest installment in the Twilight franchise swept the awards once again, including “Best Movie.” Young viewers love them some vampires and werewolves!
Second, by wrapping the show in the expectations of young viewers. Teen Wolf features lots of CGI and lots of action scenes; it also uses suspenseful music in a fairly effective manner. Of course, it also highlights the growing, steamy romance between Scott and Allison.
Russell Mulcahy, quoted at the beginning of this article, seems to make good on his promise, keeping MTV’s version of Teen Wolf scary, sexy and surprising.”
It definitely has a scary element to it; like I said, they use suspenseful music quite well. Further, the TV show’s Scott becomes a werewolf after a violent attack in the woods at night (unlike Michael J. Fox who inherits his werewolf traits through genetics). Finally, it takes several episodes for viewers to really understand who the “bad guys” truly are.
Sexy is also well-represented. Tyler Posey plays Scott, and is often bare-chested – just like the photos on his personal website. In fact, when viewers are introduced to him, he’s shirtless. (Shirtless has been a proven gold mine for Twilight…even though it’s been mercilessly lampooned by critics – and actors.) The show even makes use of former underwear models; Colton Haynes plays Jackson, the high school jock who hates Scott. He was a model for Hugo Boss underwear before being casted into the show. More importantly, the growing romance between Scott and Allison gets more and more attention as the show goes on, culminating in a prolonged and steamy scene between the two of them in her bedroom in Episode 6, “Heart Monitor.”
Surprising is also an accurate representation. The hour-long show manages to squeeze in several twists per episode, including the fact that Allison’s dad is one of the hunters that’s been chasing werewolves for centuries, that the dead girl from Episode 1 that landed Derek in jail for suspicion of murder was actually his sister, and so on. But, that’s to be expected when you get to make up the plot, weaving in just enough historical truth to balance the complete fiction that drives the show.
A Werewolf Winner?
This TV show had its skeptics from the very beginning. Some wondered if it was going to be just another failure in MTV’s long list of scripted dramas that went belly up. (The Hard Times of RJ Berger is quickly fading in popularity, and other shows like Warren the Ape and Skins have been canceled outright.) Others just saw it as a TV show that was obviously riding the coattails of Twilight.
But the numbers are in, and it looks like MTV has scored big again. The much-hyped pilot episode was watched by 2.2 million viewers. In total, 4.5 million viewers tuned in for the awards show that preceded it, but the big news was that Teen Wolf’s pilot retained 68% of its teen audience (snagging a 3.7 rating) that night.
And because MTV has availability down pat, those same teens can watch reruns as often as they want; not only does the show air each week on Mondays at 10pm, but young viewers can also watch current episodes right off the page dedicated to Teen Wolf on MTV.com.
It was recently reported that this TV show – in large part – helped push MTV to its 6th consecutive quarter of growth. In fact, the culture-defining network has experienced a growth of 6% since its last year’s report. Lots and lots of execs at MTV are glad their scripted TV bet paid off; now their heavy reality TV lineup has some variety.
But it’s been my experience for years that when MTV wins, family values tend to lose. So, what should parents and youth workers do with MTV’s latest money maker?
Give it the Silver Bullet
Simply put, parents should give this show the silver bullet.
For werewolves, a silver bullet means death. For TV networks, low ratings mean death. If parents tell their kids, “Sorry, you can’t watch the show,” then MTV would have a problem. Unfortunately, parents are allowing kids access to shows like this, Jersey Shore and others just like it. And with the popularity of Teen Wolf, MTV will most definitely launch headlong into a second season of episodes for this show…and do whatever it takes to make sure their ratings increase.
Yes, this show has some cool storylines, and some edgy CGI, but I can’t recommend it to teenagers. The show has too many negative elements that counteract a godly lifestyle. For instance, the show perpetuates the idea that family dysfunction is a given. Stiles’ dad tolerates lie after lie from his son and seems completely unwilling to hold the boy accountable, in spite of the fact that he’s the town’s leading law enforcer.
Further, the show advances the culture that MTV has created…and advances MTV itself. Aside from the multitude of commercials advertising other MTV shows during the breaks (the majority of which are inappropriate for teenagers as well), MTV seems to plug itself at every opportunity. One simple example was evident from a conversation between Scott and his mom. Just before Scott’s first date with Allison, his mom approaches him in his bedroom with the car keys. She asks, “We don’t need to have a talk do we?” Assuming she’s talking about sex, Scott bemoans, “Mom, I’m not having the safe sex talk with you.” She then groans incredulously and replies, “Oh my God. No! I meant about keeping the tank full. Give me those back,” she says as she snatches the keys from him. “Are you serious?” he asks. She quickly responds by saying, “You bet your ass I’m serious! I’m not gonna end up on some reality television show with a pregnant 16-year old. C’mon!” (a reference to “16 and Pregnant,” one of MTV’s most talked about shows of all time)
Finally, the lack of consequences is a recurring theme in the show. From Scott and Stiles sneaking off into the woods at night in spite of being told to do otherwise, to Scott and Allison getting undressed in her bedroom, MTV’s scripted series communicates their favorite misconception: you can do whatever you want without worrying about the outcome.
For these reasons, and more, I say give Teen Wolf the silver bullet. I’d rather see another one of MTV’s experiments die than teenagers suffer because of the subtle lies taught within it.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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