Cover Photo: Honest, High, Heartbreaking: SKAM and the new narratives of youth by Amanda Rosso

Honest, High, Heartbreaking: SKAM and the new narratives of youth

How do teenagers deal with identity and belonging, how do they express them, how do they articulate them into reality?

I remember Dawson Leery and his surreal lines throughout 7 seasons of Dawson’s Creek. I remember the witty humour of Seth Cohen in The OC, and how Benjamin McKenzie seemed mature to me.

I remember the awkward moment when I realised how many bloody books Rory Gilmore had read at 16, and my underachieving outlook while I looked up to her and I thought of my whole Anita Blake Vampire Hunter’s collection, with the mixed feelings typical of a loyal fan and a teenager in denial.

I also remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even if I was far too young to get the deep and painful subtext, the first time, and the gritty realism of Veronica Mars, even if, again, Jason Dohring was already married at the time and he was playing a high school kid.

And then I remember Skins and Misfits, but I wasn’t properly in my teens anymore, and I tent to look at them with the affectionate benevolence of a grandmother more than the sharp eye of an expert essayst (which I’m not even far to be nowadays either, anyway). My teens were surreal and awkward, but in a completely different way than those characters’. I grew up in a quite village up on the hills in Italy, and the main trouble I got into was a fight I didn’t even started. Not a drop of blood was shed and it was enough to talk about it for the next three months (yes, my life was that quiet).

But, even if I couldn’t definitely relate to the realities of estates, food stamps, alcoholic debauchery and deviant demeanour, I could easily relate to their insecurities, lack of perspectives, loneliness and incommunicability. I felt alienated by my parents and roots, chocked by my everyday life and emotions, in constant transition and emotional turmoil.

And I remember the determination and absolutism of my decisions and actions, the certainty of having my back covered by my friends and peers. I remember the weird communion and the unpredictable horbit of those microcosms destined to crash.

There is some truth, but there is mainly a showrunner in his mid 30ies or 40ies with a weird Peter Pan Syndrome and some money.

And I remember how I felt watching those tv shows. And how I feel now, going back there, to those days I can’t really trust my memory of. What was real, what was made up at the time? What I made up throughout the years? I’m a storyteller (-ish, I try ok? Don’t rain on my parade) and I unfortunately tend to tell stories, mainly to myself, in order to survive (yes, it’s kind of a Joan Didion’s quote, but it’s bloody true in my case ok?). Those stories are severely inspired by the ones I’ve read and watched and those stories I always thought were real. Guess what, there’s nothing real in a 15-year-old who randomly quotes Nietzsche or a nerdy rich kid from Orange County. There is some truth, but there is mainly a showrunner in his mid 30ies or 40ies with a weird Peter Pan Syndrome and some money.

And then I found SKAM. I didn’t properly found it, the whole bloody world wide web litterally threw it at me, screaming and yelling and dancing and getting wasted over it: teenagers skipping classes in order to watch it live, a Tumblr invasion, gifs, favideos and people begging someone to translate the subtitles.

Clearly I hated the idea of it immediately, as I hate everything too famous or too appreciated by everyone, especially Tumblr. Like that, easy, just for the sake of it. But it didn’t matter with SKAM, because it was able to talk to me anyway. I started watching it with the callous attitude of a destructive and brutal critic. I was ready to be the only one to write something scornful about it (I really love to be the underdog just in case you didn’t notice yet).

But I couldn’t, because SKAM is brutally honest, openly realistic and unfairly beautiful. I found myself into my teens again(ok, not completely. No social networks, no weird apps, no Grindr but whatevah) even if those kids are far too young to even think of comparisons.

But I couldn’t, because SKAM is brutally honest, openly realistic and unfairly beautiful.

Nevertheless I understand the reasons why it became such a phenomenon: it speaks the language of youth, the many languages and secret codes and emojis and likes and weird smiley faces on the screen, and it does it elegantly and tenderly; it does it through touching but never sugary dialogues, opening up about topics such as homosexuality, religion, mental illness, but especially because it’s brutally honest about the thorny situations everyone alsways talks about but no one really explores.

How do teenagers deal with identity and belonging, how do they express them, how do they articulate them into reality?

SKAM digs into the feebles balances of relationships: with peers, friends, frenemies, love interests and ourselves, the most difficult ones to deal with. What does being a teen ager mean is not a rethorical question, not today, not after many years of not very plausible plots and storylines on youths. How do teenagers deal with identity and belonging, how do they express them, how do they articulate them into reality? How do they deal with them in the everyday life?

The way Isak, throughout the third season explores his relationship with Even it’s not just about realising homosexuality. It’s about deal with the complexities of this discover put into the real world, a world of friends and family, of religious mothers and absent fathers. And then it’s simple, natural, a human struggle with words and conversations, with THE truth and many thruts.

There is no space for neverending lectures about sexuality, life, religion, and morality. Same as in the real life. No one ever really sits down talking about stuff. It’s natural, it goes with the flow of the everyday life.

Despite personal tastes, religion, sexuality, age and lifestyle, there is something no one can deny about SKAM: it smells real.

Sana, Isak’s classmate, embodies the whole spirit of SKAM’s impeccable storytelling; instead of being just a character put into the storyline to talk about terrorism and religious conflict, she’s depicted with such a delicate but firm touch, with a realistic and complex view. She is Muslim, but first of all she is a teenager, a friend, a student, a person. She is fully conscious of her identity, both of the part she can relate to and the part other people relate her to, but she is depicted so honestly and openly that her character alone could explain the right success of the product.

Despite personal tastes, religion, sexuality, age and lifestyle, there is something no one can deny about SKAM: it smells real. Real fear, real difficult to fit, real and absolute everything, from love to hate, from affection to rage. And that familiar awkwardness when it comes to articulate feelings and emotions, whet it comes to stand in front of friends and schollmates and be different, no matter what that means for any of us in different times and places. We are still teenagers in a way, no matter what, and SKAM is great because it has the voice to speak to it.

Loner. Graphomaniac. Book Sniffer. Quirky. Argumentative. Unavoidably Underdog. I hate Twitter. I know, coherence is overrated.