Skam

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Skam: the real and risqué norwegian tv show causing teen hysteria. Skam is taking over teenagers’ lives – fans are adding their own subtitles, skipping school, and losing sleep over this Skins-like high school drama that subverts stereotypes

This past week, I received an email from a 24-year-old girl urging me to write about this Norwegian TV series, Skam. I was skeptical. Was this some grassroots PR at work? Was she somehow involved with the show? “No,” Hanne Selboe Karagülle assured me, “I am not involved in the series in any way, just a fan (like everyone else in Scandinavia it seems)!”

Later, I would discover that fans, people like Karagülle, were on a tireless crusade to make this racy teen drama more popular. They’re hard at work tweeting at celebrities and launching petitions for the network on which it aired, NRK, to add English subtitles for international fans. All fighting for a show that doesn’t really need the help. Despite being in Norwegian, it’s drawn viewers from countries around the world who have all pictured themselves locking lips with William, dishing spicy one-liners like Sana, or coming out to friends like Isak. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Karagülle told me it centred on high school students and their struggles, dreams, and rakish hookups in Oslo. Each season is told from the POV of one main character. It’s unique in that clips of the show are posted in real time online, as if its characters are real people. So, for example, if a party on the show is happening Saturday at 2am, that’s when the party clip is posted. On Fridays, all the clips published that week are assembled into one episode.

When the show isn’t on air, fans can interact with the characters via fake profiles on Instagram and Facebook. Text messages between characters are also posted online, prompting speculation throughout the week. It’s like you’re living with them, says 20-year-old Grazia Ames, a fan of the show. “I like some photos on Instagram because I like the fact that they make them seem just like another friend or real person out there.”

At the bottom of Karagülle’s email, there was a link to a teaser for season three. Harmless enough, I thought. Wrong. Shirtless teen boys in a locker room spray each other with water bottles. A milk carton narrowly misses one guy’s head, exploding into a milk shower, which soaks Isak’s face. It looked so much like gay porn. What the hell was this show? Some were calling it a less OTT, less pretentious version of UK drama Skins.

I decided to give Skam a shot. I was consumed, swallowed up in a vortex of startlingly normal teen drama. I binged two and a half seasons, containing 12 episodes each, in less than two days. I started telling friends about it, following the characters on social media and throwing favs at tweets from fan accounts. As I hooked up to the drip feed that was Skam,

I poked around online. I began to realise just what a phenomenon this show was becoming. The first season aired in September 2015, and at certain points during season two, Skam – which translates to “Shame” – was watched by some 1.3 million viewers. Norway’s population is 5 million people. Over one-fifth of the country was tuning in to watch. Skam came out of nowhere. Shielded from the press, the actors in the show did nothing to drum up publicity. Many of them still have day jobs. (The actress who plays Noora works as a telemarketer.) There were no advertisements for the show. The creators simply relied on social media to rocket launch this TV series to the masses.

Now, Skam is causing teen hysteria. Some kids are reportedly skipping school to watch the show. NRK has been bombarded by tweets from teens saying they can’t sleep because they’re aggressively refreshing the page, awaiting new clips or text messages.

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Enforced Common Sense: How Iceland keeps its Teens healthy

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In Iceland, teenage smoking, drinking and drug use have been radically cut in the past 20 years. How did they do it, and why won’t other countries follow suit?

It’s a little before three on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a pushchair, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out – so where are all the kids?

Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”

We approach a large building. “And here we have the indoor skating,” says Gudberg. A couple of minutes ago, we passed two halls dedicated to badminton and ping pong. Here in the park, there’s also an athletics track, a geothermally heated swimming pool and – at last – some visible kids, excitedly playing football on an artificial pitch.

Young people aren’t hanging out in the park right now, Gudberg explains, because they’re in after-school classes in these facilities, or in clubs for music, dance or art. Or they might be on outings with their parents.

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

If it was adopted in other countries, Milkman argues, the Icelandic model could benefit the general psychological and physical wellbeing of millions of kids, not to mention the coffers of healthcare agencies and broader society. It’s a big if.

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