Skam is web television series. It is about teenagers attending a Norwegian high school in Oslo. The series is about their troubles, scandals, and shame in everyday life. The title seems to be very strong. But Skam (shame in English) is such a present emotion in the everyday struggle to find one’s own identity and place in a demanding society.
Viewers can observe the main characters in a wide range of situations. Many of them yet unknown to them in their lives. Their perspectives, views, emotional states, and reactions are the main focus of the series. In the series, we can see clearly a young female character’s development toward feminism as an “advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Equality, that modern society is unfortunately still lacking. For ages, women were forced to play a secondary part in a men-dominated world. But at one point in time, their will for self-development and independence led to creating feminism ideology.
Skam was produced by NRK, a Norwegian government-owned television channel. NRK operates without advertising income. Instead, the income is earned from licensing fees. Skam was originally addressed to teenagers and young adults in Norway. However, according to Emma Vestrheim Skam has become a sensation. It is the most-watched web series in Norwegian history. Since it aired in 2015, 20% of the Norwegian population have streamed the television series. Within a short time, the viewers demographic increased globally.
The Format in Skam
A major part in the series success is played by the format, which unfolds in real-time. The clips are posted in real-time to NRK’s website. Then the clips are compiled into a 30-minute episode airing on Fridays. So, for instance, if the lead character has a breakdown after a party at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, then viewers get to see the clip at exactly that time. By doing so, NRK creates a special bond between the series and the viewers. This bond has never been explored on this media platform before.
Impact of Skam
Skam has both Norwegian and international viewers. Marianne Furevold-Boland, the executive producer of Skam, said they “were aiming for 16-year-old Norwegian girls. We hadn’t thought that this was going to be so important for so many others – but it shows us, regardless of gender, nationality, culture, or religion, that it has been universal.”
The series itself tries to address key questions, such as ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my role as a female in modern society?’ ‘How will I live my life?’ Julie Andem, the series creator, spent months researching and interviewing Norwegian teenage girls hoping that the series would feel as authentic as possible.
“It was important to me that teenagers understood we knew who they were, and if we can paint a true picture of who they are, and how they live, they will trust us. If you get their trust, you can get in a moral without it feeling like a grown-up telling them what’s right and wrong.” – Julie Andem, 2017
Lack of Adults
In Skam, there are hardly any adults around. On that topic, Julie Andem says that she “wanted the kids to solve their problems on their own.” The lack of adults in Skam means that teenage characters have all the roles. In practice, they have no grown-ups who see or take care of them. The action takes place in a world where adults at best are distant figures. The adults are only mentioned in dialogues, except for a few occasions.
Literature researcher Brita Strand Rangnes considers the absence of adults in the series a reason for its popularity amongst viewers of all ages. Even though it is a teen drama, it also has an adult audience that ultimately expands beyond their target audience, Norwegian teenage girls. With that in mind, the series has quickly become limitless to the age of the audience.
Nevertheless, if the series indeed had adults in it, we would have to somehow identify with them. Still, because the series lacks adults, we can freely distance ourselves from the series and its characters. This results in seeing the teenaged characters in different stages of life.
By removing the adult generation, the viewer can be freed. The absence of parents, teachers, and other adults, makes the teenagers take a central role. Like the clumsy school doctor, Eva’s frequently absent mother, or Noora’s Norwegian teacher, there are small exceptions.
Different Main Characters
Skam manages to focus on different issues that concern female high school students by having a different main character for each season. Skam writers pay equal attention to the representation of different social groups. How their lives overlap and tend to meet at a point and tell their stories. The series uses clichés to weaken the power and unmask stereotypes and prejudice deeply rooted in our minds. Female characters and their perspectives are the driving force for most of the storylines.
Contrast to A Doll’s House
In many ways, Skam is similar to A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Even though there are more than 135 years between Skam and A Doll’s House, there are some similarities. For example, the love story in each season of Skam has the same structure as the love story about Nora and Torvald in A Doll’s House. Skarstein believes that “this type of structure is currently known from Hollywood films, which among other adolescents see much of, and is a dramaturgy that Hollywood has taken over from Ibsen.”
This kind of drama is usually called melodrama. It has clear plots and appeals to the viewer’s feelings, also known as pathos. Christine Gledhill writes that the “significant of feminist analysis of melodrama is not simply that it brings a ‘women’s area’ into critical view, but that it poses wider questions about gender and culture.” The melodrama genre has a low status in the culture, but it has not always been that way.
Today, melodrama is not considered a high-cultural field. But, contrary to what we usually think, it has not always been underrated as popular culture. Gledhill says that “modern melodrama both overlaps and competes with realism and tragedy, maintaining complex historical relations with them.”
Ibsen used melodrama in his realistic pieces. Perhaps because realism did not appeal to his project to produce humanistic values. Skam takes a similar approach. In her book, Marcia Landy says that the “melodramatic narratives are driven by the experience of one crisis after another, crises involving severed familial ties, separation and loss, misrecognition of one’s place, person and propriety.”
Themes in Skam
Each season has a different theme. Season one is based on establishing female friendships between the five girls. However, it also deals with Eva’s relationship with Jonas, loneliness, identity, and belonging.
Season two deals with the aftermath of sexual harassment. It also deals with Noora’s relationship with William, her boyfriend. And season two also discusses issues of friendship, feminism, eating disorders, violence, and the ongoing refugee problem in Norway.
Season three does not have a female protagonist, it is still considered female-friendly with feministic elements. It focuses on Isaak, a teenage gay boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. The season also focuses on themes are also his relationships, mental illness, religion, and acceptance.
The final season focuses on how it is to be a Muslim in a western country through the eyes of teenage girl Sana. The season also focuses on cyberbullying, friendship, and the Norwegian russ pre-graduating period.
In its portrayal of female characters, Skam manages to focus on different issues. Such as religion, disorders, sexuality, friendships, acceptance and adolescent love. As well as the status of feminism in modern Norwegian society. Still, the girls support and help each other. Intentionally determined to create a supportive setting for their own goals and ambitions. This does not allow “boy drama” to become the only focus of their life. This simple act of alliance and unity allows us to sense the first breaths of feminism in these young women.
The Bechdel Test
One method that will determine if a text is feminist or a non-misogynist is The Bechdel Test. As Scott Selisker pointed out “the test itself gives the text a pass or fail to rate based on three linked criteria: “It has to have at least two women in it (1), who talk to each other (2) about something besides a man (3).”
Each season of Skam passes that test. Five girls do indeed have names, Eva, Sana, Chris, Noora, and Vilde. Three of them have their season and are the main character of it. They talk to each other about a wide range of topics such as school, being intoxicated or everyday life. However, as teenage girls, it also happens that they do indeed talk about boys, but in that case just occasionally. The male subject is not the leading one but stands as a side topic in everyday interactions.
Skam as a Feminist Text
Skam is a feministic text because of its good use of female characters that interact with each other daily. The Oxford Dictionary defines the feminist ideology as “a critique of patriarchy, on the one hand, and an ideology committed to women’s emancipation on the other. Issues such as race, sexuality, class, and ethnicity have served to disperse the idea of an essential ‘woman’ in which all women would recognize themselves.”
“Feminism, in particular, given melodrama’s long relegation as a women’s cultural domain, claims a stake in the critical reappropriation of the form and introduces the problem of the ‘woman’s film’ which, it has been assumed, represents a sub-set of melodrama.” (Christine Gledhill)
The Feminist Approach in Skam
The feministic approach in Skam appears in every season of the series. The girls are portrayed as normal teenagers who feel the pressure of the expectation that society forces them upon. For example, the feelings of shame and not being good enough. Or the fear of judgment, and the burden of universally being accepted to standards of good behavior. Or even social status, power over their social circumstances, and decision-making processes.
For instance, some examples can be taken from the series, such as when Noora saw Ingrid bulling Eva. Noora decided to say to Eva that “Girls who call other girls for sluts are 90% more likely to get chlamydia.” Or even when Sana said to Isak, “So if you hear anybody use religion to legitimize their hate, then don’t listen to them. Because hate doesn’t come from religion, it comes from fear.” Melanie Waters suggests, “the precise ways in which women are screened in film and on television are illuminated by – and might also illuminate – ongoing debates about the relationship between feminism and femininity.”
Skam is a great example of a television series aimed towards teenage girls, soon-to-be women, that passed the Bechdel Test. The series has strong female characters that give the female characters their own stories. Therefore, these factors make it clear that Skam should be considered a feministic text. Not only because of its strong female characters, but also because it happens in real-time. It addresses the real issues that occur in today’s society from the female perspective. Nevertheless, the series heart is about friendship, love, sex, partying and betrayal, amongst those five teenage girls.
The series refers to the current social and political issues in Norway. The issues are seen through the eyes of a young Norwegian woman sharing their opinion and trying to solve everyday life. And also they are encouraging each other to be better. The main characters are trying to find their own identity in the modern world.
The focus that has been given to these girls and the show’s popularity proves that there was a reason and need for a series like this. Considering that the viewers of the series are Norwegians and international. Skam is a good example of a television series that empowers female characters and develops feminist representation.