I never thought that I would find a show spoken in Norwegian about the daily lives of teenagers to be so enrapturing. From the first several minutes of “Skam,” which translates to shame, I was hooked. The Norwegian drama manages to illustrate what being a teenager is really like by capturing all of the highs and lows, while also making each character seem human. It does not stumble through the unrealistic and often uncomfortable dialogues that surrounded “Skins” and “Degrassi.” “Skam’s” constantly developing plot and its usage of modern media has been a refreshing change in the television world, and I am confident that it will shape how other shows broadcast to their audience in the future.
In a similar fashion to “Skins” and “Degrassi,” each season of the series follows a particular character’s struggles, whether they be due to a toxic relationship, taxing friendships or finding the courage to accept themselves. Each character possesses so many layers that only by the audience viewing from their perspective can people truly understand how they feel and what goes on each day in their complicated lives. The audience is able to watch the protagonist’s every move through text messages and clips that are posted on “Skam’s” website. Each Friday these clips are compiled into an episode that is aired on NRK, Norway’s major television network.
The series has quickly become of the most popular in Norway, with up to 40 percent of the country’s population watching a given episode. To put this in perspective, about 1 in 3 people watch the Super Bowl in the United States each year. This popularity has not been restricted to Norway. The clips are translated into dozens of languages, including English, and posted onto sites such as Tumblr and Twitter so that people around the world can be kept up to date. I discovered a Twitter gif of Isak, who is the main character of Season three, and looked into the show. Two nights later, I had watched all 33 episodes and found myself wanting to move to Norway and befriend each character.
I know that you are probably thinking that this is just another teen drama that Tumblr loves to constantly talk about, but that is not the case. The fact that you can watch each clip as it is posted live makes it feel like these characters are really just Norwegian high schoolers that are dealing with current issues. The usual separation between the audience and a show’s characters is gone, and you can even follow them on Instagram!
Each episode brings up a multitude of important topics such as the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, mental illness, islamophobia, eating disorders, the refugee crisis, coming out, religion, evolution and sexual abuse. Yet, these overarching themes never seem forced but rather provide necessary education to the characters on the show and audience members that may not fully understand what pansexuality really is or how to help a friend with bulimia.
Viewers watch Isak in Season three come to understand that a loved one’s mental illness should not mean that they cannot be a positive member of your life but rather you should embrace them, faults and all, and work together towards making sure they are happy and healthy. These are important issues that many viewers may not fully understand, and I believe that it’s so important to show people who may be struggling with mental illness or an eating disorder themselves that it is possible to not only survive but thrive.
In addition, each season so far has surrounded a complicated relationship. While everyone loves to watch a happily ever after love story, the audience is quickly brought back down to reality, which is especially true in the first season. As Eva, the main character, explains to Jonas why they need to break up, she says, “Your happiness meant more to me than mine, and that cannot be the case.” In addition, when Eva asks Isak whether Even is the man of his dreams, Isak says that he doesn’t know, and that it shouldn’t matter as long as he is happy now. Love is not a fairy tale, and while the deeply felt romances in “Skam” may make it feel like one, the characters are quick to remind each other and the audience that love is work and you have to take it a day at a time, or as Isak says, minute for minute.
A pivotal moment in the series surrounds Isak discussing being gay with Eskild, who is a proudly out, completely-himself individual. When Isak says that he does not want to be associated with gay pride and just wants to love Even, Eskild is quick to educate him rather than challenge him. He says to Isak, “They’re people who, throughout the years, have chosen to endure harassment and hate, who’ve been beaten up and killed. And that’s not because they’re so insanely keen on being different but because they’d rather die than pretend to be something they’re not. And I think that before you’ve fought that battle yourself, before you’ve dared to stand up for who you are, you should be fucking careful with talking and raising yourself above gay pride.”
The show serves as a reminder to surround yourself with people who are going to help you grow as an individual. With those who will stand up and speak up in instances of prejudice, who will take the time to teach you about things you may not understand, and most importantly won’t let you or others remain complacent in your ignorance.
“Skam” has truly changed my perspective on life. I am one who is constantly thinking about the future, about what to do next rather than live in the moment. In the last line in Season three, Isak says, “Whether you believe in Allah or Jesus or evolution or parallel universes there is only one thing we know for sure: that life is now.” Everyone should remember this sentiment in their daily lives and focus on being their best self now.