X

SpaceLogo Sciences Participating with Arts & Culture in Education

By James Stewart March 12, 2020

Skam

Illustrated by Fabiana Jolin-Campos

It’s midday at Dawson College, and my friends and I are eating lunch in Oliver’s. All of a sudden, my phone beeps as a notification pops up on its screen. Smiling, I pull out my earbuds and tune out of the conversation for a moment to watch something. But within a few minutes I’ve put down my phone and returned to interacting with the people around me. This kind of brief disappearance on my part is something my friends have become used to when a Skam season is airing, although they, like many people, do not entirely understand why the show is so important to me, and my fixation on watching a series over and over in different languages. 

Skam is originally a Norwegian teen drama released by NRK (the public broadcaster in Norway) about students who attend Hartvig Nissen, a real secondary school in Norway. The show aired four seasons from 2015 to 2017, each with a different main character (but who all appear in each other's seasons), colloquially referred to as “mains.” Skam’s airing format is entirely unique; it was released in “clips” throughout the week, showing individual scenes in real time. At the end of the week, these clips would be compiled into an episode. For example, if the character was eating dinner on Monday at 6:05 pm, the clip would be released on Monday at 6:05 pm. Each clip begins with Skam’s now signature yellow timestamp that shows the day of the week and time. Additionally, each character in the series had an Instagram account where pictures and stories would be posted throughout the season, and the network would release screenshots of text messages between characters, offering complementary information on what the characters were doing in between scenes. In 2018, a host of other broadcasters in different countries began to acquire the rights to make remakes of the series in different countries. There are currently remakes in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, and Spain, and broadcasters in many other countries have expressed interest in making their own remakes. It is hard to know where to begin in order to explain Skam’s success, and how it became the international phenomenon that it did. However, I believe that unarguably two techniques that Skam has employed have lended themselves to the enormous impact that it has had: the unique storytelling format and the authentic portrayal of teenage life. 

Skam is a Norwegian word that means shame. Each main has their own struggle and their own “shame” that they attempt to overcome throughout their season, and these often connect the show with viewers who have experienced similar struggles. In the original, the first season is about Eva, a girl who struggles with loneliness, discovering who she is as an individual, and the importance of friendship. The second season is about Noora, a girl who falls in love and who struggles with maintaining her morals and principles while being with someone who has different beliefs than her. Season three is about Isak, who struggles with internalized homophobia while coming to terms with his sexuality after meeting Even. Finally, season four is about Sana and her relationship with her faith as a Muslim teenager in Norway. The show also includes many other topics like mental illness, sexual assault, eating disorders, women’s empowerment, and more. Although the remakes sometimes make changes to the storylines, themes such as these are always at the forefront of Skam. One viewer that I spoke to, Juul, shared that “Skam made me feel accepted when I didn’t in high school. I understand myself and others better” and another that “The Muslim [representation] is … not perfect obviously but it literally means the world to me. Nowhere else can I find it done this well where Sana is a person and not a villain. How she talks about Islam … was just so spot on.” Particularly, Isak’s season connected with a lot of queer youth, and many individuals who I spoke to shared that his story helped them embrace their own sexuality or come out. Personally, I first watched Druck, the German adaptation of the show, because of their portrayal of the Even character as a transgender boy. As a queer trans man, I never saw myself in teenage relationships on screen growing up, and Druck was one of the first times that I did.  

It is this realistic portrayal of teenage life that strikes so many about Skam. The dialogue and interactions of the characters seem refreshingly authentic in a world of TV shows like Riverdale. Julie Andem, the creator of the show, spent six months interviewing Norwegian teenagers before writing¹. As well, the actors are all teenagers themselves, something practically unheard of in Hollywood films where high school students are nearly always played by adults. Not only does their age add to their accurate portrayal of teenage characters, but it allowed Andem to consult the actors throughout the show as well. Often teenage dialogue written by adults can feel completely inaccurate, and Skam offered something that teenagers actually saw themselves in. 

Despite the spectacular content, I believe that a big part of Skam’s success, as well as the incredible community of fans it has created, is due to the airing format. I watched the first three seasons of the original like any normal TV show, as they already aired, and so season four was the first time that I was able to be a part of the live clip-dropping experience. It is important to note that no version of Skam subtitles their clips, episodes and content in other languages, and so it is fans who subtitle the content within hours of it dropping and share it with the international community. It is hard to describe the feeling of being part of this online community during an airing season; after every clip there is a flurry of discussion, whether that be excitement, sadness, or simply theorizing about what will happen next. One fan, Lorra, shared that “The fact that we never know when a clip will drop is both nerve-wracking and incredibly exciting. You never know what you're going to get. It's absolutely revolutionary” and Juul that “As someone who loves film and innovative filmmaking I think the timed clips are interesting. It makes the wait shorter. Yet it feels way longer.” Juul also spoke about how the characters’ social media accounts further enhanced Skam’s storytelling, saying that “Giving characters social media fleshes them out as characters. You can see who they are on their own and how they present themselves to others.” Translators of the original would typically share translated clips through Google drive links, which earned the Skam fandom the nickname “the google drive fandom,” a testament to how integral this show’s format was to how it was appreciated by fans. Skam was originally simply created for Norwegian teenagers, but through the love fans had for the show and for sharing it with others who did not speak Norwegian, it grew into an international phenomenon with fans everywhere.  

Through their usage of techniques such as releasing the show in clips and the dedication to telling a story about teenagers accurately, the creators of Skam created a television series that not only told a beautiful story, but also connected with fans on a deeper level. It is hard to quantify the impact Skam has had on those who watch it, but when I reached out to fans and asked what Skam meant to them, I received responses like “My world revolves around it” and “Truly everything a TV show can … mean to a person. It genuinely changed my life … that sounds fake but it’s true.” Lorra explained how the show had helped her come out as bisexual to her parents, and that she had “alt er love” tattooed on her wrist (an important line from Skam, meaning everything is love). Another fan, Sera, shared that “To me, Skam is … a story of hope, acceptance (and self-acceptance), and recovery. It’s a story where you can see yourself in the characters and find yourself through them and a realization that things will get better.” I cannot help but agree. Skam has taught me so much about people and about the world, and I am forever grateful to it. So, when people ask me why I keep watching remakes, I suppose that I should tell them that I think we are all drawn to beautiful and relatable stories, and that’s exactly what Skam is, told and re-told in an incredible way. 

 ¹ https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/tv-radio/2017/04/skam-how-cult-teen-drama-has-fans-invading-sets-stalking-characters 

About the author

James Stewart is a 2nd year student in Liberal Arts.

About the illustrator

Fabiana Jolin-Campos is a 1st year Illustration student.

Share This

Comments

  1. space-default-avatar

    Joob

    August 31, 2020

    I had never heard of Skam until today, but this article makes it seem very appealing. Many teen shows available these days, especially in North America, are full of “teenage dialogue written by adults” which often feels “completely inaccurate”.
    It’s also wonderful to know that there is good LGBTQ+ representation and a Muslim character who is not portrayed as a villain. The fact this article also mentions how the fandom was translating the show and sharing it through google drive is amazing, and portrays fandoms in a wonderfully positive light. I look forward to looking the show up and potentially getting into it!

  1. space-default-avatar

    Gabriela

    September 1, 2020

    Right after reading this text I really wanted to go and watch the show, it looks very appealing! Although it’s in another language it seems to be a very interesting tv series to watch. The simple description of the show gives it away saying how good it is. The idea of how it’s made is really fascinating. It is very uncommon to see tv show’s that are built like this. What makes it seem even better is how accurate it appears to be to all the teenagers watching it. It is great to know that a tv show meant fo teenagers speaks up about important topics in our society. It is clearly perceive as much more than just a tv show to the young audience watching it. From what I understood SKAM helps out young teens to deal with their struggle, which is amazing.

  1. space-default-avatar

    Rita

    September 1, 2020

    An interesting article to read is this one which talks about a Norwegian TV show called Skam. I had already heard about Skam a few years ago, but I never had the motivation to watch the show. After reading this text, I finally gathered the motivation to watch some episodes. It’s rare to find shows like this in America, because it’s always too fictional and unrealistic. The fact that this TV show presents some important everyday issues can make us relate to these episodes since these topics are a part of our reality, like homophobia, mental illness, eating disorder or even the life of a muslim in a country where the population rate of muslim is really low, etc.

  1. space-default-avatar

    alyssas

    September 1, 2020

    I’ve only ever watched the first season of the Italian version of Skam, It was very interesting but after reading this article I feel like I didn’t get the full experience. Unfortunately I didn’t watch it in the clip dropping format, and I also found there was some problems with it, such as Sana being a white actress playing a Muslim character. However the representation of teen life was portrayed extremely well and this article really makes me want to watch the Norwegian version of the show. Many of my friends have also told me about the show and how exceptional it is.  I’m happy I gained more insight about the show because I’ve never truly felt represented in teen shows such as the vampire diaries or as mentioned here Riverdale, and while these shows are entertaining they do not represent what so ever what being a teenager is about. They come off as very superficial and they are lacking in topics that many teens deal with and can relate to. Judging from this article Skam seems to connect with many teens so I think it does its job right and I cant wait to watch.

  1. space-default-avatar

    Alice

    September 1, 2020

    I had never heard of Skam before reading this article, and honestly, I now really want to watch it. The concept is original and intriguing and it makes the show appealing to me as I also want to be part of this new experience that is this series. I’m also grateful that Skam pictures adolescence realistically and represents the LGBTQ+ community, which most coming-of-age movies fail to do adequately. I am curious to see how the producers of the show made that come true, especially since the author of the article mentioned exquisite cinematography. Overall, it seems like a show I would enjoy, and it reminds me a bit of the HBO show ‘Euphoria’. I will definitely be adding Skam to my list of shows to watch.

  1. space-default-avatar

    sarah alameen

    September 1, 2020

    reading this article made me love this show even more, I learned so much information that I had no idea of, like posting times of the clips and the Instagram accounts, and maybe that’s becaouse i discovered it in in the late 2018, and it sure was a great dicovery.
    Just like many else said, watching this series makes people not feel alone going through life struggles, because each character, plus each season shows us a various amount of problems or barriers that anyone could face which can vary from social to mental struggles. Watching the mains pass through all of that they faced gives a huge amount of positivity and hope for the watchers to solve their problems or hold on tight untill everything passes by.

  1. space-default-avatar

    linneanguyen

    September 1, 2020

    With relatability being an incredibly important factor in the relationship between a television series and its viewers, it’s impressive to see a show originate from a ‘distant’ place in the world and still acquire such stellar ratings and reviews of such merit. Most often, our sense of belonging or nationalism pushes us to identify uniquely with cultures that are similar to ours, which explains why us Canadians are drawn to the US’ products, our North American counterpart.
    There is something to be said about a Norwegian show earning the attention of viewers internationally. Is it simply because Skam is a very good show? Or perhaps we as consumers are finally beginning to broaden our tastes?

  1. space-default-avatar

    Diana Mocanu

    September 2, 2020

    This is the first time that I hear about this TV show called SKAM. However, I am very interested and intrigued to watch this original show to see how the characters evolve and how they fight the realistic problems that happen in their lives. The image of the LGBT+ community, mental illnesses, sexual assaults, eating disorders, women’s empowerment, Muslims not being portrayed as villains etc. are all very important topics in our society that are presented on this TV show. It is very odd, but at the same time quite impressing how SKAM is built: the show represents real events that can occur in teenage years without it being scripted by adults. Thus, many teenagers worldwide are drawn to SKAM because they can relate to what the actors go through. These watchers hope to solve their issues by getting answers from this TV show. I feel like overall, SKAM seems like a good show to watch when I try to find solutions to my problems that happen in my teenage years.

  1. space-default-avatar

    Diego

    September 2, 2020

    I don’t watch a lot of series but this one now intrigued me. I think that the content of this series and how it’s done makes it unique. It looks like a really opened minded series and that’s revolutionary because of the way they truly present the way of thinking and feeling of a teenager. There aren’t not many shows that you can really connect as a teenager because they don’t show the real struggle of being a teenager. I think it’s awesome how a show can be so inspiring. That’s the most important and spectacular thing about the show, how it inspires people to overcome their fears and helps them be themselves for the first time. It’s wonderful that it started a movement and now other countries are making their own series.

  1. space-default-avatar

    ed_hudson43

    September 3, 2020

    I enjoyed the vulnerability of this article, I’ve never come across something on SPACE that was so raw and see through such as Stewart’s article, “SKAM”. Furthermore, I appreciate the introduction, as the detail of how the show would impact Stewart in an everyday scenario (in the Dawson cafeteria) is interesting and relatable. We can all relate to that feeling of excitement one gets in public, a spontaneous burst of energy from some sudden news, and it’s contagious so I enjoyed reliving Stewart’s burst of excitement myself.

  1. space-default-avatar

    Yzaih PA

    September 7, 2020

    This article was quite enjoyable for me to read. As a cin-com student, I’m always searching for new and innovative pieces of content, whether it’s short-films, movies, or TV shows. SKAM seems to be exactly the thing I would love to dive into. The way you described it felt so personal that it reminded me of feelings I had for a similar show: the quite popular British show “SKINS”. From what I understand, they seem to be dealing with similar themes and characters, so reading you talk so beautifully about your show made me vividly remember scenes from mine. I thank you for that. Also, as a straight man, I’m always trying to get into more content that features LGBTQ+ characteristics, as a way to open my perspectives, so it seems SKAM might be something that ends up being really good to me. Thank you for spreading the word, I’m looking forward to watching it.

You have to be registered and logged in in order to post comments!