Skam: From shame to acceptance

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Twenty days ago I saw for the first time the online series Skam, an almost unknown series that has recently gained a lot of popularity and publicity. Last week Skam was featured in the Guardian and in newspapers and websites in Ireland, Spain, Argentina and Brazil. An account on Twitter made by a fan of the series gained 10.000 followers in one week.

Skam is a Norwegian online series that deals with the lives of teenagers in a high school in Oslo. It focuses on their relationships, their concerns and how they construct their identities. Each season focuses on a character and the story unfolds through its own perspective.

The project of Skam is considered risky precisely because of its realism and its progressiveness. The series does not limit itself to simply being a teen love story. Through these stories the series explores how young people negotiate their identity, re-construct themselves through their erotic and friendly relationships.

The series, clearly influenced by the spirit of our times, makes good use of social media. So, it does not just offer one episode each week but breaks the rules and updates the audience every day with a short video that leads to the weekly episode every Friday. In addition, during the week, the viewer can see updates on the series website with screenshots of conversations between the characters, messages that they exchange and so on. The characters even have their own instagram accounts updated with photos and videos that are an essential part of the course of the story. The use of social media is a novelty of the series that has helped to create enthusiasm among young viewers and offers an unprecedented sense of realism.

The third season, which is in progress, is the one that has dramatically increased the audience of the series. Interest has grown so much that non Norwegians viewers are gathering signatures through an online petition requesting the addition of English subtitles to the episodes. So far, subtitles and translations of various screenshots are provided voluntarily by several Norwegian viewers via Tumblr or Twitter accounts that are dedicated to spreading Skam to non Norwegian viewers worldwide.

The third season is developed through the perspective of Isak — a young, popular student whose contact with classmate Even has started to put his sexual identity into question. The viewer experiences the initial ambivalence and the later undeniable love that Isak feels. We watch how Isak slowly accept his feelings, his identity, dares to admit it to his friends and later to his family, how he felt in love, how he was disappointed, and so on and so forth.

Usually such TV and film stories have some specific patterns, an emptiness in approach, a simplicity in presentation, a tragic end or a focus on the sexual dimension. Here we have nothing similar. All comments on the internet agree that never before has a same-sex love been presented in such an honest way and with so much emphasis on the relationship that is created between two people, particularly at such a young age.

It is clear that the series aims to highlight various issues that potentially could interest young people at this stage of the negotiation and construction of their identities. For example, in the same season, except for the issue of sexual identity and same-sex love that is dominant, two other issues arise; religion and mental illness. Isak discusses with a female Muslim classmate and with his Christian mother about the issue of homosexuality.

In one such discussion Isak argues that, according to religion, homosexuality is a sin, but also according to religion all humans are created in the image of God and all are equal.

The word “skam” means “shame” in English. I assume that the creators chose this title because the series addresses many of the issues that usually young people are embarrassed to reveal or that the fear of shame leads them to hide. Skam has nothing to do with shame but with acceptance.

It shows us that we can build a society in which acceptance would defeat shame and fear.

A free society that would be enriched by diversity and stop sinking in the misery of its stereotypes.

Perhaps this is the reason why Skam focuses on young people. They are, after all, the future of society. The protagonists of tomorrow.

Originally published at on December 8, 2016.

PhD candidate, School of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Freelance writer.

PhD candidate, School of Political Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Freelance writer.