Does television mirror real life, or does it spearhead changes in society? The debate can continue, but here's the latest update on 'violent' television from Russia.
After a fight in the hallway, the camera lingers on blood dripping from a boy's mouth. A slouching teenager boasts of "knocking up a chick", while his classmates swig cans of beer at break time.
AdvertisementThat's the brutal picture of school life in "School", a hard-hitting TV drama that started this week on Russia's Channel One television and has provoked outrage from teachers and officials.
The series, directed by 25-year-old film maker Valeria Gai Germanika, has been compared to the award-winning British drama "Skins" -- showing a raw, gritty real-life take on teenage pupils as they drink, smoke and fight, without shying away from references to sex and Internet pornography.
"Shows like this shouldn't be on television," the head of the Moscow education department, Olga Larionova, told the city government after watching the first episode this week, Russian agencies reported.
Communist deputy Vladislav Yurchik told MPs that the show was "a planned sabotage against our children and young people", and called for Channel One's director to pull it off the air, RIA Novosti reported.
The film's director argued Wednesday that she had simply tried to show the truth about school life.
"I sincerely grieve for the people who are outraged by the show, but as an artist I can't film it differently," Gai Germanika told AFP, saying that the show reflects her own school years.
"I'm a post-perestroika child, and school was already like that," she said.
Gai Germanika is a well-known film maker who specializes in close-to-the-bone portrayals of teen life.
She won a special mention at Cannes film festival in 2008 for her movie "Everyone Dies But Me" about teenage girls at a school disco that becomes a traumatic rite of passage.
The school series was the idea of Channel One director Konstantin Ernst, she said. "He really likes me as a director, my approach, and so he invited me to be the author."
The 60-episode series has a starry line-up of writers involved in contemporary Russian drama, including playwrights Vyacheslav Durnenkov and Yury Klavdiyev.
"I understand that it's very unfamiliar for a national channel because they usually show soap operas," Gai Germanika said of the show.
Channel One gave "School" an early evening slot and openly promotes what it calls its "extreme documentary style" as a radical departure from standard Russian TV fare -- meaning formulaic cop series, sentimental family sagas and the like.
"No one has shown life at school like this before," it boasted before the premiere on Monday.
"What do you know about us at all?" the show's trailer asks.
The show portrays the school as run by out-of-touch dinosaurs. A grey-haired teacher calls students "monkeys", and a 70-year-old teacher complains that he hasn't encountered a "personality" since the 1980s.
"As a teacher and a public figure, I'm against this series -- and I'm 22," Anatoly from Yakutsk wrote on Channel One's web site.
The channel defended the director in a statement sent to AFP saying that the show aims to "understand the problems of schools, not to hide them".
"As for the concerns of the Moscow education department, we would like to point out that the series is fictional, not a documentary, and it doesn't take place in Moscow," the channel added.
The show is filmed in a real Moscow school, with some of the students appearing on screen, Gai Germanika said, however.
The headmistress of the school where the show is made insisted to RIA Novosti news agency on Wednesday that the show doesn't reflect reality.
"Just let one of my children try smoking on the school grounds," said the school head Tatyana Rybina.
The show isn't the first negative portrayal of the education system on television. A popular sketch comedy show, "Our Russia", features a school teacher who spends her time dreaming up new ways to extort money from her pupils.
While the under-funded public school system is nominally free, teachers are notorious for demanding money to accept students and to pay for school books.
The headmistress of a Moscow school was detained on suspicion of pocketing a bribe of 30,000 rubles (1,016 dollars) for accepting a pupil, the Investigative Committee said Tuesday.
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