the 'skam' fandom is the greatest community you're not part of
“Is SKAM the future of television?” This is the question a Vanity Fair article poised in 2016, when the Norwegian teen drama was bizarrely and unexpectedly beginning to amass an ardent following of American viewers. No focus groups or ad campaigns made this happen. SKAM was not even being aired on US television or available to stream online. Gen-Zers were stumbling across the show on social media themselves. Reblogged GIFs of Isak and Even, the show’s iconic queer couple, kissing in a pool motivated fans to sleuth the internet for illegal Tumblr download links and YouTube clips. “Everyone was reposting the GIFs saying they were the realest representation of, not just a gay couple, but a couple in general,” Joshua, a 23-year-old from South Wales, Australia tells me over FaceBook Messenger. Two years later, and it very much so looks like the answer to Vanity Fair’s question is yes — SKAM will change the way we all consume television.
The series has found fans in everyone from suburban moms in Rhode Island to queer teens in Mexico through its unique, real-time format. Coming to a close last year, clips of the show’s episodes were premiered throughout the week and uploaded at the same time the action in the show was taking place. The interactive format — including texts, FaceTime calls, and fake Instagram profiles — felt like an ingenious way to capture our modern, flighty attention spans. The show possesses a meta quality to it. The characters heavily use the same platforms we consume their stories on. As a result of this innovative approach, SKAM has been adapted everywhere from Russia to Italy. And with the American adaptation premiering on Facebook’s new streaming platform last week (titled SKAM: Austin), it looks like the SKAM franchise is set to capture its biggest audience yet.
The official Facebook group for SKAM: Austin had 7,000 members only two weeks after it launched. In it, SKAM fans can be found bonding with one another: debating who they think will be their favorite character, throwing out plot theories, and posting long-winded, but well-argued, critiques. It feels like an evolution of those early dot-com fanboards we use to scroll through, hidden behind usernames. This time, however, our identities are on full display. “Okay. But which one do you ship more?” one fan asked members after the first episode. “Meg and Shay OR Meg and Grace.”
The Facebook group has also sparked genuine friendships. “It’s lead me to a group chat on Whatsapp, which has been super fun to follow,” Lauren Tran, who lives in Texas, tells me. “We’re already developing a show idea based on our group chat called: a mood. It's kind of a inside joke, but maybe kinda not.” The experience has been seminal for Lauren, the college student being able to connect with other people who are obsessed with SKAM just as much as she is. “I was so used to discussing SKAM with just my three friends,” she says. “But overall, I’ve found immense comfort in being able to freely discuss all things SKAM, ranging from scene analysis to hilarious conspiracy theories.”American fans are also helping Europeans understand the new nuances in SKAM: Austin, Lauren says. For example, explaining what STARR is. The state-mandated test is featured in the beginning of the show, the main character Meghan upset over her 68 percentile score.
The fact that the American adaptation of SKAM takes place in Austin, Texas is a novel setting for both European and American viewers. Outside of Friday Night Lights, there have been few realistic depictions of Texas in coming of age shows. As someone who grew up in Dallas, I have seen people from New York to Berlin assume the state is nothing but cowboys, guns, and rednecks. Through its diverse cast full of POC actors, the show illustrates an oft-overlooked point about the red state: It’s extremely multicultural.
“It's always funny to see a show or film set in Austin, because most have a tendency to overdo the Texas-isms or go too far emphasizing how hip it's supposed to be,” 41-year-old Tammy Gilmore, who also lives in Texas, says. “They get the little things right, too, like band references and the venues where they have a party were both cool Austin references without being super obvious.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing to be found in the SKAM: Austin Facebook group is the array of nationalities, ages, and sexualities in it. Laura Lesh is a 38-year-old mom from Rhode Island and was just as excited to talk about the show over Facebook Messenger as the teens I interviewed. Laura came across the show by accident, searching for a song on YouTube and clicking on a compilation video of Even and Isak. “I was absolutely fascinated by their love story! To be honest, growing up, we did not have too many gay storylines with that much depth. So I began with season one and watched all four seasons over the course of a month.”
Laura says SKAM is the multidimensional show she wishes she had growing up. “I work with teenagers and they have the potential to explore exactly the kinds of dynamics they have in the show,” she says. She finds herself connecting to the way the show’s writers tackle girlhood. “Like with the "girl squad.” Too often, girls see each other as competition. Even I said, when I was a teenager and in college, that I had more friendships with men because women were catty and didn’t really care about each other. Now I have such incredible female relationships and they are more supportive, I wish I had developed those types of relationships in my school years and didn’t rely so much on how men felt about me.”
All of the fans I talked to were able to see themselves in one of the show’s characters, from the queer protagonist of season three, Isak, to the muslim teen badass of season four, Sana. “My own specific experience the show speaks to is definitely the experiences that Even and Isak went through in the show,” Joshua shares, speaking on his queer identity. “The experiences of feeling so alone and trying to find yourself and scared of just being seen as a stereotype is what really drew me in.”
SKAM fans are already eager to know who the queer counterparts to Even and Isak will be on the American version. Many are placing their bets on Shay, a tomboy who is casually smart and in a rock band. But some keen-eyed fans have noticed visual references that might be linking Tyler to Even. The reference? Both of the characters wear leaves in their hair at one point. It might not be much to work off of, but that’s irrelevant to SKAM diehards. Either way, fans are putting a lot of pressure on Julie Andem, who created and wrote the original SKAM, to make the American version as boundary-pushing and thrilling. Adrian Vinicius of Mexico City was disappointed when he saw how many parallels the adaptation's first episode had to the original’s. “At first I got super excited since I’ve been depressed since the final episode of SKAM Norway, and when they dropped the first clips I was really disappointed because I thought they would make something new and original, but it seems like just another copy.”
However, Laura thinks it’s unfair to expect Julie to change the landscape of American teen television. To Laura, Julie has already provided enough representation by confronting plotlines about eating disorders, islamophobia, and the realities of bipolar disease. “It is on everyone else out there creating content to keep pushing the envelope and doing more,” she says. “Not just her.”