Euphoria (2019)

Euphoria: Sex Sells, But At What Cost?

By: Domonique Salberg

HBO’s Euphoria is a story not surprisingly popular, controversial, and lauded by the entertainment industry as powerful. Promising to dive into the dark side of Gen Z, it has teens having sex, doing drugs, and pretty much behaving like adults. And, so so so much teenage angst. With that said, it is a somewhat entertaining show. I loved its expressive glitter-bombed cinematography, disorienting creative shots, the actors, and even its excessive snap zooms. But at the same time, it is the epitome of what is wrong with modern teenage dramas.

The Problem with Modern Teenage Dramas

Many have said Euphoria’s narrative is exaggerated and borderline ‘teenage horror,’ an unrealistic Gen Z portrayal, it tries too hard, a gorgeous empty spectacle, or dangerous for young viewers. While positive reviews say it is ‘ballsy realism,’ compelling exploration of addiction, or has hidden depths and of course praising Zendaya‘s (now Emmy-winning) performance. On either side, they make valid points and concerns. Still, critics and fans have failed to mention the real problem with Euphoria and stories like it: the adults making them. The way teenagers are portrayed, written, and directed is erroneous, irresponsible, and reinforces cynical ideas.

Euphoria’s Gen Z

So, written and created by Sam Levinson, he says Euphoria is based on situations he was in as a teen. Since he is a Millennial, it does not make sense why he made the show contemporary, especially if it chronicled his real-life experiences? The story represents more of his generation, yet he depicts the current Gen Z, where researchers have shown them to be surprisingly less sexually active and more chaste than previous generations. Contemporary teens also use drugs less frequently, and their actions reveal a larger “sex decline” happening in America.

So, even though the graphic scenes are unrealistic, they still are irresponsible and not genuine in that they propose a pessimistic characterization of today’s teens with little to no middle ground. Most teens now have a relatively juvenile experience, contrary to the world of Euphoria. The show becomes another among many stories centered around teens that shallowly paint them as nothing more than sex-crazed, drugged-out individuals that lack any refinement, stability, and the healthy curiosity that comes with that time in a person’s life.

Almost every character is damaged beyond belief or does reckless things, and some appear completely unbothered by the consequences. Where are the well-rounded, complex depictions we usually experience in reality if it is ‘ballsy realism’? Every character is either seen through the lens of their sexuality or addictions and not much else. Euphoria doesn’t seem to understand that sophistication can shock as well, it just usually takes more effort to create and convey. 

Hollywood & American Media

Additionally, the suggestion that teens are obsessed with sex and drugs has been a culturally expected and accepted notion for some time. However, they are not necessarily defining characteristics of adolescence. Teens do not know much about sex and drugs, so where do they learn it? The environment adults and the media have created. Teen sex and drugs are another causation of the overly sexualized media, and culture adults have shaped. All this to say, creators should take more personal responsibility for how they portray minors. Make the point that sex and experimentation are a part of life, yes, but many teens still have their innocence and wits about them too.

Both sides responsibly should be presented not only for a more genuine and interesting story but poignancy and depth. What happened to a person having a personality outside of whom you wanted to have sex with, or what kind of drugs you like? Hobbies? Interests? Aptitude? For instance, Rue is predominantly high or looking for drugs, and Jules, besides an interest in visual arts (rarely mentioned throughout the show), is mainly concerned with hooking up with strange men in sketchy hotels. The only character with any real interest is probably Kat with her fan fiction writing. 

Thus, Euphoria’s characters are either their trauma or nothing. The show could have significantly benefited from tapping into other parts of the teenage experience, especially in our more than ever, multifaceted world. Nonetheless, I did appreciate parts of the show: the effects of drug addiction on a family and the psychological damage Nate’s dad has caused him. But, the nagging feeling of its disingenuous, reckless tendencies was off-putting.

It became another teen drama that fails teens by projecting inappropriate adult behavior onto them to dominate and define their experience, which is absurd. To strip away any semblance of their propensity, innocence and boil it down to sex, drugs, and violence is lazy, irresponsible writing, boring, and far from the truth. In this case, Euphoria’s writers should be challenged and held accountable for the questionable ideas they are perpetuating, especially when it involves an impressionable young audience. Hopefully, season 2 gives us more reality, less adult fantasy.

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