For many women, their teenage years are rife with memories that make us physically cringe when we’re alone. Many of our decisions during that period of our lives can be (and usually are) embarrassing.
What makes it funny is that, when we were living it, those four years of high school seemed so important. Something as simple as bringing an umbrella to school on a rainy day felt like a social faux pas. Not wearing the right socks with my sneakers felt apocalyptic. In reality, once those slow four years go by, our lives speed up and, as we gain maturity, we’re able to understand the consequences of certain actions. Perspectives change, and we realize that it is in fact not embarrassing to carry an umbrella on a rainy day.
So if the teenage years are so awkward, then why does our popular media portray our teen years as a sexually self-assured time in our lives? And why is it obsessed with representing girls as objects of desire for adult audiences? Euphoria is a good example of this. With the close of its second season, much like what happened after the first, articles and YouTube videos have begun to appear, asking the same questions: “Who is this for?” and “Why?”
I also ask these same questions. I was late to the Euphoria train, but after so much inundation on my Instagram explore page, I gave in and decided to give the show a try. After watching, I felt deeply disturbed. The conclusion I came to is that Euphoria is a huge example of the media portraying teenagers in a creepy, sexual way.
Euphoria’s Version of “Liberated and Empowered Sexuality”
Throughout the second season, I was continually shocked that I was watching what was presented as 17-year-old girls (though played by adults) having on-screen sex. My purpose is not to demonize sex. Our young years are a time of exploration for many, but people experiencing their sexuality for the first time should have a good support system and an understanding that sex is an enjoyable act of love. Yes, first times can be full of awkwardness and mistakes – for many of us it is. Yet, in the show, most sex scenes are rough, aggressive, casual, borderline pornographic, and sometimes occur between children and adults as seen between Jules (played by Hunter Schafer) and Nate’s father in season 1. All of these scenes are dressed up in a pleasing aesthetic, and this packaging draws the audience in and helps normalize what you’re seeing.
The show, it should be noted, does not celebrate sexual acts between Jules and the adults that she’s unfortunate enough to keep company with, but there is no discussion of why the audience needs to witness them on screen. Is it necessary? Is it right?
There’s also a suggestion that Jules knows what she’s doing, that she is somehow empowered, freed, and assured in her own behavior. This is concerning that the show posits that a child has the capacity to understand the consequences of having sex with adult men she met online.
The show posits that a child has the capacity to understand the consequences of having sex.
Also in the first season, an underage character, Kat (played by Barbie Ferriera), is shown using her cam-girl career as a way to build up confidence in herself. Once again, I ask why? Kat could use other ways to instill a sense of self-respect, through hobbies, through friends, through family. So, why does the show want to present her in sexual positions and acting out sexual fantasies for us to watch? The latter aspect is the most disturbing of Euphoria, that by watching the show we can partake in a form of voyeurism. It makes you wonder about the people who direct it, write it, or sit and edit as they watch these scenes over and over.
Sydney Sweenie’s character, Cassie, has many topless scenes, which is to be expected for HBO, however, the character is in high school. Why have the sex scenes and nude scenes of teenagers (even if they are played by women in their mid-twenties)? Could much of the story have taken place in college instead? Or perhaps in a small-town environment with working adults? Why should the focus be on girls at such difficult, vulnerable times in their lives? Actress Sydney Sweeney claimed that some of her scenes that required her to be nude were changed for her comfort – as an adult. Yet the audience is meant to believe that the average 17 year old would embrace it.
To answer these pressing questions, Sam Levinson has claimed that Euphoria is meant to focus on real, raw experiences from high school. Do some teenagers suffer in life in the same way that Euphoria presents? Yes. There are children who suffer from drug addiction, parents who neglect them, and partners who abuse them. In fact, its creator asserts that the story is based on his own teen years. I would like to ask, however, is there another way to showcase dark childhood trauma without gratuitous sex scenes where minors are depicted? This show is clearly not for children and yet it is about children.
A Story with Potential Buried Under Gratuitous Sex Scenes
It’s a shame, because I feel the show has potential. Scenes involving Rue (played by Zendaya) and her struggle with drugs, as well as coping with the loss of her father, do not feel like a glorification of substance abuse – as I’ve heard claimed and had expected. Watching her destroy relationships and deal out pain to those around her felt intense and raw. As an audience member, I could empathize with Rue, her sister, and her mother, who loves her daughter unconditionally. She’s supported by a strong and loving mother and a father figure in her sponsor. It’s a shame that those aspects were buried beneath gratuitous sex scenes and inappropriate relationships with adults.
Euphoria feels inauthentic to the female experience.
So, what draws an audience to Euphoria? According to “Them,” over 2.4 million viewers tuned in to the premiere of the second season. Clearly, there is a market and it’s understandable. The show is visually striking, using various cinematographic elements that create a stunning, dream-like atmosphere along with colorful costume design. I would argue, however, that it would seem that the production design might be a cover for creepiness. Directors, writers, and editors are fully responsible for what appears on screen. Why do they push nude teenagers to their audience at least once an episode?
Beyond children, every adult woman – except one, Rue’s mother (played by Nika King) – in Euphoria are either drunks, drug addicts or dealers, smokers, liars, cheaters, jaded, or jealous. Most are abusing substances to cope with how fed up they are with their husbands and their children. Are these strong women? Where are the nurturers and defenders of children? Why did Euphoria not have more characters like Rue’s mother? What made her so special and what tugged at the heartstrings so was her dedication to her daughter, her capacity for forgiveness, the unconditional love that she gave.
I believe that Euphoria has gone out of its way to portray young girls in sexual ways for its own pleasure. It feels wrong while watching it, and it makes you wonder what goes on in the writer’s room.
Furthermore, it feels inauthentic to the female experience. Having been a teenage girl, I don’t remember living like a Cassie or a Maddy, nor do I remember being around parents like they have. The women in my life that I look up to are open and warm. While one can argue in favor of Euphoria’s visuals, I can’t see it as a real and raw experience of girlhood. Worse still, I find that it’s a vehicle for obvious fantasy.
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