A controversial group of teenagers, all arguably on a journey of self-discovery — their stories cross paths in the hit HBO Max series “Euphoria.” A new representation of the self-destructive pathways teens may derail to has now swept the nation, leaving viewers and parents wondering: is “Euphoria” relevant to teenage culture?
High school is meant to be the best days of your life, but what if they aren’t? The same narrative has been pushed onto teens for years — this idea of a perfect high school life, glossing over the kids who truly struggle. In the most recent season of “Euphoria,” some viewers have claimed the show feels more like a horror film rather than high school, but maybe this is the point that “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson is trying to get across. A lot of pressure is put on today’s youth to expect a bright future, with older generations adding to the pressure with their constant judgment and increasingly unrealistic expectations. “Euphoria” keeps up with the state of society today. We live in a much darker world than we did 10 to 15 years ago. There’s comfort in knowing Levinson doesn’t try to sugarcoat the world that teenagers are expected to grow and succeed in.
Levinson has taken an interesting approach to the traditional high school student drama story, choosing to follow the impulses of the teenage mind. Many have questioned Levinson’s intent and accuracy, including his own cast and crew. Levinson sheds light on important, yet taboo, issues, including protagonist Rue’s drug addiction, the pressure of growing up as a young woman to be perfect and confusion about one’s sexuality. The actresses of “Euphoria,” Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Maude Apatow, Alexa Demie, Barbie Ferreira and Hunter Schafer, have taken their roles to the next level, diving deep into their characters and creating TV’s newest “it” girls on and off the screen.
It’s important for young women to see the imperfections everyone has through the lives of these so-called “it” girls that other TV shows traditionally have chosen to worship or create perfect narratives for. Alexa Demie’s character, Maddy, shows off her strongest characteristic — confidence — in her body and self even with underlying insecurities. Maddy’s role helps young girls recognize that all people have insecurities, allowing young girls to see that imperfections are not the end of the world. Instead, you can use them to your advantage.
Maddy’s confidence and insecurities pour into her toxic relationship with Nate Jacobs, played by Jacob Elordi. Maddy quickly becomes stuck between knowing her worth and still wanting to be with Nate. Maddy and Nate’s relationship follows a shaky path throughout the show, where Nate is seen both physically and verbally abusing Maddy. There are scenes throughout the show where Nate is seen choking Maddy, holding himself and her at gunpoint, gaslighting her and hooking up with her best friend. Despite the emotional and physical violence, the two confess their love for each other constantly, developing a more toxic situation. Maddy’s insecurities are highlighted by Nate’s abuse, where he makes her believe she will never find anyone better than him despite her confidence in herself. Even girls as strong as Maddy can fall victim to relationship violence and abuse, and it’s important for young viewers to recognize that they are not at fault in situations like this. Maddy is a great example of a girl with a seemingly perfect and confident exterior who still deals with internal struggles. This is extremely relevant to teenage culture, where almost 1.5 million U.S. high schoolers per year struggle in similarly physically abusive relationships, losing themselves while trying to find comfort in what they think is love.
Rue, the main character and narrator of the show, is played by Emmy Award-winning actress Zendaya. Rue takes viewers through her journey of addiction, diving deep into her mental illness. In the newest season, Rue hits rock bottom. Episode five of season two highlights who is affected by the problems of addiction besides the addict themself. Viewers see Rue rampage through her home, destroying furniture, screaming at her sister and mother and destroying her relationship with girlfriend, Jules, when her mom takes away her drugs. Many viewers who are unfamiliar with drug use, especially teenagers, would have never considered the consequences of addiction before watching this. Levinson does not shy away from exposing the truth in addiction, recognizing the relevance to teenage culture today as the drug epidemic and drug-related deaths continue to rise among teens.
Prior to season two, actress Zendaya addressed and warned fans about the heavy concepts “Euphoria” depicts. In her statement, she wrote, “This season, maybe even more so than the last, is deeply emotional and deals with subject matter that can be triggering and difficult to watch.” She went on to say, “Please only watch it if you feel comfortable. Take care of yourself and know that either way you are still loved and I can still feel your support.” Zendaya’s statement emphasizes the fact that these topics are real, and many people — especially young viewers — are going through these events.
Sam Levinson has been under a lot of pressure when it comes to “Euphoria” and the controversial topics he delves into. With the debut of season two, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) released a statement about the content of the show, writing that it “chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.” Levinson, the cast and fans have refuted this argument many times. Although Levinson claims to understand the risk of glamorizing anything once it’s shown on screen, he chooses to show the truth behind teen destruction. Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen at all.
Parents are quick to want to protect their children from the darkness of the world, thinking that banning certain TV shows will do that, but shows like “Euphoria” are important, teaching young adults how to combine fear and empathy for other people. For example, “Euphoria” draws necessary attention to the parents of these self-destructive teens, allowing viewers to sit and wonder how their parents would react if they chose the troublesome path of characters like Rue, a struggling drug addict. Levinson struggles with sobriety himself, attributing most of his success with sobriety to his mother. The role of Rue’s mother in the show clearly holds true to his life and many others. Teenagers struggle to grasp the butterfly effect of their own actions, especially in regard to their own families, when going through phases of distrust with their parents. Watching mothers and fathers on TV go through their own hardships as a result of their children’s actions may provide an important intel on life choices for teens.
Levinson’s “Euphoria” has continued to chase the highs of life while also showing how destructive life can become in order to get there. TV shows about high schoolers specifically don’t need to be cookie-cutter portrayals of a perfect life. Dark topics are relevant to teens even if society doesn’t want them to be. Instead of turning away, teenagers can watch “Euphoria” to learn to be compassionate for the ones who are struggling, or those who may not choose society’s correct path, but will hopefully find their way back.
Madison Stolarski is a junior majoring in English.