Written By: Garrett McGuirt
With the rise of streaming services in the past few years, many shows have risen to prominence. Some of the biggest of these shows include those based around the lives of young people known as “teen dramas.” A majority of these teen dramas portray young people in unrealistic ways. Oftentimes, the actors cast in these productions are extremely good-looking and likable. This can become an issue because a lot of these likable actors are playing characters that live negative lifestyles, whether that is doing drugs, having an excess amount of sex, or committing crimes. The affordances of streaming services allow for these shows to be watched by anyone at any time.
On demand streaming services provide the opportunity for instant viewing of a vast number of television shows and movies. The teen drama genre has proven to be a massive hit across these streaming platforms. One of the most notable and popular of these shows is HBO Max’s “Euphoria.” Euphoria quickly established dominance amongst streaming when it debuted in 2019. Led by the actress, Zendaya, “Euphoria” quickly became the streaming service’s most watched show of all time. Releasing on an episode-weekly basis, the smash-hit show averaged 6.6 million views per episode in its first season, and an average of 13.1 million viewers per episode in its second season.
The show is mainly targeted towards the 18-34 year old demographic. However with streaming services lacking strong parental controls, people even younger have easy access to this vulgar programming. While the show does address the harm brought on by drug abuse, it frequently will romanticize the drug-filled experiences of the character. During a drug-filled haze while everything is bright and glittery, the main character Rue utters “I know you’re not allowed to say it, but drugs are kinda cool.”
When “Euphoria” does scenes with drugs, they show the highest of highs and fill the scene with blissful lights and relaxing music to simulate the rush you get from doing drugs. While addressing the highs and lows is a great topic to handle, “Euphoria” is showing these feelings through the eyes of kids that are portrayed to be around 16 years old. A young person viewing this could see a person their age on cloud nine off of drugs and wonder to themselves if they too could reach that same feeling. Someone could see this and disregard the lows because the high looks so glamorous.
The producers who make these shows surely don’t intend on influencing young people to do drugs and start drinking. However, it is hard not to wonder if these studios have become so accustomed to using 30-year-old actors playing high school students, that they forget who the characters are truly supposed to be and the influence they might have.
Award-winning filmmaker and producer, Rob Byrd, voiced his opinion on the presentation of drug and sex addictions in shows that portray teenagers:
It is troubling that behavior like this in young people is dramatized and romanticized in such a way, especially when anyone can turn on their Smart TV and begin watching. While it can reflect poorly on the filmmakers for portraying their characters in such a way, does the responsibility fall solely on them? Rob Byrd delves into the topic of censorship and if this type of content should be removed by producers.
Thus posing another question: is it the fault of parents whose children become influenced by these shows due to lack of prevention over what they watch? We spoke to some students that have siblings currently in high school and found the following: out of 10 high school students (5 males and 5 females) 7 students had seen “Euphoria” and the other 3 had heard of it. When asking the students if their parents knew they watched the show we found that of the 7 students, only 2 of the students’ parents knew about them watching the show. The other 5 students either didn’t tell their parents they had seen the show, or went around parental controls to access the content.
Outside of streaming services, the show has been massively shared on social media. The most predominant site the show has trended on has been TikTok, which only requires you to be twelve to make an account. So even if parents do all they can to prevent their children from watching the show on streaming, they can still easily see it through clips shared online. The #Euphoria has had 55.1 billion views alone.
The massive sharing of these videos has led to the characters being sexualized even more on the internet. In particular the main male character Nate, a male manipulator and abuser, has been fantasied over online regardless of his actions.
The actor who plays Nate, Jacob Elordi, has come out to express his displeasure with fan that are attracted to his character:
If the actors in the show don’t like the characters they play, why do other people? Rob Byrd addresses the attractiveness of the actors that are cast into these roles and how that draws people in:
With so many factors that go into the television spectacle that is “Euphoria,” it is hard to wonder what can be done to prevent those that don’t need to watch the show from seeing it. It is also uncertain the true harm that has been done to the young people who have seen the show.
What is apparent is that the reach of the show has been enormous, undoubtedly so, and that has not gone unnoticed. With the largest viewing numbers in HBO’s history and one of the most trending topics online, HBO will continue to build off the success of their hit show. “Euphoria” has been renewed for a third season, which will premiere sometime in 2023. The show will be under a microscope to see if they change the presentation of the characters amid criticisms.