How much is too much? What is the limit for what we are willing to expose our minds to on television for the sake of entertainment?
Lately, it seems like nothing.
Over the last decade or so, content in television series has become more and more explicit, especially for teens. From 13 Reasons Why to Riverdale, teen shows are pushing the envelope when it comes to sex and relationships. But Euphoria, the newest offering from HBO, is definitely the worst offender by far. In the first episode of the series, there is a life-threatening drug overdose, nudity, self-harm, a sexual encounter where a woman is choked, and statutory rape between a transgender identified teen and an adult man (a prosthetic erect male sex organ is apparently shown though the actor said he was “willing to go there”). Later episodes continue to show prolific drug use, explicit sex and nudity, a scene with multiple instances of full frontal male nudity and what sounds like a webcam scene where a female teen is “performing” for an obese man.
All of this is inspired by series creator, Sam Levinson, and his struggle with addiction. As The Hollywood Reporter describes, “For Levinson, who spent his teen years in and out of hospitals, rehabs and halfway houses as he tried to quell his anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, whatever television show he ended up making was always going to explore why he started using drugs.”
Although Levinson is now clean, it is unclear how depicting the worst and most extreme form of his struggles with addiction and mental health is appropriate for the television and American teenagers. After all, Levinson is the son of Academy Award winning producer and director Barry Levinson, so his early life as a child of Hollywood makes his experience only equivalent to a tiny fraction of the country.
There is nothing wrong with tackling issues like addiction, pornography or teen sex on screen, but these important issues should be addressed in a mature and appropriate fashion or not at all. Telling the story of one man’s compulsions and mentally imbalanced lifestyle as a young adult and calling it entertainment for teens is damaging and dangerous. Even if there are negative consequences to some of the scenarios, it still encourages the idea that this is somehow “normal” or something that most kids go through.
Apparently, one of the original cast members agreed. Brian “Astro” Bradley, a former X Factor contestant, was so uncomfortable with filming scenes that weren’t initially scripted in the pilot, likely the sex scenes, and his character’s future experimentation with homosexuality in later episodes that producers decided to replace him with another actor. Based on what is known about the series so far, who could blame him.
In fact, all the actors signed on to the series knowing that sex and nudity would be a crucial aspect of their performances. There is even an industry intimacy coordinator on set to make sure that things go smoothly and that all parties are comfortable, despite the intentionally awkward, explicit and likely exploitative material. Anything for the sake of entertainment and wokeness, right?
Personally, I prefer a series like Boy Meets World. A 1990s and early 2000s television series that did tackle tough topics like homelessness, parental absence, divorce, family drama, bullying, relationships, sex and, one time, a revenge song (not porn) with the lyrics consisting of comments on the “shallowness” of one character. But these situations were often handled in a way that encouraged those watching, as cliché as it may seem, to do the right thing in any given situation. Usually they did, along with some sort of lesson learned and sage advice given by a mentor or parent. It was smart and timeless, which is why it remains popular today.
Euphoria will likely have none of that lasting effect or a positive impact. The show also doesn’t offer the audience an out or resources for those struggling with addiction. Instead it dramatizes the worst in teenage and adult behavior, and by doing so normalizes it for young Americans. The battle individuals have with addictions is extremely real, but creator Sam Levinson took his real experiences, and his own damaged psyche, and made it into a vile tale of sex, drugs and violence that is supposed to be a reflection of what it is like being a teenager in the United States. In the vast majority of circumstances, it likely isn’t.
If it is, our country definitely needs a come-to-Jesus moment.
*Read Plugged In’s Euphoria review here.
Photo from Euphoria on Youtube