When referring to Euphoria, you can actually employ 2000s media hyperbole. It really is the series everyone’s talking about, or what used to be called a water cooler show – a prehistoric term referring to the entertainment which dominates the conversation around an office’s water cooler. But regardless of your opinion of the latest teens-being- bad series, it’s performative for anyone to pretend they’re above cultural phenomenon.
Altogether too much has been said and written of the HBO hit, and discourse on the subject is inescapable, incessant debate about whether the depiction of teen sex and drug use is accurate. Twitter provides weekly recaps and familiarizes even non-viewers with the “Euphoria” world through a steady assault of screenshots turned memes. Even the nerds at D.A.R.E. felt compelled to publicly address the program’s relevancy. Personally, I’m neither hater nor fan and not terribly preoccupied with the morality concerns or defences of either side. Mostly because I don’t think the show—with statuesque actors and rave lighting—is not committed to juvenile realism. (WHERE ARE THE PARENTS? WHERE IS THE ACNE?) It is silly to critique a TV show about high schoolers created by a 37-year-old who deemed it unnecessary to inform the viewer of his characters’ location, ages or the name of the high school they attend by its authenticity. The show, like most art, seems more interested in exploring the vibe than the details.
I guess debates about the social implications of the most popular show on TV are inevitable, but they’re also stupid. Ideally, we can trust viewers to separate fact from fiction… can’t we?
A lot of the popular faults: the sex scenes are too gratuitous and horny, the drug use too prolific, their clothes too nice, etc. seem, to me at least, a byproduct of the creator’s background. Sam Levinson is the son of Barry Levinson, an Academy Award-winning director and producer who remains a Hollywood power player. He was a child actor in films with Robin Williams and Cate Blanchett. A Tinseltown kid with the lethal combo of money and premature agency, Sam developed a drug problem in his adolescence. With this context, “Euphoria” can be understood (and enjoyed) as a very specific portrayal of teen debauchery, if unrelatable to most. Levinson’s obsession with depicting minors getting it on is creepy, but he’s hardly the first. The show builds on a history of similar teens-being-bad TV like “Degrassi” and “Skins.” But since it’s on HBO, we get to see tits and cock.
“Euphoria” strikes me as a sober person reliving his (un)glory days through film – nostalgia tends to glamorize – or maybe Sam Levinson is just a weird dude. However, the show does effectively capture the adolescent mindset, an inevitably narrow perspective which makes you believe 9/11, social media and personal tragedy are equally plausible answers to the eternal teenage dilemma: why am I so fucked up?
I guess debates about the social implications of the most popular show on TV are inevitable, but they’re also stupid. Ideally, we can trust viewers to separate fact from fiction… can’t we? I have no clue, but it’s not the responsibility of art to consider every perspective as a publicist or lawyer might. You can argue art to fit the critique of whatever you’re feeling. That’s how essays work. If you’re looking for accountability for our culture’s relationship to sex and drugs, HBO is pretty low stakes.
As for the depiction at hand, realism is not really my concern. Cinematic representation of my friends and I pooling allowances in the hallway for so-and-so’s older brother to buy us booze and pills is not important to me. What kids do or don’t do is no longer any of my business, and it probably isn’t yours either.
Jacob Seferian is a writer and editor living in New York City. His work has appeared in over 13 magazines, and he’s allegedly working on a novel.
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