Content Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the HBO show Euphoria as well as discussions about substance abuse, substance abuse, gun violence, self-harm, and suicide.
Zendaya, den Spider-Man: No Way Home actor and star in HBO’s new show Euphoria issued a warning to its fans before the series’ premiere; “Euphoria is for a mature audience. It is a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today. There are scenes that are graphic, difficult to see and can be triggering “(according to Today) – she certainly did not exaggerate.
Euphoria makes most teen dramas that came before seem mild-tempered and gentle in comparison. Show creator Sam Levinson will certainly provoke some audiences with the rather depressing teenage world he has written, but can also build on something deeper. What is it about this show that triggers all the controversy?
Updated March 11, 2022 by Hannah Saab: Two seasons later and the Euphoria controversy continues. The scandalous pilot was only the beginning of the teenage drama, which has not backed down from depicting topics such as substance abuse, substance abuse and suicide. The reasons why Euphoria is so controversial are still piling up, and how things are going, fans can expect this trend to continue into the much-anticipated third season.
One of the first things fans learn about Zendaya’s character Rue is that she’s a drug addict. In fact, before the action in the show has even begun, the audience learns that she has just spent the summer at a rehab clinic after an overdose. But through her own admission, Rue has no intentions of quitting, and one of her very first scenes after rehab is her rebuilding pills.
But the pilot is also sparking a very interesting debate: Rue has OCD and has been taking medication for the rest of his life. Although none of the drugs are comparable, there is an irony that develops with her mother forcing her to take drug tests and also providing her with behavioral medication. Her substance abuse continues to affect her relationship in Euphoriawhere her family and friends are inevitably affected by her actions.
Everyone is addicted
Part of what does Euphoria so compelling is its vast character. Rue may be the focal point, but Levinson’s script jumps between several different social groups, all of which seem to be addicted to something. Whether it’s alcohol, sex, status or just good old fashioned drugs, everyone in this show seems to have a load.
Levinson really creates a world of addiction here, where parents and children, friends and relatives can draw many different double standards. Addiction is so completely the norm here that it almost questions anyone who is not addicted to anything.
Euphoria has its own special brand of teen nihilism. These kids don’t just party and smoke their lives away because they don’t care, but because of the time they live in, they realize that there is no point in doing anything else. A memorable line from Rue has her comment: “The doom of the world and I still have to go to high school.”
High school is tough enough for these grades, but it has to be even worse when it seems like there is no point in even going any further. Besides the sympathetic character Lexino one else seems to be interested in school or studies as it is parties, sex and drugs that are more appealing.
Born into a trauma
The episode opens with a very flat voice-over from Rue describing her own birth, just three days after the 9/11 attacks. Introducing the main character via a world-famous terrorist attack is a pretty brave move, but it serves as another important way to understand the world of these characters.
People would not often associate such a disaster with new life, and it is clear that Rue’s parents also struggled a lot with it. The pilot suggests that Rue was born into trauma, and it took her parents to get over it before they could give her the proper attention. Although no one is directly blamed for her drug abuse, there is no denying that the show suggests she was doomed to suffer from the start. Fans will notice a similar trend among other characters, each of whom seems to have their own tragic backstories in Euphoria.
Nude pictures are normal
There is a lot of nudity in Euphoria and a lot of discussion about nudity, especially when it comes to sending nude photos to each other. At one point, Rue says “I know your generation trusted flowers and dad’s permission. But it’s 2019, nude photos are the currency of love. So stop being ashamed of us.” Part of the show’s controversy seems to be to point out that controversial things just aren’t that outrageous anymore.
Instead, the series explores these concepts in a way that highlights their positive and negative aspects. The way nude pictures have been normalized is understood as a generally good thing for sex positivity, but it does not come without risks. Fans can remember how Jules’ nude photos are used against her in a dramatic way, causing even more emotional damage to the already wounded character.
Porno vs. Real sex
HBO is no stranger to displaying graphic content that audiences will not see on many other TV shows. IN Euphoria, not only do characters talk openly about porn, the show puts porn clips between some scene changes. But again, it also raises a point of discussion: most of the kids in the show learn about sex via porn, and they may not always know the difference between what they see and the real world.
This lesson is highlighted through Kat’s story, which is still one of the most debated tales in the series. Her story arc has sparked even more controversy around Euphoriaas it raises important questions about how minors are affected by graphic sexual content they can access online.
As with all teen dramas, there are different social groups; not least the jock – Euphoria has a lot to say about this particular group. Right from the introduction of football star Nate, it’s clear he’s a pretty scary guy. Recently dumped, Nate is described as being “on one”, which involves almost driving girls into his car, threatening violence, bullying, describing his classmates as animals and “teaching” his friends how to treat girls.
He is one of the worst perpetrators of the atmosphere of toxic masculinity, and he is not seen as a sympathetic, lovable (if annoying) jock. It has only gotten worse over the last two seasons, as Nate has done some of the worst things on the show. Far beyond toxic masculinity, he has openly exhibited physical and emotional abuse, gun violence and even goes so far as to get someone wrongfully imprisoned.
If viewers ever needed more of a reason not to see this with their parents, then it would be the inclusion of a BDSM relationship. The show is not trying to shock fans with the relationship, but rather who it involves. Jules is the new girl in school and she is introduced by going on a date to meet a much older dominant. By the end of the episode, it’s clear that this puts a main point in the plot, but it’s yet another example of the bare rawness that Zendaya warned about.
It only gets worse when the audience realizes that it was clearly an illegal act between an adult and a minor, and things only get more messy when it is Jules who carries most of the problems that come from that night. It’s just one of the many unhealthy, illegal and toxic partnerships or just affairs in the series.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing elements in Euphoria is the violence. The pilot episode does not go deep into violence (although it manages to fit into a character who is almost stabbed at a party), but it creates an environment where violence seems to lurk everywhere: bruises on Jules’ thighs, darker side of Nate’s personality, it is present in sex and in relationships.
The biggest villains like Cal and Nate are often the worst perpetrators of physical and emotional violence and abuse in the program, but there are other forms that can be just as jarring when they come from sympathetic characters – there is Jules’ sudden self-harm in Nate’s kitchen and Rue’s intense threats against kill his mother with a piece of glass. These violent scenes only add to Euphoria controversy, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s really not surprising that the characters, given the chaotic situations they often find themselves in, are Euphoria need help to improve their mental health. What the show does very well, though, is to draw the line between sensational and empathy with the behavior of these teens. This balance is what gives the show its overwhelming darkness and apocalyptic feel; each character is equally excited and repulsed by their own desires and actions. And the audience is also meant to feel equally entertained and upset by what they see. In fact, most of the series’ conflict comes from the paradoxical psychological state of each of its characters.
The teen drama toes the line between glamorization and proper portrayal of mental health issues, which is especially evident in Roue’s case. While it has been criticized for starting to show how drugs can be used as a tool to escape or have fun with friends, Euphoria has apparently also shown how addiction can affect mental health, relationships and life in general in extremely negative ways.
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