Warning: This article talks about substance use, self-harm, and sexual violence that some may find triggering and disturbing.
The second season of HBO’s hit series Euphoria (2019) just wrapped up its finale with a massive following of 16.3 million avid viewers who religiously tuned in week after week. And though the series has been an undoubted success, it has dealt with its fair share of controversies for the explicit way it depicts complex mental health issues. So, let’s explore how the narrative and its characters could both help and trigger destructive behaviors and vices that audiences must be aware of before jumping into the craze.
Descent Into Darkness
Euphoria (2019) was created by director Sam Levinson and was adapted from an Israeli TV series of the same name. The HBO series quickly became an audience favorite not only for its superb cast ― Zendaya, Jacob Elordi, Maude Apatow, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney ― but also due to its raw and graphic depiction of the troubled youth we all know so well. The series follows the complicated lives of teenagers as they find their way through the ups and downs of adolescence, love, family, and friendships. It genuinely tackles problems that teenagers (and adults) are experiencing in modern society such as sex, drugs, violence, abuse, the pressure of social media, gender identity, etc.
What makes this different from other series of the same genre is the manner in which it dramatizes these disturbing issues to an overly explicit and unfiltered level as in exposing statutory rape, full-frontal nudity, pornographic sex acts, drug ingestion, alcohol addiction, self-harm, and sexual assault right before our eyes. This can easily upset sufferers and trigger dangerous emotions, habits, and evoke past traumas.
In particular, Zendaya’s lead character Rue is a troubled teen who struggles with drug addiction, depression, grief, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. She also expressed in an interview that while the show was an amazing project that they are really proud of, it actually triggered her anxiety, which would go on for weeks. “Rue has such a darkness to her, but also an innocence. I have to be super vulnerable and sad in front of people. It’s weird, but cathartic in a lot of ways.”
Different from other series of the same genre is the manner in which it dramatizes these disturbing issues
With social media watching our every move, unrealistic societal expectations imposed on us, and everything else that’s happening in the world ― pandemic and war included ― it’s safe to say that navigating life whether you’re a boomer, millennial, or Gen Z, has become extremely complicated and challenging to endure. We have become a society crippled by all sorts of anxiety, panic, and depression.
“Euphoria illustrates anxiety in ways that I haven’t seen before on TV — especially when it comes to young women. The amount of abject terror I hold in my chest every day can be isolating; it’s hard to not feel alone when I’m sobbing in a fetal position on my couch, begging God, or the moon, or an alien overlord — whoever is responsible up there — to make me normal, and to give me the mental tools that it seems like most people were naturally equipped with in order to deal with existing as a person in a body. This is not the kind of thing we see often on film and TV,” via Nylon.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Film and TV are undoubtedly powerful influences in our lives and there is a huge responsibility to carry when telling stories that tackle sensitive social issues because it could tremendously affect its audiences’ psychological well-being. There are numerous TV series that explore mental health issues that have been controversial and highly scrutinized for their lack of proper research as well as not providing the necessary tools to educate its viewers. As a result, it has taken innocent lives too soon.
In the case of Euphoria, there are informative and problematic parts that audiences need to carefully pay attention to. The show exceptionally portrays what it’s like to go through addiction, assault, and abuse, which could be beneficial for those who live with sufferers to notice the signs, understand their struggles, and know how to appropriately approach them. On the other hand, the show seems to glamorize these vices and make them aesthetically pleasing or cool, which obviously comes with harmful repercussions, especially for its young viewers. What’s problematic is that the show is overdoing the exposure of these vices and destructive behaviors as a quick fix and form of entertainment.
Watching the show has only brought back traumatizing memories and opened up all the wounds that she has been trying to heal
In fact, a grief-stricken mother, Sherry Jo Matt, who lost her daughter due to a drug overdose expressed her concern that watching the show has only brought back traumatizing memories and opened up all the wounds that she has been trying to heal the past years. A recovered addict and life coach, Adam Jablin, emphasized that “[t]he show could be damaging in a way [by] showing kids that drugs could be an escape that helps to fix their problems. [I also] think the show may be encouraging teens to try hard drugs because they glamorize them, and when the kids are high in the show they express it through sparkles and glitter.”
When it’s a matter of life or death, there can’t be any room for error or experimentation. Mental health is a serious matter that must not be taken lightly in any way, shape, or form. Euphoria may have problematic parts, but we cannot overlook the fact that it is also contributing to the conversation and we would like to believe that its intention is only to positively help its audiences cope better.
As audiences, we must always be cautious when choosing to expose ourselves to unsettling and sensitive issues. We know ourselves and our triggers more than anyone else, so we must pay attention to what we are feeling when watching these shows and make sure to seek support or professional help as soon as it gets too heavy to bear. There are many resources that we can access in our community health centers in order to get the proper care we need to overcome our struggles and to help remind us that we do not have to suffer alone.