Recently the second season of the HBO series Euphoria aired. The series’ first season aired in 2019 and tells the story of multiple 17-year-old high school students. Many different topics were addressed during the series. Even in its first episode, topics such as mental health (disorders), drugs and alcohol abuse, friends and relationships, sexuality, parties, and even familial bonds are touched upon. The number of difficult subjects thrown at the people watching the first episode leads to the question: were we ready for this? In this article, I will be exploring if we are, indeed, ready for these harsh truths, without spoiling too much of the series so you can still watch it yourself!
First off, as I said, are we ready for these harsh truths? Because that is what this series ultimately entails. It shows us the lives of a few different types of high school students in America, and though I am sure many people will find it relatable, it does not mean all students are like this. In Euphoria’s case, the students all deal with different issues, but they are all connected in a way. They are all looking for their personal identity, which is very typical in itself for any high school student. I mean, when you yourself were in high school, did you really truly know who you were? Or were you trying to figure it out by trying different things, for instance, a different style of clothing, a change in personality, or by taking on new friends? In a way, Euphoria shows several unorthodox ways of finding yourself and coping with life, just not in the healthiest ways. What the series attempts to show through its portrayal of unhealthy coping mechanisms is that you should refrain from falling into them. Doing so through addressing taboos so that viewers will hopefully find better coping mechanisms and open up about more weighted topics for discussion. Series and movies often don’t include topics like drug addiction, sexuality and relationships in this way because they might scare off the audience, but HBO combined these topics with high-profile actors such as Zendaya, Jacob Elordi and Storm Reid, and added a high school setting to attract the younger audience, those who are more flexible and can make a difference.
Some topics I’ve already named, but I will now go in-depth on them, to showcase the way they have been portrayed and why I think it opened a window for discussion in a non-taboo way.
First off, the most prevalent topic is identity. Everyone in the series has a strong presence shown through clothing and make-up, but also the people they hang out with. Throughout the series you see everyone changing styles, and also friends. One moment they hang out with one person and the next moment they are involved with another person, which shows how one searches for what is right for them and ends up finding oneself in the end. Trying out different things works!
The next topic, which intertwines with the former, is relationships and sexuality. As the teens are still figuring out who they are, they also get to deal with different types of relationships and their sexualities. We get to see relationships filled with abuse, one-night-stands, and a passion-filled friendship. Sexuality in Euphoria is explored in various ways, showing us how it can be vastly different for everyone and how it looks different on the outside than when more closely connected with that person. For example, Jules, a transgender girl who has flings with older men, finds out she actually likes a girl. And Nate not being sure about his own sexuality, even though he has a girlfriend whom he says he loves, but how he treats her shows differently. Then there’s Kat, a girl who hasn’t had an actual relationship before but takes to ‘camming’ in front of strangers before she gets into a relationship with a sweet boy.
Connected to sexuality is the actual picturing of body parts in films/series. As we know, we can often see breasts on TV, but never other gender-qualifying parts. Euphoria changed this. For me, it’s the first-ever TV show I’ve seen that showcases everything, and I mean everything. Videos of characters having sex with other characters and full-on penises in view are just a few examples. The second or third episode is when we are first faced with this. In a scene where Nate’s background is revealed to the viewer, multiple porn videos are being shown of his father with younger males. And right after there is a scene with Nate in a changing room with his football team, where we are faced with basically every male’s penis inside of that room. And honestly, I didn’t exactly need to see it, but somehow I did need to see it. Some might think it’s unnecessary, but it’s been so long that we have just seen women’s breasts and only in objectifying ways, it shows a perspective that we’ve rarely seen on screen before and shows that men can be sexualised too. But apart from sex scenes, nudity is also presented in a non-sexual way and even raises uncomfortable feelings in some cases in the series. This is the most taboo subject in the whole series, in my opinion, as it’s barely been done before and now it’s done on a big scale. Euphoria is rated 16, but I believe 18 might have been a better rating, even though I think it is important that people see it all.
The final topics are mental health and addiction. At the very start of the first episode we hear about Rue having different types of syndromes and mental health problems, which somewhat explains her use of drugs in her future. Unfortunately, almost every character deals with mental health troubles, and they all cope in different ways. Parties, alcohol, flings and abusive relationships. An example would be how Maddie treats herself and her relationship as a result of how her parents deal with each other, or actually don’t. Maddie believes her relationship is passion-filled and perfect and thinks she does something wrong when Nate begins to show abusive behaviour. Her parents haven’t taught her much about relationships because they barely talk with each other, her father is a drunk that sits in his chair all day and her mother is the only one doing anything at home, while Nate has grown up looking at the videos his father had made with his flings. Everyone’s insecurities are also very evidently shown in their coping mechanisms and relationships. The characters who struggle the most with mental health, also tend to be the people partaking in addicting activities such as taking/selling drugs and alcohol. This topic should be discussed more, in my opinion, as it’s important to teach teenagers/young-adults about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Through the showcasing of the topic in Euphoria, there is a possibility of more recognition and maybe it’s opening up the conversation to make help more easily accessible for those who have trouble with coping and who need help with addiction as they are just starting out, or maybe to help them stop just before they think about doing anything of the sort.
Making these topics more talked about would make them more normal instead of a taboo to be discussed. But because of these topics currently being labeled as taboo, we might not have been ready for this TV show. The way it is shown how relationships are being treated and the fact they showcase gender in multiple different ways follows the progression in LGBTQ+ rights we have seen the last few years as opposed to series mostly including heterosexual relationships and barely any other sexualities apart from ‘straight’, bisexual and homosexual feelings even in these times where it has become so important to be able to express yourself. Added to just the showcasing of gender, is also the showcasing of body parts, in full or covered. As mentioned before, we all know about the sexualized image of womens’ breasts in film, but now we are faced with the other gender’s parts as well, which is also very progressive with the rights of LGBTQ+, especially in the way Euphoria depicts it. Instead of also sexualizing the image of men’s genitals, the portrayal of nudity in the series is not gender based. Euphoria doesn’t just present nudity as a form of titillation, but also in non-sexual settings such as the locker room scene and the pornography of his dad, which only brings up uncomfortable feelings and shows the problematic side of nudity.
All in all, I don’t believe we were really ready for this series, but we did need it. The diversity in topics and taboo subjects have had great impacts on those who have watched it and I believe it really did make a difference and will continue doing so. The series includes many people with different backgrounds, and so many different subjects which are relatable to anyone in the target audience (anyone 16+). Making these subjects more talked about in the media is an important step towards the future of media/film, and this was the perfect timing with everything going on. Coming out of lockdown, it has been refreshing to watch a series about living life proactively and making choices again.
Written by Anne Van Spaendonck