“Euphoria” and the place of trauma and abuse in teen-centered American TV and cinema

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Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

When it comes to entertainment, there are several selections to browse through in the comfort of one’s home. Making the right choice with media consumption is important.

Molly Rawat, Feature Editor

Whether in a glamorized or raw and gritty form, sex, drugs and violence have persisted at the forefront of American television and cinema since it has been legal, but how much is too much? 

Since the release of HBO’s popular American television series “Euphoria” in 2018, showrunner Sam Levinson has received both praise and criticism for his handling of mature topics relating to the lives of struggling teenagers in the suburbs of an unknown American town. With the airing of the second season comes more concern about the place of graphic depictions of trauma and abuse in television and cinema centering teenagers. 

Parents may often feel weary about their teenagers viewing material explicitly showing teenagers engaging in certain illegal or dangerous activities, even though such occurrences are often accurate characterizations of teenagers’ realities. Due to this, the line between an obscene amount versus not enough when it comes to depictions of trauma and abuse surrounding teenagers remains ambiguous. 

Senior Natalie Richmiller, a fan of the series, appreciates the realistic portrayal of teenage difficulties in “Euphoria.” “I love how uncensored the show is because it allows them to fully portray their intended message… ‘Euphoria’ can be very explicit and even emotionally triggering, so it is important for people to know that before they watch; however, I think people should watch so they can better understand topics such as drug abuse and trauma,” she stated.

Viewers may be uncomfortable or shocked as almost any episode of the series can leave extreme nudity, teenage drug abuse, gorey violence and more on the small screen. Many viewers, both parents and their children, find themselves questioning how necessary these graphic depictions truly are in showing issues that teenagers face. 

Another senior, Carson Meenan, noted contrasts between how American directors and screenwriters versus those from other countries present trauma in movies through the film “Come and See.” “The director of the film, Elem Klimov, was a witness of the Stalingrad Nazi atrocity as a young boy, and the writer of the film was actually a child soldier during World War II,” he said. 

Foreign directors and screenwriters often do not shy away from representing the true, disheartening reality of many teenagers, whether that be their involvement in tragic wars, or the trauma and abuse they may experience as a part of growing up. “Skins,” a British TV series that aired in 2007, is similar to “Euphoria” in its unrestrained nature of showing teenagers snorting drugs and having unsafe sex. Is it time for American television and cinema to follow in the footsteps of its foreign counterparts?

Although he has not seen “Euphoria” himself, former PV English and film teacher Don Fry acknowledged a distinction between necessary versus inappropriate use of graphic and explicit material in cinema. “It is a fine line because it is very easy to become gratuitous and exploitative,” he said. “The depiction of violence, drug use or sexual matters can be effective; it should not be for excitement or entertainment to get higher ratings. It must serve a higher purpose – to inform and teach about the devastation such abuse causes.” 

There lies a difference between including uninhibited portrayals of teenagers experiencing trauma and abuse for the sole purpose of gaining traction and including such scenes to provide relatability and lessons. In either case, the media audiences consume has effects on their psychology. 

Psychology teacher Ann Berger weighed in with the perspective of many psychologists. “The current thinking is that the content is not necessarily damaging, as long as the viewer is monitoring exposure (not watching it in excess); or is dealing with a personal trauma or abuse situation that has not been dealt with through therapy or treatment from a professional mental health specialist,” she said.

As entertainment media impacts its audiences, “it matters a great deal if the viewer is mentally well, has a support system, and is not experiencing self-destructive or self-harm behaviors, as well,” said Berger. 

Graphic depictions of trauma and abuse in media do not have the same effect on every viewer. Perhaps it is not always the television series or film itself that holds all responsibility for its influence on its audiences, but also the audiences’ ability to maintain their mental, emotional and physical wellness. 

As more episodes of the second season of “Euphoria” continue airing and American television and film continue portraying trauma and abuse surrounding teenagers, the line between too much and not enough remains obscure. Viewers and their parents or guardians must forever consider how to take in their entertainment healthily.