Content Warning: Mentions of substance abuse and addiction
While adult portrayals of drug use, nudity and violence are common throughout HBO shows such as “Succession” and “Big Little Lies,” the network’s teenage drama “Euphoria” tackles these issues within a high school setting.
“Euphoria,” which premiered in 2019, follows the experiences of a group of high school students as they endure hardships such as drug addiction, recovery and domestic violence. Angela Rockey, a freshman studying film and television production, is unhappy with the show’s depiction of drugs and sexualization of the adolescent characters.
“I feel like “Euphoria” really over-sexualizes teenagers, which I’m not a big fan of,” Rockey said. “I also feel like the screenwriting is not super realistic or an accurate representation of what high school is like for the majority of teenagers…what are the odds of all these super dramatic, intense things happening to one specific group of friends?”
The show’s second season finale aired Sunday night, ending with a deadly shootout with the police and a dramatic final act of a high school play. Students shared varied reactions following the season’s conclusion.
“I definitely think that they do kind of dramatize and romanticize the drug use in the show a little bit,” said Issa Gianatiempo, a senior studying neuroscience and health and human sciences. “But I honestly think that part of addiction and drug use is romanticizing it. And I think it’s good to show that at first, it’s all like butterflies and roses and rainbows, and you might feel really good on this drug. But then the come down is like what happens with Rue.”
Gianatiempo is the CEO of a non-profit called Team Awareness Combating Overdose (TACO). The organization aims to educate people about drug usage and provide preventative measures to address overdoses.
“It was a little sad, especially the finale, but all around I love ‘Euphoria,’” said Gianatiempo. “I think it’s an artistic masterpiece in so many ways: the cinematography, the makeup, the outfits--I just love it all.”
While some have commented that Euphoria isn’t an accurate representation of the high school experience, Rockey believes the show is accurate in its portrayal of drug addiction.
“As someone who has had people close to me in my life have drug addictions, I feel like the portrayal is pretty accurate for the most part,” Rockey said. “I think it’s good for bringing awareness, [and] obviously they still have to make it entertaining so I understand why it’s slightly dramatized.”
Meanwhile, junior global health major Kara Kushwaha appreciates “Euphoria’s” adolescent focus on the controversial topic.
“I think the high school aspect is important because so much of our identity is formed during that period of our lives,” Kushwaha said. “So while drug use in general is more so a college issue in my mind, I think it’s important to talk about that [in] the high school context.”
Gianatiempo said the portrayal of Rue’s journey in “Euphoria” demonstrates the universal nature of the addiction: it can happen to anyone.
“Everyone has this idea of what addiction is, and it’s so stigmatized,” Gianatiempo said. “Our brain literally has the pathways that allow for that. Literally anybody could become addicted. I like how they show this high school girl who could be anyone. Any one of us could be in that situation.”
Lead actress Zendaya, who portrays a character named Rue who struggles with drug addiction, took to Instagram to voice her own thoughts on what viewers could take away from the latest season.
“I think that if people can go with [Rue] through that … and watch her make the changes and steps to heal and humanize her through her sobriety journey and her addiction, then maybe they can extend that to people in real life,” Zendaya wrote. “If you can love her, then you can love someone that is struggling with the same things, and maybe have a greater understanding of the pain they’re facing, that is often out of their control.”