‘Euphoria’ Feels Like A Porn Parody of Degrassi with A Magic Pixie Dream Negro

Jesi Taylor Cruz
Jun 20 · 6 min read
Image Source: HBO

CW: mention of drugs, sexual assault, pedophilia

One of the things I love most about Degrassi: The Next Generation — particularly seasons one through seven — is its honest, often heartbreaking, portrayal of life for teens as they navigate drug abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, sex, intimacy, gender and sexual identity, and other controversial issues. Degrassi was no stranger to scenes depicting sexual assault, intimate partner violence, self-harm, and other potential triggering subject matter but the depictions never felt forced or gratuitous, nor did they ever make me feel like a pervert simply for watching.

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, and multiple instances of sexual assault as an adult, I tend to be hypercritical of content that depicts sexual content involving children. Especially when the actors who are cast to play children are obviously adults. By ‘obviously adults’ I mean that the actors are well-known in pop culture as being adults not, necessarily, that the actors “look like adults” because the latter designation is rife with problematic assumptions that, for the sake of brevity, I won’t discuss here.

Four years ago, Alicen Grey published an article in which she encouraged readers to think about, what she calls, pedophilia culture. In it she argued that while “pedophilia may seem taboo and despised by the masses, but an honest appraisal of our culture at large reveals otherwise.” She went on to propose that “pedophilia is actually rewarded and celebrated, and that our entire culture and understanding of sexuality is constructed around what seem to be pedophilic desires.”

In like fashion, Ossiana Tepfenhart wrote about the elusive nature of pedophilia culture and claimed that even though “the media knows sexualizing children is inappropriate, the truth is that we see kids in media being portrayed in sexual ways all the time.” Tepfenhart went on to explain that, like rape culture, “examples of pedophile culture are often glossed over or refuted altogether.”

Image Source: HBO

As I watched the pilot episode for “Euphoria”, I was immediately reminded of the years old articles about pedophilia culture and wondered if I was the only one feeling that type of discomfort. I told my partner that the show felt like Degrassi: The Next Generation as written by Hunter S. Thompson. I appreciate the perspective-driven narratives, diversity of the cast, overall premise, and superb acting as featured in Euphoria but I can’t shake the fact that I felt like I was watching adults pretend to be children.

On television and in films, the sexualization of children is common and when people consume that type of content it’s important to critique and analyze what’s at play. Grey asked “whether the only thing keeping [some of these viewers] from watching straight-up child porn is age of consent laws” and I, after watching the pilot for Euphoria, wonder the same. Excellent cinematography, catchy songs, and great acting weren’t enough to distract me from the feeling that I was watching a montage of narrative-driven porn intros.

Image Source: HBO

While I agree with the creative team behind Euphoria, as well as countless critics who’ve responded to the pilot who argue, that it’s important to tell stories that encourage empathy for younger generations and reveal what life is like for kids raised on a steady diet of social media, revenge porn, and easily accessible drugs, I also worry that we’re normalizing pedophilia culture and focusing more on trauma than we are on healing.

Hank Stuever, in the Washington Post, commented the following: “Euphoria is everything a teenager might want in a TV show: an extreme depiction of teens who are worse off than one’s self. A psychopathic jock with anger and daddy issues; a girl tempted to sell herself online; teenagers debasing themselves to impress others, preoccupied with mutual ruin… Alluring yes, but far from great television. I suspect approval is the last thing Euphoria hopes to find.”

On Twitter, there are countless people who are thankful for a coming-of-age story that centers a Black girl. Zeba Blay wrote that “unlike white teens, black girls are rarely given room to mess up, to make mistakes, to grow. Rue is a game-changing character in this sense because she is, by her own admission, the ultimate fuck-up. Since the story is told from her point of view, we’re put in a position where we can empathize with her.” She went on to explain that Rue is “fully in control of her narrative even if she isn’t in control of her life.”

Image Source: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Be that as it may, Euphoria is another story that centers a Black character whose narrative is controlled by a white, male writer. To me, representation is about more than just having a diverse cast. And while I agree with Blay that Rue’s character is groundbreaking in the sense that we get a Bildungsroman that offers an intimate look into the life of a struggling Black girl, I’m still left wanting something else. Yeah, it’s great to see a Black girl given the space to fuck up but given the endless waves of narratives that juxtapose Blackness, childhood, and trauma, it’d be refreshing to see a Bildungsroman that centers Black kids doing anything other than feeling pain or participating in wish fulfillment for white writers and characters.

Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl and remarked the following: “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.”

Another constantly reproduced trope in books, films, and television shows is the Magical Negro. A character who “appears in a plot solely to help a white character — and then vanishes,” writes Mary Louise Kelly. As evidenced in countless narratives, the Magical Negro and Manic Pixie Dream Girl have evolved and merged into a new trope that could briefly be characterized as an exploitable but beloved Black character involved in intimate relationships with protagonists who will ultimately betray, kill, or dispose of them. What I call the Magic Pixie Dream Negro effect.

Image Source: HBO

In the case of Euphoria, viewers are offered a unique blend of hypersexualized “children”, teen drug addiction, Daddy McSteamy, and a barely legal Magic Pixie Dream Negro, all wrapped up in a fantastically post-racial package. While there is certainly much to be said for the show’s awareness-raising premise and important critiques about porn and the complexity of relationships in the age of social media, I’m on the fence about whether or not to keep watching. I might be able to get the same content browsing pornhub and reading explicit Degrassi fan fiction.

Jesi Taylor Cruz

Written by

Mental health, politics, and parenthood writer in NYC. Romper Staff. Model. Podcaster. Doula. On twitter and instagram @moontwerk. Jesi-Taylor.Org

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