HBO’s Euphoria: Hyperbolic or Just Horrible?
Disclosure note: this essay is based, mostly, on the pilot episode.
Euphoria opens with the main character, Rue as a little girl, counting the window panes above their kitchen table during dinner. Her mother, not noticing fully, nor understanding what her daughter is doing, keeps calling her name, attempting to jar her daughter out of it. Yet, Rue seems to be enjoying herself, engaged and excited by her activity of counting. Not unusual behavior for a child.
Yet, this is then chalked up by a random therapist that little Rue (likely around age five or six) has “obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, and possibly bipolar, though it’s a bit too early to tell.” This scene, unquestionably commentary on our current culture of overprescribing and overdiagnosing up the wazoo, especially with regards to children.
One need not read much further than Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy to learn the details of our current day culture’s drug crisis. While the book focuses on the widespread wreckage of the opioids crisis, it mentions with concern how children are being diagnosed at younger and younger ages, in our a-pill-for-everything cultural climate, some even as young as age two.
All while in actuality, one cannot possibly know if a young child has ADHD, given that much of the diagnostic criteria for this supposed illness falls into what is normal, even healthy behavior of children (ie: we force kids to sit in class, stay still, and focus, for hours on end via a “normal” school day. Yet, young children are not cognitively equipped to do this. And when they are, not surprisingly, unable to do so, we label them as dysfunctional, problematic, and ADHD. Further, kids today are frequently fed a steady diet of sugar, soda, and carbs- is it really any wonder their moods are erratic? Their energy, at times off the wall, while at others sluggish and seeming apathetic).
Dopesick also mentions that, per medical research, the younger a child is on first being prescribed pills, the more likely they are to later abuse drugs and potentially even become addicts when older, as they have learned a casualness and normalcy towards the taking of prescription pills.
We then fast forward to the main character, Rue, now during the present day. Her having just exited rehab, though, with zero intention of staying clean, she tells us. While Rue is often disheveled looking and visibly vacant, she also frequently exudes an alluringly rumpled look and devil may care attitude. This, coming across in moments, as evocative. Further, it’s the oldest racist move in the book, making out women who are not caucasian appear wild animal-like, both physically and via certain body movements, which the show does on multiple occasions with Rue.
Her drug use, while in many scenes, clearly cautionary and jaw-dropping, is portrayed both parts heart-breaking and hot. From our watching her vomit soaked, disturbingly arched body lie still, her far off gaze on the ceiling as her little sister looks on crying (terrifying and devastating), to Rue being forced into doing a drug test with her mother present (in which she lies and uses someone else’s pee, as her mother turns away, though stands in the bathroom closeby) (heartbreaking), to then Ru walking around parties, resembling a mentally absent, though strangely modelesque, half-dead human.
All of the young women in the show serve the sole purpose of being sexual objects. Mouths not for speaking but instead, for silencing and shutting up. Whether by an angry young man screaming in their faces or with hands around their necks, to the some fifty year old man who baits a teenage, underage Jules to his hotel room where he essentially rapes her (statutory) and, prior to doing so, pushes his finger into her mouth, all but choking her as he shoves it to the back of her throat.
Each of the women in the show are sexed up to the max, from Jules ever in skirts perpetually revealing flashes of underwear, to the consistent disrobing and revealing of thin, young, firm, idealized female bodies, to cliched baby doll getup across sex scenes, to the “crazy” Maddy (ex-girlfriend of character, Nate), who stands in front of a mirror, her “friends” closeby, with breasts bared and complaining aloud of how “ugly” her (in actuality) stereotypically ideal breasts are.
We see a young blonde teen, her eyes painted dark and large, with gigantic breasts (the obvious focal point of the scene, and of her, via carefully chosen camera angles and outfit choices), about to have sex with a young male teen. He then throws her against the bed and appears to be starting to rape her. She screams as his hand closes around her neck, yelling at and begging him to stop. Then, the voice-over of Rue tells the viewer “not to worry, as this is how porn depicts sex nowadays,” and “he isn’t going to hurt her.”
Didn’t he though?
And gee, I guess we shouldn’t worry about men abusing women since nowadays, it’s commonplace.
(This though, my friends, is exactly the problem. That it is commonplace, and because of this, the then apathetic, unaffected response of Rue- common today across women and men alike).
He doesn’t rape her though. Instead, he stops, apologizes, and says he “thought that’s what she liked,” to which the girl responds, “it's ok, just don’t do it again, unless you ask, or I ask you.” She leans in, coquettish, whispering, and apparently all is well between the two again.
Because this character apparently acted in a sex video, which this male character had seen online previously, he assumed she “liked” this kind of sex, given it was the type in which she engaged while performing in the video. All of this, capitalizing on the stereotype and cultural mindset that women who work or engage in the sex industry are, by means of this, trash and worthless, as well as, preferring and even asking for mistreatment and abuse by men.
Later on, this same male character refuses to call this same young woman his girlfriend “because she’s slutty”, so she decides to drop Molly (aka, MDMA/ecstasy) — then loudly, publicly orgasms on a carousel in an attempt to recapture his attention via sexual outrageousness, creating a show of and making her sexuality for this man and thus, ensuring even more slut-shaming.
The women throughout the show fall perfectly, neatly in place with every anti-feminist and even anti-woman cliche and stereotype across the board.
They are either sexed-up, silent, complacent objects for men to screw, use, degrade, or even abuse. Or, they are “crazy”, a la Jules reaction when cornered by misogynistic, nasty, over-the-top-angry jock, Nate gets in her face, threatening, screaming at, and scaring her. Jules loses it, pulling a knife on him, even cutting herself intentionally, acting out via her understandable fear and rage at how he was treating her moments prior. He calls her “crazy,” seeming scared himself. Thus, the one moment a female character stands up against abuse and her tormentor, she is placed in the cliched and damaging “crazy” category.
Nowhere in the show is there an example of a woman who isn’t either a “slut”, in the words of all the male characters, aka an ultra sexified, doll-like object to be used, pushed around, abused, and tossed aside by these men and boys, or who isn’t “crazy”, aka Jules and Maddy, or, who isn’t a half-dead, walking zombie of a woman, a la Rue.
These are the main female stereotypes throughout Euphoria, one and the same with the very ones which are used against women, routinely and raggedly, throughout our current day culture all the time.
We should either be incredibly hot, baby doll sluts who submit to men (and even then, we are trash), or, silent, complacent, half-awake, and unseeing of these very things, ever going along with and permissive. Or, the alternative, if we push back on, react to, or challenge any of it, we are “crazy.”
There isn’t a singular example of an emotionally healthy, strong, bad-ass woman or girl in this show who pushes back on (without being portrayed as “crazy”), breaks free of, refuses to go along with, or directly challenges any of it. Instead, they all accept and step readily, albeit, often sadly, into their roles prescribed by the men surrounding.
And, the one girl that doesn’t have an idealized, stereotypically sought-after, “perfect” body is made out to be a joke. She can’t possibly be taken seriously sexually, or actually desired because she is overweight.
When a sex tape later airs of the moment in which she lost her virginity, she capitalizes on this in the way in which women throughout our culture are taught how with regards to their sexuality (making their sexuality about others instead of as their own, as well as, exploiting themselves for outer validation and approval), and in the show, this leading to her downfall. This is coupled with a defensive hardness that grows within this character, and the pushing of men away who actually do like her, in her assumption that no one will actually love or respect her because of the body she has.
Within Euphoria, we are shown that “girls sending nude pics are a sexual currency today.” This is told by showing viewers a group of men huddled together, looking at photos of yet another bombshell hot girl, splayed out suggestively, permissively, for their viewing pleasure and objectification.
The main male lead in the show, Nate, is angry, aggressive, misogynistic, and abusive. Raring to hurt anyone and everyone around him, viewing women solely as a collection of body parts and orifices. In his eyes, women are either void of sexuality (“prude”, aka, lame and not worth his time) or as “sluts” (aka, trash and also not worth his time, other than to screw and toss aside).
We will eventually be shown that one character, Daniel is a “bad guy” because he literally tells Cassie, the girl he is sleeping with and ambiguously, pseudo dating (if this is what passes for dating nowadays) that he considers her a sex object, while Ethan is presented as a martyr because he’s willing to go down on Kat without reciprocation.
So, on any one of the females in the show getting mere peanuts and meager scraps from a man, far from passing as anything close to real respect, good treatment, or love, said men are then commended and placed on a pedestal for it.
Later, the on-again-off-again relationship between Nate and his “crazy” ex Maddy, will continue to expand in its dysfunctional, toxicity, and abusive nature. At the beginning of episode five, she will remark “He’d f*cking kill for me and I’d f*cking kill for him.”
For a girl with no ambitions of her own, our culture still presents the alluring alternative of simply being something a man can “own and possess,” as Rue puts it. It even allows girls to pretend it’s their choice, as if the 14-year-old Maddy could ever truly intuit this or be “the one in control.” But Nate’s abuse of Maddy at the carnival and the lingering bruises on her neck showcase the flaw and delusion to that fantasy of control. And emotionally unhealthy Maddy would sooner relinquish her own safety than the story she’s been telling herself.
Further, while the drug use and addicted youth of the show look, to anyone actually healthy, devasting and dismal, there are several scenes when Rue is high, as well as intense party scenes, that are made to appear dreamy, glittering, mystical, even sultry and sexy.
Unquestionably, some viewers (especially younger ones) are then potentially going to watch and feel inclined towards, enticed, and possibly find themselves thinking things along the lines of, “well that looks cool”, “how sexy does that look”, and “I bet that feels incredible.”
Vaping is pervasive throughout the show. All of those who are doing it, shown with smoke slowly curling around and enveloping their heads, this giving a mysterious, alluring aura to those character’s appearances in such moments. Thus, certainly not a public service announcement against vaping, as we are shown no adverse consequences to their use in the show, all of which is quite contrary to what we are quickly learning today in the real world is a highly dangerous substance and action. One resulting in high numbers of people dying. Why, then, is the show making it look sexy instead of scary?
Every instance of sex in the show is degrading, objectifying, male directed, and even violent. There is not a single example of healthy, loving, respectful sex in the show.
All of the kids come across as either emotionally dead, depressed, angry, desperate, with little to no sense of self, lacking any semblance of self-love, enablers, terrible “friends” to each other, all emotionally chaotic and lost.
Where is the redemption in this show? The hope?
At least one or two characters whom we might see stand out, as a shining example and beacon of where the other, deeply troubled and damaged sea of others might turn?
Where is there a single woman who breaks out against, challenges, or pushes back hard (and not made out to be “crazy”) on the rampant misogyny, abuse of women, objectification, and using of females?
Where is there a single man who doesn’t mistreat, degrade, use, and abuse women in the show? One who actually stands strong and tall against these behaviors and mindsets, and without being ridiculed and cast out by others.
Where is there a female in the show, or a male for that matter, who is an example of what a healthy male or female is?
And this is one of the shows greatest flaws and downfalls.
If we are ever to go about beginning to change the culture in which we currently live, one which is toxic to both women and men in varying ways (from toxic masculinity and the way men are taught to regard women, to the ways women are taught in which to self-objectify and continue appealing to, chasing after, and putting their sense of worth in the hands of men and our culture at large), television shows like this need to, at the very least, offer alternate characters who showcase these very changes that are so needed in our current day culture.
Instead of doing that, the show is a saturation of the opposite. It’s a gorging for the viewer, on all things which are toxic, sickly, sad, and wrong about our cultural landscape, for both women and men today.
Euphoria doesn’t teach women and girls to love themselves, that they are worthy of respect and love, to stand up against and challenge the men who treat them terribly, and that there are all types of feminine beauty in this world. Euphoria teaches, in all regards, the exact opposite things.
It doesn’t encourage women to claim their sexuality for their own. Instead, it pushes our current cultural narrative that women should ever craft, worry over, and mold their sexuality and looks for the pleasure and approval of men.
It doesn’t teach men to protect, love, respect, and do right by women. It doesn’t challenge them to not objectify women as sexual objects. It doesn’t showcase men finding many different types of women sexy and attractive.
The show doesn’t teach young women or young men emotional health. The seeking of healthy outlets for issues like depression, anxiety, or loss. The mindful and careful choosing of one’s friends- because the wrong ones can and will ruin your life, as this program so aptly shows.
It doesn’t lead youths who might be angry, confused, or lost toward healing, support, healthy outlets, and better ways of thinking and being.
Euphoria spotlights images and messages with regards to both men and women, that will not help relations between the sexes, nor our current climate of diminishing mental health, or the ways in which women today view and treat themselves.
Instead, it serves up all images, and in abundance, of the complete opposite.