Euphoria. Whether you’ve watched it or not, you know the aesthetic and likely the storylines in relative detail thanks to the constant Twitter narrative. The show takes very real experiences had, or at least experienced second-hand, by anyone who has been a teenager and reflects an extremely dramatised image of just how mad life at that age can be.
TV struggles between giving teenage audiences role models and presenting the world to them as is. In a lot of shows created for a teenage audience, ‘activist’ characters are portrayed as incredibly cringe, ‘woke’ kids who spout theoretical models interspersed with whiny, Gen Z slang that no one has used in years. Of course this can be explained away by the fact attempts to capture and present the soul of the new generation always sits on the fetishes and preconceptions of older ones. The fact that this show is created and solely written by a straight, white, forty-year-old man, Sam Levinson, has not gone unnoticed. When a man as privileged as this writes stories empowered by experiences he does not hold, how empowering can they be?
Photograph : HBO
This fact is only fuelled by a glaring absence of diversity in writers and creative directors. Somehow, Euphoria still manages to depict the young feminist cause realtively well. You cannot compare the storylines of Euphoria with those of many shows marketed towards young girls. The young women of Euphoria are not presented as outright feminists. They’re not the traditional depiction of feminists that many media goes for but that’s what makes it so good. In reality, no matter how old the cast looks, they’re just kids. Real life eighteen year olds often don’t have the nuanced understanding of how to articlate feminist theory. Just because these characters aren’t quoting Simone de Beauvoir on a regular basis doesn’t mean they don’t innately believe in and share feminist ideals.
Many have fallen into the trap of labeling Gen Z as a generation who reacted to their upbringing by becoming pragmatists. They’re the kids who will do anything to avoid the mistakes of their sinner predecessors, the generation that will save the planet, re-work capitalism, bring about equality and fairness for all. Is it necessary to note how naive it is to prophesied an entire generation?
Euphoria exposes the seedy underbelly of Gen Z, acting as an exposé challenging the media perception of teenagers in more ways than one. On the one hand, the show forces the blinders off of skeptics who attempt to reduce the very real issues leading to ‘mad’ teenage behaviour, on the other, it challenges the over saturation of intense Gen Z prophesying and shows the real application of feminism in day to day life.
Photograph : HBO
The cast of Euphoria are not simply a faceless mob of teenagers who do bad things. The characters rightly complicate the image of victimhood we all have etched in our minds. Each person deserves our sympathy in being a victim of whatever situation, however the show stresses the characters often have flawed moral compasses. We see people make mistakes, mistakes that we look upon and can label un-feminist; falling in love with an actual villain, changing yourself to be who you think they want, letting yourself go crazy and become someone you're not just to keep them happy, messing with your friends happiness, cheating, lying, shouting, scheming, letting your manipulative boyfriend dress you in the Spring Moschino 2022 collection that drew controversy for infantalising women by placing them in pastel two pieces, quilted patterns, baby motifs and even baby bottle handbags. You can do all that and be a feminist, you’re 18.
At the grand age of 18, of course these kids aren’t going to deal with everything in the right way. Many have critisised the seemingly blase approach to hard-hitting issues taken by the show throughout season one, but look back on your teenage years and reflect on how you reacted to issues you and your friends faced. Issues that we see as huge storylines, because they are and are further portrayed as such with ominous music and dark lighting, are often belittled in the eyes of those living it. This is what real life looks like.
The portrayal of this hot-girl friend group is cannily sensitive to how teenage society has progressed. Feminism is a fluid movement meaning different things to different people. There’s no need to adhere to rigid rules and regulations of feminism or a defined femininity and the show illustrates many takes on the topic, no single one being the ‘correct’ way.
Photograph : HBO
Some characters show that femininity can be fashioned as a weapon by those who have to live by it. Some show those challenging femininity. Some show a love for ‘feminine’ things like heels, makeup, and clothing while also understanding the limitations of femininity and how adhering to gender constructs can be both a blessing and a curse. All the characters interpret feminism in a way that makes sense to them because they are still navigating what feminism means to them.
You might not be able to stomach the raw and, more often than not, naked depiction of teenage struggle, but you have to respect the unapologetic realism of the show. This is what feminism looks like in practice. It’s battling between not dressing for the male gaze and the deep desire to catch the eye of the cliched ‘bad boy’, it’s regrettingly sleeping with your best friend’s ex because your teenage emotions are all out of whack, it’s trying to do the right thing and not quite hitting the nail on the head. The kids in Euphoria are not feminist role models but they do show the realistic, day-to-day application of feminism in teenage life. We may cringe and feel disappointment in the bad decisions these young women make but that only serves to reinforce the importance of feminism for young women.
The feminism in Euphoria can be best summed up by the shows own writing; “I know being informed, smart, hardworking and curious are all very important qualities, but imagine having all of those qualities and also being hot.”
Words by Charlie Culverhouse
WATCH EUPHORIA SEASON 2 ON HBO NOW.