HBO’s new show Euphoria – airing on Foxtel in Australia – is a very naughty show. It’s a teen drama featuring all the stuff teens do that we wish they wouldn’t: sex, drugs, acting, etc. With scenes of full-frontal nudity, drug overdoses and statutory rape, it is a show that seeks to depict the reality of teenage life in all its gritty glory.
At least, that’s the pitch. Controversy has erupted around Euphoria in the US, with parents’ groups accusing HBO of pushing “graphic adult content” to kids. Conservatives and pearl-clutchers all over the land have made their shock and dismay clear over the show’s explicit nature and potential to traumatise or corrupt the youth.
The reaction from the show’s makers has been that, hey, we’re just keeping it REAL. Euphoria is a “good insight into how hard it is to grow up in this time”. At least, that’s their official reaction. Their unofficial reaction would be more along the lines of, “Yippee, the dummies took the bait!” By broadcasting to the world loud and clear, the wowsers have done a large part of the publicity department’s work for it: here is a show full of sex and drugs and Zendaya might get fully naked in it. HBO should really put the parents’ groups on a retainer.
Because no matter how much producers and writers might talk about realism and honesty and an artist’s higher duty to the truth, the reason Euphoria is full of nude teens doing drugs and banging each other is the same reason TV shows and movies have always put sex and drugs and violence in them: because people love watching that stuff.
Seriously, we’re in a new age of permissiveness when it comes to graphic content on TV, and that’s a great thing: not because we can now watch ever-more realistic depictions of the grim facts of life, but because graphic content is fun and exciting and way better to watch than non-graphic content. And that is why it’s on TV.
This isn’t to say that Euphoria isn’t a great drama with important things to say about teenage life. Or to say that its creators aren’t genuinely interested in telling good stories. It’s just to say that if you see a TV show where extremely good-looking young people strut around nude, you can bet the decision to put that on screen owes quite a bit to the fact people love watching extremely good-looking actors strutting around nude. I know I do, and I know that as much as I love prestige drama, my desire to watch Euphoria is to a significant degree due to the promise of some high-definition sauciness.
Sex. Drugs. Violence. All of these things excite us, and all of these things tend to happen more in the life of the average TV character than the life of the average TV viewer. So we love to watch them. And that’s fine. Because that’s what entertainment is: exciting stuff presented to us in comfortable ways. And if watching sexy teens doing naughty things is wrong, none of us should want to be right.