HBO's Euphoria is a polarizing glimpse into the relationship Gen Z has with sexuality, drugs, social media, and each other. Narrated by Rue, a drug-addicted student who returns to school after a Summer in rehab, the show dissects some of the most prevalent archetypes some of us have faced during a typical high school career. From toxic relationships to sexual exploits, neglectful parents, and a wild Halloween party with even wilder costumes, Euphoria parallels a few of the experiences that I had in high school.
As a former teenager and pensive millennial, watching this series has been nothing short of a mind-screw. In a way, Euphoria has brought back a rush of memories from my youth — most of them good, some of them bad, and only a few ugly.
For some of the high school seniors in Euphoria, drugs play a big role in how they socialize and deal with the pressures of being a teen. While I wasn't surrounded by the hardest of the drugs — like Fentanyl — others like Molly, marijuana, and adderall were definitely in circulation. Throughout the series, we watch Rue struggle with her addiction, at one point taking any drug she can get her hands on, which includes a free sampling of a new hallucinogenic the local drug dealer is pushing. After Jules's episode at McKay's party, she and Rue sit inside of a blanket fort and take a trip, caressing each others' glitter-covered faces in order to escape the horrors each of them is dealing with.
This scene, albeit short and dizzying, brought me back to the first time I smoked salvia. During the infamous Senior Week, a small group of friends and I took a turn with the psychoactive plant. It's evident that Jules and Rue are both grappling with their own demons and willing to do whatever it takes to avoid them, if only for a little bit. Essentially, that's what we were attempting to do in our rickety beach house with a hodge podge of alcohol and cigarettes.
In a way, Euphoria has brought back a rush of memories from my youth — most of them good, some of them bad, and only a few ugly.
As I lay in a bed surrounded by my friends, my eyes were clenched shut as I was transported to my grandparents' red lacquer kitchen. I remember sunlight streaming in from the window beside the stove and an unwavering sense that I had to get out. In the moment, the experience felt heavy with anxiety, something my friends chalked up to a "bad trip," but it was also cathartic in a way. I needed a long walk on the beach to shake the feeling that I had been anywhere else other than the beach house, but that unwavering need to get away was prevalent, both in smoking the hallucinogenic and the need to spend a week at the beach with a bunch of my classmates. An escape from reality is something many high schoolers crave at one point or another, and something Euphoria presents over and over again.
I also connected with the show's theme of wanting to be someone we aren't. Social media is essentially another character in the series, serving as a method of interaction, a source of jealousy, and in Kat's case, a cash cow. Like so many people in our generation, Kat evolves in the persona of Kitten Kween on social media. Dressed in faux leather and a cat mask, Kat embraces her sexuality as Kitten Kween, tapping into her newfound prowess after discovering that men enjoy it when she belittles them. Whether it's money, items from her Amazon wishlist, or simply the company, Kat generalizes her perception of how she thinks men want to be treated.
While my situation is a little different, I have certainly been someone online that I'm not in real life. On any given day, my priorities included changing the theme of my Tumblr to reflect what was deemed cool by the majority or generating an endless amount of away messages so that I always had the perfect, witty response — "if u WeRe my hOmEwoRK, i'D b doing U riTe now ;)." In reality, I was an awkward teenager just trying to find herself, but what I projected online was the type of person I'd assumed people would want to be friends with. Like Kat, who thinks that guys only want one thing from her, I would offer up what I thought people wanted from me. Did I mean what I said in every away message? Definitely not. Did I want to seem like I did? Absolutely.
At the heart of the show, though, are these bonds formed among the characters, both romantic and platonic. Take Cassie's relationship with McKay, for example. Cassie, the stereotypical hot girl who craves attention from the opposite sex, has found something new in her relationship with McKay . . . including an unplanned pregnancy, which resurfaced the memory of a time I took Plan B during my AP English class. I remember sitting on top of a desk and staring into my palm at the little white pill with a sickening feeling in my gut; I wasn't sure if it was guilt or shame or a small bit of dread knowing that I would be stuck with this memory for a lifetime, but it didn't feel good knowing what I was about to do (at least morally).
Let the record show that my situation is in no way the same as Cassie's — I took the pill as more of a preventative measure caused by a broken condom and I just wasn't ready to get on the wild ride that is parenthood while I was still a teenager — but watching her review the results of a positive pregnancy test and then go through the motions of having to tell McKay, her circle of friends, and eventually her mom took me back to the rush of thoughts I had when that damn condom broke.
Whether good, bad, or ugly, shows like this are meant to imitate life and make us think. And while I've certainly done a lot of reminiscing while watching the series, I've also put a lot of consideration into having children. Is this the world they're going to grow up in? Are the pressures of being a teen only going to worsen as social media plays a more prevalent role in their lives? However polarizing a show Euphoria may be, I think it's important to consume this kind of content so that we can stay vigilant to the ways in which the world works.