What Parents Need to Know about Zendaya and Euphoria

Posted on: 08/6/19 7:52 PM | by Jonathan McKee

What do you get when a former Disney star feels the need to break free from innocent roles?

No, I’m not talking about Miley, or Selena…I’m talking about the 2019 Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards “Favorite Female TV Star,” Zendaya, who many of you might know as ‘MJ’ in the most recent Spiderman: Far from Home…and let’s just say her most recent HBO show Euphoria is a little far from home.

Exactly how far does this TV-MA series stray?

The plot “keywords” might give you an idea. Pop on IMDB.com (the Internet Movie DataBase) and type in “Euphoria” and take a quick gander:

I guess that about wraps it up.

If you haven’t already heard about HBO’s Euphoria, produced by Canadian rapper Drake, then you might want to pay attention, or go check the parental controls on your kids’ screens, because teens are definitely buzzing about a show that some young people say “can be frighteningly on point”…which is terrifying to parents because the series shows every last one of those ‘keywords’ listed above.

What are critics calling it?

“Perfect.”

“Brilliant.”

“A brutally honest answer to what growing up Gen Z might be like.”

So are the critics right? Is Euphoria an artistic “mirror” of our culture, or perhaps something a little more irresponsible?

I recall youth culture expert Walt Mueller dissecting entertainment media and noting how it can act as both a “mirror” and a “map.” On one hand it mirrors pop culture today, but on the other hand it becomes a map to young viewers on how to act. Sadly, shows like this one might claim to be a “mirror,” but it’s undeniably loaded with imitatable behaviors. In fact, many critics have chosen the word “gratuitous” to describe all the “culture” the show unveils.

Indie Wire describes the show as “the most sexually fluid TV show every produced by Hollywood.”

HBO describes their own series as “following a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma and social media.”

That summarizes it pretty well. In the pilot a girl named Kat admits that she is a virgin, and Jules, played by Hunter Schafer, who, like her character, is trans, shouts, “Bitch, this isn’t the 80’s—you need to catch a di*k!”

Kat does, later in the episode, confessing to her friend, “I just lost my virginity.”

“Oh my God,” her friend replies. “I’m so proud of you!”

And if you’re wondering exactly how far Euphoria goes, The Guardian describes it as “so explicit in its weary portrait of drug use and sex that it makes Skins look positively Victorian.” And in case you didn’t get enough sex, drugs and full-frontal nudity in Episode 1, Episode 2 shows (count em’) 30 penises.

Maybe that’s why creator Sam Levinson said, this “isn’t really intended for a teenage audience at all.”

But audiences are tuning in. In fact, the first-season finale of Euphoria delivered the show’s biggest audience to date for HBO.

So what would young people glean if they turned away from their screens and just listened to the dialogue?

Listen for yourself. Here’s Rue’s (Zendaya) commentary about sending nudes:

Here’s the fu*king thing that pisses me off about the world. Every time someone’s sh*t gets leaked whether it’s JLaw or Leslie Jones, the whole world’s like, “If you don’t want it out there don’t take the nudes in the first place.” I’m sorry. I know your generation relied on flowers and father‘s permission, but it’s 2019, and unless you’re Amish, nudes are the currency of love. So stop shaming us. Shame the a**holes who create password-protected online directories of naked underage girls.

There you have it. Sending nudes is the currency of love. Only a**holes who distribute kiddie porn are bad.

How did Zendaya choose this roll?

That’s what the Guardian asked her.

“I was having this weird section in my life where I didn’t really know what I was going to do next,” said Zendaya. “Everything I was reading just wasn’t right. I was like: ‘I’m not going to have a job. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Then Euphoria came along and all the worries that I had had before, or ideas I’d had about what I needed to do or should do, just went through the window. I was just like: ‘I want to do this. This feels right.’”

Sigh.

Is it good to talk with your kids about the issues brought up in this show?

Absolutely.

Is this show the means to have those conversations?

Not even close.

Are you having these conversations?

FOR MORE READING ON THESE ISSUES:

Helping Your Son Escape Porn

Just One Thing Your Kids Need to Know about Weed

Helping Your Kids THINK Before They CLICK

4 Replies to “What Parents Need to Know about Zendaya and Euphoria”

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. “biggest audience to date for HBO.” because its porn, and porn is both tempting and addictive. Perhaps complementing this is ‘shock value’ – that concept of viewers getting desensitized and needing something more brutal, more extreme, more pornographic than the last seasons ‘big hit.’ And this goes for whether we’re talking sexual extreme or violence or language or whatever (well, anything that isn’t ‘extreme good’).
    In a similar vein, I’ve always like viewing movie trailers, getting those little packaged nuggets of a movie. Youtube has trailers, and often i’ll go a-perusing. I’ve been regularly frustrated at the available movie trailers, and i’m not sure if its a youtube thing or a culture-wide thing. bringing up a channel’s current film trailer offerings and my kids are in the room so i’m looking for family friendly stuff, quite literally the content or genre goes like this for every 10 movies:
    Horror, Horror, Horror, LGBT or Sex focused, Horror, kids animation, Horror, LGBT or sex focused, Drama, Horror, Horror
    And I’ve found this many times. I can scrolled through 20-30 trailer offerings passing over any horror, sex focused, LGBT type of movies looking for a trailer that my kids in the room can watch with me. Oh and of course, due to the need for clickbait, the thumbnails chosen for those Teasers typically show either something brutal or terrifying or sexual (might be the ONE FRAME of the entire 1.5 minute trailer that has a swimsuit scene, but THAT is the trailer’s thumbnail).
    a long ramble just to say this piece was spot on in my book, but not too many seem to read my book. i hope they read your books!
    thanks

  2. This show is a mere representation of what’s already happening. I think most older adults are having a difficult time with this show because it’s a small glimpse into the realities of what’s transpiring in teenage culture.

    This show is more of a trigger for older conservative adults than teens. Most older adults are very uncomfortable with the explicit realities of what today’s teens are doing. I think this show gives adults more talking points to have with their kids. Unfortunayely, this is the world we live in.

    Your post comes off as more reactionary and surprised that this show with this content even exists. But it does and probably worst. Hollywood is just a reflection of what’s already going on. We cannot blame Hollywood for developing screenwriting on stuff already happening.
    I am thankful for shows like this that broadcast the truth of teens. I think it’s just hard for older conversatives to embrace the realities in an ever changing teenage culture.

    1. Jeremy… so I don’t want to just assume that you didn’t read this post before commenting, because maybe you did and you just ignored the part about entertainment in youth culture acting as both a “map” and a “mirror.” You obviously think this entertainment is just a mirror? And apparently you think magazines like the Indie Wire and The Guardian magazine are both “conservative adults”? (I’m trying to hold my laughter) Maybe you need to look back at historical moments in entertainment culture, like Madonna’s emergence in the 80’s. All of a sudden middle school girls started dressing in lace and bracelets just like her. How about gangster rap in the 90’s. I worked with kids on campus in the 90’s and would hear “wannabe” kids quote “I’m not going to live past 25 anyway,” a mindset they absorbed from the “authentic” portrayal of street life” they filled their ears with. Are you going to tell me that they just viewed that entertainment as a mirror of the culture… or is there a chance that the very entertainment they listened to “mapped” out how they should act?

      1. That’s correct entertainment is just a mirror. The Wire is not conservative and in the article it said “Euphoria will certainly not appeal to all tastes, but it is far less brash than it has been made out to be.” I think you just read the headline as click bate and not the entire article.

        What influences youth behavior and psychological development is way more complicated than blaming video games and TV shows and music videos.

        If kids are being so influenced by these highly sexual shows then why has teenage pregnancy decreased?

        Eneterntainment is an adult driven construct which projects on the past. Youth culture is developed by youth and constantly changing.

        My problem with articles like yours is that it instills fear that media is all bad and we must protect our kids from these dangerous shows…..This isnt helpful to an already overwhelmed, clueless parent. What is helpful is giving bullet points on how to talk about themes of transgender, lesbianism, sexual curiosity and sexual identity formation.

        If entertainment was a map our job would be easy. We would just make students just watch all the good shows wity awesome themes and virtue and then they would all be good and youth culture would never have any problems.

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