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El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

The Student News Site of Monta Vista High School

El Estoque

A grasp on reality

Examining how sensitive topics are portrayed in popular TV shows
Aashi Venkat
Sex, alcohol, drugs and suicide are often used by directors in popular TV shows, with examples being “13 Reasons Why” and “Euphoria.”

Content Warning: This article mentions drugs, sex and suicide. Reader discretion is advised. 

Step into the world of Emmy award-winning HBO show “Euphoria,” where neon lights and a kaleidoscope of emotions transform viewers into a haze of substance-induced sexual endeavors and high school drama. Yet according to MVHS school psychologist Annie Maness and senior Iniyaa Suresh, the series particularly reminds viewers of the consequences of mishandling sensitive topics in media, urging them to question the lines between harsh reality and captivating storytelling.

Maness cites Zendaya’s acting in the show as a notable depiction of drug addiction. While Maness praises how the show portrays the negative correlation between mental health and substance abuse, she also says it failed to accurately portray other downsides of addiction. 

When you are addicted to drugs, that affects all points of your life, including academics

— School Psychologist Annie Maness

“I thought the show was really graphic, and while I think Zendaya is a terrific actress, I do wonder if drug use and the life of addiction was fairly portrayed,” Maness said. “Rue did show emotional struggles of drug use, but the show doesn’t portray what drugs really do to your relationships and academics. She still went to a mainstream high school and she was functioning fine in the mainstream high school, which I don’t think is always realistic because when you are addicted to drugs, that affects all points of your life, including academics.” 

Maness encourages avid fans to question why they choose to watch “Euphoria” compared to alternative options. Maness understands that teens may seek to consume media that depicts more mature topics, which would explain their attraction to the unconventional nature of the show’s themes. However, she says it is important for watchers to ensure that their casual viewing of the show does not progress into obsession. 

Senior Iniyaa Suresh adds that the portrayal of drugs and addiction may normalize and romanticize the topics, causing viewers to take inspiration and possibly fall into addiction as well. According to Suresh, students may not even understand the complexity of the circumstances portrayed in the show, unknowingly falling victim to the same problem they see on the screen. 

​​“Normalizing drug usage influences the younger generation into thinking that when you go to high school, it’s normal to participate in that,” Suresh said. “Drug addicts and alcoholics don’t go in thinking that they will get addicted to these substances. Instead, they’re people like us who think that they’ll try it once. That’s what influences me to stay completely away, but other students who haven’t heard that perspective might not have that same strong stance.”

Normalizing drug usage influences the younger generation into thinking that when you go to high school, it’s normal to participate in that.

— Senior Iniyaa Suresh

On the other hand, MVHS ‘23 alum Shourish Mukherjee points out that the depiction of drugs can alternatively inspire students to stay away from drugs altogether. Mukherjee believes that some shows, specifically Euphoria, can accurately depict the negative effects drugs have on relationships. However, Maness says the portrayal of topics like drugs and addiction does not accurately represent the way these substances show up in real life. In particular, Maness says students may watch shows like “Euphoria” for entertainment purposes, but it is harmful to perceive the depictions in these shows as reality. 

“Are you really able to stay unbiased after watching these shows, or has this changed your perspective about drugs or sex or any of these other topics that you are watching?” Maness said. “I think it’s important for all users to consider those things or else they might end up having really biased opinions about these topics.”

According to a survey of 48 students, 88% state how the themes of drugs and sex are uncommon specifically within MVHS culture. Mukherjee agrees with this point, stating how although the characters in “Euphoria” are the same age as us, their lives are far more mature than the life of an average teenager in Cupertino, which is essential for students to recognize if they choose to watch the show. Suresh agrees with this, stating that the depictions of drugs and sex in these shows are therefore harmful due to their unrealistic nature. 

“I’ve heard about people doing drugs or engaging in sex at MVHS, but I feel like it’s a lot more on the down low here and not as big of an issue as they’re making it out to be,” Suresh said. “Maybe it’s because of my perspective of Monta Vista but the way ‘Euphoria’ addresses topics like drugs, I don’t picture those kinds of things happening here, so it seems unrealistic for those shows to portray.”

Maness adds that many shows are only made to entice the audience and keep them captivated rather than to spread awareness. Hence, for directors to sell their show, they often have to resort to sensitive topics. 

“It’s a show, right?” Maness said. “I mean, it has to capture the audience. I feel like it tries to mimic both sides, but it doesn’t. I remember an episode where Zendaya really needed the drugs, but I just didn’t think it was enough to show the real symptomology of what it feels like.”

Maness says this carries over to depictions of mental health, particularly suicide. The 2017 series “13 Reasons Why” follows the aftermath of fictional high schooler Hannah Baker’s suicide, which consists of various tapes she made blaming her fellow classmates and administrators for convincing her to take her life. According to Maness, this show is harmful in its unrealistic depiction of suicide, as it doesn’t accurately portray emotions and praises rash coping mechanisms over healthier alternatives. 

“It’s a very inaccurately portrayed show in terms of what it actually feels like,” Maness said. “We want to understand revenge and vengeance, and in ‘13 Reasons Why,’ why this person committed what she did, and I don’t think that’s realistic at all. And if you actually are vengeful or angry and have reasons why you want to commit suicide, it is healthier to talk about it, rather than keeping it all inside and blowing up later on — there’s a healthier way to cope with those feelings.”

According to CNN, there was a 28.9% increase in suicide rates for 10- to 17-year olds following the released of “13 Reasons Why,” emphasizing Maness’ point that the depiction of suicide within the show is purely for entertainment and should not be glorified or perceived as accurate. While he agrees with Maness, Mukherjee says suicide can be portrayed in an educational way. In particular, he believes that the concept of suicide can be justifiable in a TV series due to its ability to encourage awareness or to establish a plot, yet the graphic nature of the act should be excluded altogether. 

“I think that as long as suicide is not depicted on screen, as in how the person in question, actually did the deed, then it’s OK for a show to be based on that,” Mukherjee said. “But it would have to be handled really, really carefully and a lot of people would have to give their opinions on it.”

As stated by Maness, Mukherjee and Suresh, shows like “Euphoria” and “13 Reasons Why” have not properly depicted the reality of struggling with thoughts of suicide or drug use. According to Maness, the only way shows can improve these depictions is if the decision comes from the top. 

I want these filmmakers and directors to talk to a mental health professional and fact-check when they make the show.

— School Psychologist Annie Maness

“I want these filmmakers and directors to talk to a mental health professional and fact-check when they make the show,” Maness said. “It has to come from them, the producers and the media, to really make some changes, but I do think some of them could. In particular, they need to make sure that they are portraying these topics accurately. But I don’t think they’re going to do that because they’re all about profit.”

As Maness has stated, while profit and revenue may be more important to major film corporations, there needs to be a change that is more conscious and mindful of how unrealistically drugs, sex and suicide are portrayed in shows like “Euphoria” and “13 Reasons Why” and how this can impact the audiences’ perspectives. 

“It’s important for all students or all human beings to think about what they’re consuming in their daily life, whether it be Instagram or social media or TV,” Maness said. “It’s important to be mindful of what you’re watching and how it’s impacting you.”

About the Contributors
Niveda Hari, Staff Writer
Niveda is currently a sophomore and a staff writer at El Estoque. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching Grey's Anatomy and obsessing over Cat Noir. She loves sunsets and trying new foods!
Aashi Venkat, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Aashi Venkat is currently a senior and an arts and entertainment editor for El Estoque. Her favorite color is pink and she likes to take pictures and listen to music in her free time.
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