Representatives of Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) recently issued a statement accusing HBO’s Euphoria of glamorizing drug abuse to a young audience.
In a statement to TMZ, a D.A.R.E. rep said:
“Rather than further each parent’s desire to keep their children safe from the potentially horrific consequences of drug abuse and other high-risk behavior, HBO’s television drama, Euphoria, chooses to misguidedly glorify and erroneously depict high school student drug use, addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.”
Founded in 1983, D.A.R.E. famously taught students to “say no” to drugs, until the program lost its federal funding in the late nineties, after multiple studies showed D.A.R.E. to be counterintuitive, sparking student’s curiosity about drugs rather than scaring them into sobriety.
D.A.R.E., it seems, had completely the wrong approach – but are they right about Euphoria?
Superstar Zendaya stars in HBO’s Euphoria as Rue, a teenager hopelessly addicted to drugs, her warped form of relief from the anxiety disorder that plagues her. Rue slowly sabotages her own life, one bad decision at a time; surviving overdoses, lying to her friends and family, occasionally threatened by psychotic drug dealers.
Clearly, her life is not supposed to be viewed as aspirational – that’s the logical reading of the show. That being said, it wouldn’t be the first time that the moral of a story is drowned out by a glamorous aesthetic; Euphoria’s seductive cinematography, a delirious haze of lurid light and sparkling skin, beautifully depict the highs and lows of drug addiction.
The visual flair of film and television has a habit of glamorizing the dangerous behaviour that their narratives condemn, depicting violence and drug abuse as incredibly exhilarating, and Euphoria is no exception – even the lowest low looks appealing under the right lighting.
But at what point does depiction equal endorsement?
Well, it’s a well-worn debate, usually sparked over violence in film and video games, responsible for some of the most tedious discourse that exists online, the domain of prudes, puritans and concerned parents.
Media and culture does indeed influence us (there’s no doubt of that), but during such debates, the degree to which is often overstated. Stories influence our personalities and interests, but they exist inside the reality that created them; context and environment must also be taken into account. The moral failings of fiction are far easier to fix than systemic issues like drug addiction.
Writing in Vulture, Zachary Siegel argues that Euphoria’s depiction of drug abuse includes crucial lessons in harm reduction, citing the correct treatment of Rue’s overdose from fentanyl during one particularly memorable scene:
“For all the hubbub, every teenager watching Euphoria at least knows that having naloxone around can save a life. I had no idea what naloxone even was for during the majority of my time using. That’s because I had grown up on DARE officers and media depictions like the outlandish heroin-overdose scene in Pulp Fiction … In contrast, Euphoria seizes the opportunity to educate audiences about the realities of overdose prevention.”
Euphoria creator Sam Levinson based elements of Rue’s journey on personal experience, and believes that the addiction of fiction should reflect reality:
“I think it’s crucial that film and television portray addiction in an honest way,” Levinson wrote.
“That we allow for its complexities to play out. That we show the allure of drugs, the relief they can bring, because that’s ultimately what makes them so destructive.”