As newer TV shows like “Euphoria” and “Never Have I Ever” air on popular streaming platforms, young people are constantly seeing how characters our age are portrayed inaccurately, and, frankly, offensively.
HBO Max is well known for having shows like “Euphoria,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl” depict teenagers as using vulgar language at least three times in each sentence, abusing drugs frequently and going to parties every day of the week. Although this might be true for a fraction of young adults, a majority of teens are not engaging in these extreme behaviors. A good number of Gen Z kids, especially at UTD, are first-generation Americans that live under strict rules and high expectations from their parents, who immigrated here for a better future. However, many shows tend to disregard that Gen Z kids have any concern for the rest of the world. Apparently, our only real problems consist of basic high school drama. For example, “Euphoria,” a popular show that has been airing since 2019, centers on a group of high school kids that each have their own set of deep emotional baggage which appears to never be truly resolved.
While some of these characters’ issues are relevant to the real world, its plot holes show that many of these tragedies would have been prevented in a real high school, making the story unrelatable. For example, in “Euphoria,” a lot of kids were able to get away with doing hard drugs in school. This isn’t completely fictitious, but the extent to which it was done was certainly not realistic, especially in a wealthy school where security is more intense.
This was a problem in the plot, as a lot of the issues especially with the main character, Rue, were drug related problems. In the real world, this issue could have been resolved earlier on as family, friends and school faculty would have gotten her help before her addiction got worse. Many shows that take place in a high school hardly show the characters in their classes, and even if they do, it’s just one English class, and then school is suddenly over.
As UTD is a research based school, our problems are usually more academic, and students — especially first-generation students — feel a strong pressure to perform well. These academic pressures are rarely shown in TV shows, which is ridiculous considering the true outlook of people our age. Shows also don’t portray how Gen Z is generally more informed and proactive in the future of our world and conscious of environmental, social and political issues. Increasingly fewer people in our generation want to have kids due to anxiety for the future. However, youths are portrayed as ignorant, vapid and drama-obsessed, which gives the wrong impression of our generation’s values.
Other shows that may not be so fantastical with drugs and parties are equally unrealistic, but in other ways. The personalities of the characters portrayed in comedian Mindy Kaling’s works are especially unrelatable to first-generation kids, who are generally proud of and well-connected to their culture. For example, Kaling’s character Devi from “Never Have I Ever” opens the story talking about how she wants to claim she has been at a party with substances so she can be seen as the typical American kid.
Not all of us are so obsessed with assimilating. Our pride is clearly visible on our predominantly Indian and Indian-American campus. We have many school events celebrating holidays and festivals from our culture, and students come together every year to connect and have a good time during these celebrations. As a diverse campus, we value our culture, so why does Kaling portray it as shameful?
There are Gen Z kids who are embarrassed of their backgrounds and try hard to conform to western norms, but this is rarely explored critically in these sorts of shows. The constant internalized shame shown by these characters gets tiring. I’m sure that the characters that Kaling writes about are relatable to some, but she doesn’t have a great grasp of how Gen Z kids feel because she literally is not Gen Z. When writers write about a generation that they do not belong to and make no effort to understand, they portray the worries and anxieties of the group inaccurately.
If you want to write about Gen Z, you need to get input from actual young people. Hire younger writers or have young people consult on your scripts. Otherwise, you’ll create something that we all know off the bat to be a cringe-inducing portrayal that stifles the voices of real youths.