Toxic Teen Television – Where are the Consequences? An Opinion Piece

[ read at your own risk, may feature spoilers.]

There is an abundance of teenage based television programmes these days. From your classics of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, to more recent releases such as Riverdale and Euphoria. The thing with teen television is that it is completely romanicised and sheds light on problematic issues, however chooses to script and film them in questionable ways. Your favourite television heartthrobs and “couple goals” couples aren’t as fantastic as you make them out to be, in fact these images projected to adolescents are quite dangerous and can allow them to be normalised in reality. Teenage dramas make up a lot of the television content out there and admittedly there’s sometimes nothing better than laying sprawled out in bed with your favourite junk food and switching on the television to watch fantasical teenagers try to seem relatable, however these same fantastical teens present some very real and dangerous tropes that do not often show the very deep consequences to these actions.

Take the highly controversial 13 Reasons Why. The 2017 show, based on the novel of the same name, is still ongoing despite complaints and inaccurate representation of mental illness and dangerous portrayal of suicide that could be considered as triggering. Some went as far to say that the show glorified suicide and had teenagers everywhere wondering to themselves who would be featured on their tapes if they were Hannah Baker. The show claimed that they researched intensively before release and spoke to many charities and organisations that deal with the bereaved and suicidal, however these same charities and organisations came forward to state that they advised the creators against a visual suicide scene in which main character of season one Hannah Baker takes her own life, against their wishes the creators released a graphic three minute scene which disturbed and triggered many viewers who took to the Internet to voice their concerns. Nearly two years later after its release the creators edited the scene after advice from medical experts, yet the show reached four seasons.

Extreme real red flags appear in these shows but are consistently ignored. Take The Vampire Diaries’ Damon Salvatore and Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass for example. These two men are glorified throughout the stratosphere by girls and women around (admittedly, this includes me) for their dark hair, eyes and smoldering good looks and yet they are absolute monsters. There is never any consequence to their bad actions. Both of these characters have displayed predatory behavior in their early seasons with Chuck Bass trying to sexually assault not one, but two girls throughout the first half of season one. This behavior is over looked and he goes on to get a girlfriend and keep all of his friendships, suffering no real consequences for his actions. Damon Salvatore also falls into this sick category as in the early seasons he keeps his friend Caroline in a compelled state, having sex with her and feeding off of her whenever he sees fit. This act of complete betrayal is never mentioned again with him going on to date her best friend and befriend her friends. After acts such as these, the characters soon lost their predatory characteristics and quickly became two of the biggest heartthrobs in teen television and them and their significant others became ‘couple goals.’ This is extremely concerning as girls are lusting after men such as these and forgetting their inexcusable actions of seasons past.

Cheating. It is the staple for most dramas on teen television, but this doesn’t make it okay. Cheating is glorified as an action that is adrenaline fuelled and forbidden which of course makes our teen protagonists want it even more. Gossip Girl‘s characters were notorious cheaters who would all embroil themselves in scandal with one another despite all being friends, and somehow staying friends? Be realistic, if your boyfriend/girlfriend cheated on you with your best friend, that friendship would not last. Everybody’s favourite television sweetheart Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls cheated in every single relationship she had. Glee showed unfaithful relationships to be the norm when Rachel cheated on her high school sweetheart Finn, with his best friend, esteemed player Puck just to ‘get back’ at him for sleeping with somebody when they weren’t together. Quinn cheated on Finn, then cheated on her next boyfriend with Finn. Brittany cheated on Artie with Santana. The list goes on, and on. These characters never show any remorse or consequences to these actions as they manage to keep all their friendships and more often than not keep the relationship that they failed to maintain in the first place. This is a worrying message to construe to adolescents that cheating has no consequences except for a few shed tears before making up.

One of the more alarming tropes of teen television is the normality of teen-adult relationships, primarily with teachers which is classed as an abuse of power. Naturally, this thought doesn’t occur to the doe-eyed teens on our screens as they send secret notes or stay behind after classes to talk to their sweethearts. The most famous examples of these would be English teacher Ezra and Aria from Pretty Little Liars who engage in a tryst that screams statutory. One Tree Hill‘s Brooke finds herself in the same situation as Aria, meeting a handsome man and becoming involved with him only to start school and find that he is her English teacher. This trope is not limited to women, as shown by Riverdale with student Archie Andrews becoming involved with his music teacher Miss Grundy. If you’re familiar with the Archie Comics and gang, then this revelation may come as a sick surprise as in the comics Miss Grundy is an elderly woman but the creators turned her into a young music teacher with an eye for her students so it seems, as it is shown that she was involved with several other students also. Miss Grundy is a serial offender when it comes to taking advanage of her students and instead of showing real consequences for these actions she is instead ran out of town to continue her misdemeanours with other innocent adolescents. This is a complete abuse of power and breach of the student’s safety at school, however these shows instead romanticise the ‘forbidden romances’ of these shows and project unrealistic and illegal ideals onto teenagers.

This trope sadly exists in the UK too, with Skins character Chris pursuing his teacher Angie even though she repeatedly says no – though in the end the two sleep together and embark on a treacherous path.

Disappointingly these tropes are still continuing, after all, they do make good television. The dangers and toxicity of the couples represented in these television shows are glorfied on Twitter and other social medias as being “couple goals” ignoring the fact that half of these couples have broken up and gotten back together more times than we have fingers. We just have to face the fact, there isn’t a good couple in teen television… It wouldn’t be good for ratings.

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