Nudity, incest, threesomes: what your teens are watching

Nudity, incest, threesomes: what your teens are watching. By Rosemary Neill.

For the past couple of decades, adult viewers have become accustomed to graphic sex and violence-laced scenes in blue-chip cable and streamed drama series including House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Ozark. …

Now, in a trend that is attracting remarkably little debate, similarly explicit sex scenes and transgressive scenarios are becoming normalised in dramas centred on teenage characters. Even more strangely, this trend is gaining momentum during the #MeToo era, as a historic gender reckoning over sexual harassment, rape culture and the objectification of women and girls sparks reforms in spheres as diverse as federal parliament, high schools, Hollywood and the theatre industry.

Producers of young adult dramas seem to have missed the memo. A survey of current and recent dramas that, like Elite, are set in high schools, reveals scenes featuring sexual intercourse with choking (Euphoria); a wealthy schoolboy who orders in prostitutes like other teens dial up Uber Eats (Gossip Girl); hook-ups between school-aged kids and adults (Tiny Pretty Things; Euphoria); an underage girl performing an impromptu strip tease to a pub full of adults (Riverdale); and schoolgirls practising oral sex on bananas while their peers chant “suck, suck, suck the di.k’’ (Sex Education).

Elite — which has a bare breast and butt count to rival that of Game of Thrones’ early seasons — has just been renewed by Netflix for a fifth season. …

HBO’s first YA experiment, Euphoria, for which ex-Disney star Zendaya recently won a best actress Emmy, was generating headlines even before it launched in the US. Like Elite, Euphoria, which is available on Foxtel, takes place in a high school seething with sexually ravenous, self-sabotaging teenage characters played by hot 20-somethings.

Referring to its many “jarring elements”, The Hollywood Reporter has said it “offers perhaps the most unflinching, not to mention explicit, take on modern adolescence ever to hit US television”. One infamous locker room scene — where would teen dramas be without their hormone-laden locker rooms? — features about 30 teenage male penises, while 17-year-old protagonist and drug addict Rue (Zendaya), declares that schoolgirls posting nude selfies is mandatory these days: “Nudes are the currency of love, so stop shaming us.”

At a party, a male student salivates over nude images of a student and says: “You f..k her like the horse she is and kick her to the kerb.” We see a naked schoolgirl having sex with a fellow student who shows his affection by choking her during intercourse. She points out he should ask her first if it’s OK to choke her. Respect! …

It’s the money:

Why are showrunners so intent on creating teenage characters with the sexual appetites of sex addicts, and the practised moves of professional lap dancers? “I usually say, ‘Follow the money trail’,” says anti-porn feminist and author Melinda Tankard Reist.

As the huge audience reach of dramas like Elite, Gossip Girl and Sex Education demonstrates, if sex sells, then explicit teenage sex can be a goldmine. Freed from the expectations of advertisers that free-to-air networks must adhere to, cable and streaming dramas know that notoriety drives views and revenue in a crowded drama field.

I ask Tankard Reist, author of Getting Real, Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, about a growing contradiction: While #MeToo-inspired reforms are giving women in screen more agency and opportunity, in the YA genre, adult sexual behaviours are being grafted onto teen characters and young actors’ nude and semi-nude bodies are being objectified.

She replies: “Those connections have to be made. We have been calling out this hypocrisy for a long time … Girls have been sold a false message of empowerment.”

Clashes with the #MeToo culture:

The burgeoning teen drama genre deflects criticism partly because its storylines commonly pay lip service to #MeToo concerns about the sexual mistreatment of young women. At the same time, producers routinely engage adult actors to play teenagers, allowing them to film more explicit sex scenes.

As we have seen from the recent Brittany Higgins allegations, and a disturbing online dossier of sexual assault allegations posted by Australian high school students, when a work or social environment becomes highly sexualised and characterised by excessive alcohol and drug taking, it is young women who seem to suffer the most.

Yet in raunchy teen dramas, girls are presented as having insatiable sexual appetites and the same clinical approach to casual sex as young men who are, equally reductively, always up for it. …

Pornification is sort-of PC:

Clearly, there is a widening gulf between contemporary reality and the distorted screen portrayals of Generation Z. As the Washington Free Beacon website observed: “While popular television shows like Euphoria and Riverdale depict an increasingly sexualised high school experience, the reality is just the opposite.” …

Tankard Reist argues the aesthetics of the multibillion-dollar porn industry are “filtering through” to mainstream culture — from social media sites to rap music and YA dramas. Girls, she says, are being told that it is liberating “if you wrap your legs around a pole; if you provide oral sex to boys at parties, if you give a hand job in the back of a car”.

Terrified of being labelled prudes or “pearl clutchers”, the default position of many, if not most, reviewers is that it’s uncool to question pop culture’s sexploitation of young viewers and actors. Elite has a 97 per cent critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes …

Television’s mainstreaming of a porn aesthetic was further exemplified last month when bestselling female rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion performed their provocative hit WAP — which stands for “Wet-Ass Pussy” — on prime-time American television during the Grammy Awards.

Now here is a job for feminists, but too many of them are more concerned with grabbing political power.

hat-tip Stephen Neil