Abundant Life | Manifestation Affirmations

Zendaya stars in HBO’s Euphoria Show caption Zendaya stars in HBO’s Euphoria Photograph: HBO
The Guide

I’ve decided to kick things off with a small helping of trauma, and ask: should our most troubling pop culture come with a warning? I’m thinking specifically of HBO’s no holds barred teen drama Euphoria, which returned to screens this week, and – for UK viewers – was preceded by an announcement that the episode contained “depictions of drug abuse, very strong language, some strong violence, scenes of a sexual nature and strong images of nudity from the start”. Elsewhere, there was a more explicit content warning on Instagram, where the show’s star and executive producer, Zendaya, said that season two was “deeply emotional” and “triggering”, urging fans to watch only if they felt comfortable.

Indeed, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) getting covered in wee was far from the most harrowing part of an episode which featured a shooting at a strip club (complete with what will surely be the first of many erect penises we’ll see this series), heroin use, and a bloody beating.

Trigger warning

While many would have been grateful for the heads up, content warnings – sometimes known as trigger warnings – have been a divisive issue in film and TV. Research published by the British Board of Film Classification in September last year found that 64% of teenagers wanted to be alerted to the potential for distressing scenes in a movie – for example references to suicide, self-harm or eating disorders. However, many others believe that such warnings are unnecessary and a type of censorship, lumping them in with general “woke snowflake” criticism. Writing for right-wing site Spiked, Joanna Williams rallied against any extra warnings in cinemas, adding that “children are bombarded with messages telling them that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ … adults have taught children that they are emotionally fragile”.

But is it about “emotional fragility”, or merely appreciating the profound effects that films and television programmes can have on viewers of any age? It’s A Sin – Russell T Davies’s brilliant, sobering look at life during the 80s Aids crisis – is a case in point. Initially released on Channel 4 and its streaming platform All 4 without any warnings, many viewers were enthralled by the show but startled by its graphic portrayal of the severe illness and death caused by HIV/Aids (a friend of mine said the show had given them nightmares, and that their worries about having already contracted the illness were “debilitating”). Viewers and charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust asked the broadcaster to look into adding extra guidance. What followed was an excellent example of a programme maker doing a quick 180 to take in the wider cultural conversation, with messages about changes to sexual health and science, and support information added as the series went on.

Similarly, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You – about a young woman dealing with the aftermath of a suspected date rape – sparked conversations on topics such as stealthing, and came not only with content warnings but a toolkit for audiences, with a special online microsite of workshops which has been visited over two million times. Meanwhile, HBO set up a free 24/7 text crisis line for Euphoria, which has previously tackled issues including drug abuse and gender dysphoria.

Wide awoke club

Ultimately, it’s important for creators to think about how their work can and does affect people. After all, all the warnings in the world mean nothing if the actual content is potentially problematic (the eating disorder charity Beat, for example, took issue last year not with the lack of warnings around the Princess Diana biopic Spencer, but the fact that the film risked “glamorising” bulimia, and advised those who were currently unwell or concerned about their health not to watch it).

As helpful as they are for some, trigger warnings may not work for everyone, which is all the more reason to go beyond them, and for film and TV-makers instead to think about what more they can do to help their viewers. Some may call it wokery but, well, they were probably never going to watch Euphoria anyway.

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