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21 August 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 4:58pm

With my son at a festival in a storm, I try to distract myself with a shocking new TV show

By Tracey Thorn

Gale-force winds are sweeping across the country, followed by thunderstorms, followed by more gales. I keep looking at weather forecast apps and they all open with the words WEATHER WARNING in large bright letters. Exclamation marks ramp up the drama. And my youngest is setting off to spend the weekend at a festival, semi-ignoring helpful hints from me about putting his socks in a plastic bag and hammering in his tent pegs at a 45 degree angle.

Two other festivals have been cancelled due to the forecast, but not Boomtown. As I wave him off I am smiling and telling him I hope he has fun, while duplicitously screaming inside, I HOPE IT WILL SOON BE CANCELLED AND YOU COME HOME SAFELY.

Luckily I can keep up with what’s happening via Instagram and Twitter. I follow the Boomtown hashtag and see reassuring stories of youngsters having a good time. There they all are hugging and smiling, covering themselves in glitter, raving in bucket hats, and, oh wait, messaging the official helpline asking what to do as their tent has blown away. Oh God, I shouldn’t have looked.

For 48 hours I hear nothing from him, then finally get a nonchalant mid-morning text telling me that he is fine, that the wind is “hilarious” and that he is sitting in his “uncontrollably shaking tent” listening to people outside “screaming”. Great. Nothing to worry about at all.

After three days he returns safely home. He has anecdotes about drugs they were warned not to take, of seeing bits of the stage sailing out into the crowd, and tents flying overhead in the wind. They kept theirs secure by setting up under a tree and tying the guy rope to the trunk. I dwell for a moment on what might have happened if the tree had blown down, then decide to move on.

You could occupy yourself pretty much full time worrying about your young adult children. With that thought in mind, I settle down a day or two later to watch the first episode of new drama Euphoria. I’ve seen a headline asking, “Is Euphoria the most shocking teen show ever?” Someone asked me to write about it from the point of view of a mother of young people, but I thought I’d watch it first, rather than forcing myself to have an opinion.

And yes, having watched it I can see how it adds fuel to the fire of parenting worry. In the first episode alone there are lots of drugs, and porn-influenced sex, and dangerous liaisons, and self-harm, and misogyny. Nothing that looks much fun. I’m struck most of all by the sadness; a pervasive unhappiness and bleakness of outlook. Though as lead character, drug-addicted Rue, says early on, these kids didn’t make the world they have found themselves living in, and nor did they screw it up.

Rue’s birth coincided with the fall of the Twin Towers. She has grown up in the shadow of that loss, and into a society where, as a small child, her unhappiness has been diagnosed and medicated, until she has forgotten how to live without the numbing of a narcotic. But towards the end of this first episode she’s drawn towards another character, trans girl Jules, another outsider, and immediately I’m hooked by their story, the warmth they show each other, the hope that they will find strength in each other.

Because, while there is cruelty on display here, there is also affection. Where there’s bullying, there’s also solidarity. These young people are acutely self-aware, with a sense of humour about the aspects of their lives which they know horrify the older generation. Don’t judge us for our porn, and our sexting, says the narrator. The nastiest bit of sexual behaviour comes from an actual dad.

I wonder whether Euphoria is supposed to make me more worried, as a parent? Maybe. But everyone worries. Jules’ dad worries about Jules, and Rue’s mother worries about Rue. Hell, even Rue’s drug dealer worries about Rue, so while the drama is harsh, it isn’t heartless.

We worry about people because we love them, and because we can’t always save them. It’s the least we can do. Sometimes, it’s ALL we can do. 

Next week: Kate Mossman

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This article appears in the 21 Aug 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great university con