“Euphoria”, “When We Were Young” and “The Millennial High School Forever Time Warp”.

We now know that the eternal dream of an internet resembling a great Futurist’s Library of Alexandria or a Roman Senate building made clickable is dead. On a typical day, living online evokes a much more mundane, but also wacky, experience; it somehow feels both isolated and universal and also endless. As it turns out, the internet is just the high school cafeteria again. This comparison is neither new nor differentiated, but it’s the one I come back to most often after a decade of professionally marveling and shuddering at the daily excitement. For my millennial peers, it’s a metaphor that ties together two formative arenas of our millennial youth: What was the lunch break, or a dial-in chat room, but our first attempts at engaging in conversations at scale?

No wonder the vocabulary of the high school experience lends itself as a sort of heuristic for navigating the customs and hierarchies within online-driven cultural discourse. We quantify popularity and nurture parasocial relationships with people who don’t know we exist. We categorize the cool girls, mean girls and the queen bees in modern literature and reality TV; We put the canteen hall as a literal meme. Through quiz scores and wordplay scores, we scrape our way through the leveling void in hopes of spreading the word about how smart and Gold Star-worthy we are.

There’s even an ongoing genre of self-deprecation centered on having once done well in high school: Retweet if you were a “Having fun in class‘ or qualified as Gifted and talented. The joke is how these indicators of academic success — the first foray into meritocracy — have borne out as my peers grapple with looming climate disruption, rampant inequality, and bleak prospects for basic economic security, let alone generational wealth. Last month, Joyce Carol Oates proclaimed Twitter is said to be “a sanctuary for people who’ve studied too hard in school and compensate by degrading in semi-publicity in adulthood,” which didn’t register as a proto-boomer dig so much as it did simply, well , rang true. As smug as the discourse about gifted children is, it is a good way to describe the millennial state. Born into the era of dot-com optimism, made even more lustrous by the millennium progressiveism that gave us “post-race” and “girl power,” we now spend whatever free time we have between paying rent and student loans by shearing off new pieces of ourselves to feed the attention economy. No wonder high school feels like the last time things felt promising.

All of which leads me to the HBO show euphoria, whose second season has spent the last two months rekindling the high school’s fascination with the millennial Internet. If the series is a remake of an Israeli show of the same name translated by showrunner for these coasts Sam Levinson, Age 37 – First airing in 2019, the show was hyped up as a quirky Gen Z cultural coming-out party. Like the elders of old who got upset about it Degrassi, skins, and the original gibberish, The newest adults in the room were wondering aloud if teens these days were really that into finding married dads on Grindr and running cam girl side hustles from their bedrooms. (Unspoken subtext: Was high school like that for everyone, and we were all just losers?) Levinson’s euphoria turned out to be the logical conclusion of the streamer wars, where every entertainment must compete with the shocking content your ordinary internet user might come across online. Critics debated whether the racy was redundant. A running penis count began. The Parents Television and Media Council warned that the series appears to openly and intentionally market highly graphic adult content. “Let’s be honest,” President of PTC Timo Winter said in a statement, “Who watches a show about high school kids other than high school and junior high school age kids?”

Actually a great question. That winter, as the teen drama unfolded its second season, which detailed the lives of Rue, Jules, and the not-so-fun adventures of East Highland High every Sunday night, each episode continued to garner the kind of reception the Prestige was reserved for top-of-the-range TV products. Why would a high school show warrant analysis of the highest ranks of reputable and reputable outlets (including this one), let alone Pit a Tony Award-nominated playwright against professional critics? The answer, of course, is that many adults can’t help but watch, Tim.

While nostalgia is hardly the exclusive domain of one generation (at least since the boomers invented it), the millennial tribe feels acutely fixated on puberty. This is something of a content problem, first sparked when consumer “power” wielded by children entered a lucrative market to capitalize on youth-specific avenues for programming, à la MTV but also Disney Channel , Nickelodeon, and ABC Family in the ’80s and ’90s that grew into juggernauts that standardized adolescence as it filtered through the adult executives operating behind the veil. In other words, we’ve had a massive glut of shows about high school since we were even in high school.

Around the same time, social platforms exploded the power dynamic between content gatekeepers and audiences. On Myspace, Tumblr, YouTube, and Facebook, millennials morphed into hybrid consumer-creators, delivering a whole new scale of digital artifacts (blogs, pieces of flair, photo albums) for peer-to-peer consumption. The sum of the content that is often available to us through us, approached infinity. It was like unleashing an entire (and unusually large) cohort to run wild at the grand opening of a hall of mirrors: Everywhere we looked, we saw ourselves.

At the same time, we got caught in content with uppercase C, there was also all lowercase content that we created ourselves. Even now, as long as we’re on Facebook, we have access to a catalog of all interactions logged on the site for 18 years — much of that activity is centralized for some millennials from our high school days. It’s a historically novel development to have a semi-sentient time capsule and index of your youth like this, especially one that’s algorithmically motivated to dredge everything up regularly, like an annoying address book, yearbook, and diary all rolled into one. Consider any other platform (don’t even get me started on Disney+) that is similarly motivated to help you build yourself a cage of eternal nostalgia and you never have to stop watching or hearing the things you do grew up, never.

Indeed, if you grew up watching gilmore girls, or Full house, or chatterbox, or the fresh prince of bel air or boy meets world, or any number of millennial teen shows holding an ounce of remaining IP value, the market has taken note of the not-so-juvenile spending power of this demographic and now finds it in its best interest to continue to bend the time warp. What’s fascinating about all these rebooted holdovers from the late ’90s and early ’90s, however, is the lack of clarity about their intended audience. Is it for today’s teenagers or the sentimental adults in the room? While girl meets world and the new chatterbox, For example, if you try to deliver an updated universe that is readable by Gen Z viewers, the results will be overly saccharine or simply at odds with the original “fun” of the property. However, try to follow Lizzie McGuire into her 30s, and you end up giving up the show’s family friendliness. turn Bel Air from comedy to drama, and results so far appear generally lackluster.

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