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“I Don’t Think I Have an Attention Span for Real Life Anymore”: Excessive Stimulation, Sense of Meaninglessness, and Boredom in Sam Levinson’s Euphoria

Anna Pochmara

Abstract

The article analyzes selected episodes from the HBO teen drama Euphoria (2019–) and argues that it both reproduces and comments on the boredom of satiety. Directed by Sam Levinson, the show has been repeatedly praised for its dynamic aesthetic. The swirling kaleidoscope of scenes and images in Euphoria mimics the contemporary immersion in social media and digital representations. The frenetic visual pace of the show’s regular episodes, however, is broken with slow-paced and seemingly boring special episodes. Yet, I will show that their focus on in-person, engaged conversations is a refreshing break from the boredom of satiety and serves as an antidote to the loss of meaningfulness experienced by the teenage protagonists.

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Nowadays, where efficiency is one of the great buzz words, we prefer everything to move at a brisk pace, but that is not how things are when it comes to processing that which deeply affects us. That must take time. If not, there is some essential that is lacking. The outer conditions are not particularly favourable for dwelling on boredom, for part of the experiencing of boredom is that it takes time. (Svendsen 145–46)
There is this consistent anxiety that I think exists in this generation. (“Sam Levinson”)
[I]n our time anxiety has been absorbed by boredom. (den Dulk 55)

1“Hundreds of concerts throughout the city, multiple movies available at cinemas and videos, dozens of channels on television to watch at home—how could anyone be bored?”—rhetorically asks Richard Winter in his study Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment (2002) and tries to explain the puzzle of “a paradoxical ‘boredom boom’” (12). Exactly 20 years later, the entertainment scene is brimming with even more easily available and varied distractions, many provided by streaming services and social media apps unknown at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet these new distractions and constant novelties have not put an end to the boredom boom. On the contrary, recent surveys indicate that Generation Z and Millennials experience boredom more often than previous generations (“2016 Udemy”). This paradox can be explained with what Martin Doehlemann labels as the boredom of satiety, the state “when one gets too much of the same thing and everything becomes banal” (Svendsen 41–42). As a result, people suffer from “leisure boredom,” the “subjective perception that available leisure experiences”as varied and stimulating as they seem“are not sufficient to instrumentally satisfy needs for optimal arousal” (Iso-Ahola and Weissinger 4). As sociologist J. M. Barbalet adds, boredom that results from “excessive stimulation through which social meanings are undermined” is experienced as the loss of purpose, involvement, and meaningfulness (634). Such boredom can be linked to anxiety and restlessness (Irvine 90; cf. Svendsen 116, 125–26). With the introduction of the chronometer into the workplace, “the time of the machine” began with “the ticking away of real time minute by minute, the dread underlying irrevocable reality of the meter running” (Jameson 75). In many cases, the “dread” stems from the anxious feeling of being bypassed by life, which today is frequently manifested as “the fear of missing out” (FoMO). It is a consequence of immersion in the world of social media, which constantly remind users that they have missed rewarding experiences (Holte 1).

2In this article, I will analyze the HBO series Euphoria to argue how the show both reproduces and comments on boredom in the twenty-first century. Produced by A24—a company that has released a number of influential independent movies such as Arie Aster’s Midsommar and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlightand directed by Sam Levinson, the series represents the life of teenagers in suburban California. As the creator declares, “it is a story that follows this group of kids trying to navigate the world today,” and it is told “from their perspective” (“Sam Levinson”). The two female leads, addicted to opiates Rue and transsexual Jules, are respectively played by Zendaya and Hunter Schafer. In the generally favorable reviews of the show, different critics use almost the same phrases to pinpoint its appeal: Euphoria has been repeatedly praised for its “visually striking,” “dizzying,” and “intoxicating” aesthetic (Hayes, Nemetz). Thus, the series is frequently perceived as a high watermark in today’s cultural landscape, “a triumph at a time when truly unique storytelling remains unsettlingly rare” (Deggans). Focusing on the pilot, I will demonstrate that the regular episodes express the contemporary anxious boredom of satiety and a sense of meaninglessness. In contrast, “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” Euphoria’s special episode released in 2020, offers an alternative, slow aesthetic, which gestures towards emotional engagement and deeper understanding between the characters.

3The aesthetics and pace of the regular episodes mimic the contemporary engagement with social media and digital representations, the virtualization of reality, and instant communication that characterize the contemporary world of Snapchat messages, Instagram stories, or TikTok videos. The swirling kaleidoscope of today’s mediated experiences—sexting, scrolling, online pornography, or webcam sex, to name just a few examples—is thematically represented in the series, but it is also the key to its form. As Levinson states, the show’s dynamism, frequent use of eerily lighted “night exteriors” and “close-ups” produces a surreal vibe, but at the same time, “it feels very real” (“Sam Levinson”). Accordingly, despite the show’s anti-realist aesthetics, many teenagers, when surveyed about Euphoria, responded that it felt authentic to their experience (Paige). Levinson’s characters also talk about their relationship to the virtual and the instant and thus indirectly comment on the form of the show and its investment in mediated experiences. For example, reprimanded for the use of the phone at the table by her father, Jules jokingly says, “I don’t think I have an attention span for real life anymore” (“Stuntin’”).

4Metatextually, Euphoria responds to Jules’s predicament: the show’s pace does not require a long attention span. For instance, the pilot episode dynamically switches between three timeframes: the present, which covers the last weekend of the summer holidays; the past, which gives us insight into the protagonist’s history in unchronological flashbacks; and the future, foreshadowing Rue and Jules’s later relationship. In the span of just 53 minutes, we learn about Rue’s mental illness, substance abuse, and rehab. The episode is packed with her extreme experiences such as overdosing or having panic attacks. We also witness many intense scenes involving other teenage characters that depict brutal violence and graphic sex acts. These incidents include public sex in a pool; a sexual encounter between an underage girl and a middle-aged man, that is, a case of statutory rape; a non-consensual sexual behavior between teenagers; a fight with self-inflicted knife injuries; a pre-adolescent drug dealer; and a 17-year-old girl’s first sexual intercourse, which takes place at a party, is recorded, and later posted online (“Pilot”). The laws and taboos are repeatedly broken, which has left many viewers shocked and horrified (Hayes). The sensational events differ from popular representations of teenage life in the suburbs. Thus, at first sight, the show’s dynamic aesthetic, dramatic narrative, and diverse characters challenge the myth of boring, uniform American suburbia.

  • 1 For an analysis of suburbia and boredom in this issue, see also David Callahan, “Boredom, Cohesion, (...)

5The setting and characters seem to be the very opposite of the standardized suburban neighborhood from Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922), where men, living in identically designed homes, “had the same ideas and expressed them always with the same ponderous and brassy assurance,” and women “all looked alike,” and “all said ‘Oh, isn’t this nice!’ in the same tone of determined liveliness” (116, 94).1 Suburbs in Euphoria also seem to differ from those depicted in William Burroughs’s Junky (1953), whose narrator leaves them to look for more titillating experiences, notably including heroin, in the city. At the very beginning of the book, Burroughs’s authorial persona confesses, “When I was about seven my parents decided to move to the suburbs ‘to get away from people.’... They lived there in a comfortable capsule, with a beautiful garden and cut off from contact with the life of the city” (2). Later the narrator emphasizes that “the Midwest suburb” is not only distanced from the city but constitutes an “empty” environment, which is simply “cut off from life” in general (3–4). Analogous sameness and emptiness are recurrent themes in many later twentieth-century representations of suburbs. Women writers from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Erma Bombeck or Betty Friedan, poignantly depict the debilitating boredom of suburban life. In her classic The Feminine Mystique (1963), Friedan argues that the ideology of domestic femininity, perfectly embodied by suburban housewives, forces women to “suffer ultimately that bored, diffuse feeling of purposelessness, non-existence, non-involvement with the world that can be called anomie, or lack of identity, or merely felt as the problem that has no name” (172). Not only was the suburban “woman’s spirit being broken by the boredom of household tasks” and “the deadly sameness of their lives,” but as a result, their overnurtured children experienced “a devastating boredom with life” (36, 241, 25). In At Wit’s End (1965), Bombeck—analogously to Friedan, though in an ironic tone—characterizes women in the suburbs as “trapped, bored, neurotic, and unfulfilled” (22). Such perception of suburban life as stifling, empty, and boring—shared by Lewis, Burroughs, Friedan, and Bombeck—continues to be dominant in the twenty-first century. Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds (2005–2012), a TV series set in the California uptown neighborhood of Agrestic, decided to use “Little Boxes,” a hit song from the 1960s, to ironically depict the continuous sameness of suburban life in the US:

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,...
Little boxes all the same...
And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,...
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same. (“Little Boxes”)

6Although Weeds­—just like Euphoria—introduces the extraordinary element of illegal activity into boring suburban life, it does not question the sameness and conformity that characterizes Agrestic. The opening of Kohan’s show seems to depict the very opposite of the stimulating, fast-moving life of Levinson’s colorful characters.

  • 2 The Wonder Years opens with Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” (1968).

7Whereas the writers I discuss above focus on adults, the teenage experience of suburban boredom in the United States—at least since the popular success of Father Knows Best (1954–1960)—is most frequently depicted in television shows, typically sitcoms, which offer a much brighter version of uptown life than the one in Babbit or The Feminine Mystique. Whereas shows such as Father Knows Best or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952–1966) focused on family life in general, in the 1980s, the teen show became one of the most popular television formats. The number of such programs continued to rise in the 1990s, when television was adolescents’ medium of choice (Miller xviii). Characteristically, the most influential, long-running teen sitcoms from those two decades depict the past in the suburbs rather than contemporary life, and their tone is markedly nostalgic. For example, in The Wonder Years (1988–1993), the voice-over narrator conveys an almost idyllic vision of uptown life in the 1960s. As a series of scenes in which children play in the suburban streets and backyards unfolds at the beginning of the first episode, the narrator declares that “those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs, a kind of golden age for kids” (“Pilot”). An analogously carefree ambiance is depicted in That 70’s Show (1998–2006), set—as the title suggests—in the 1970s. Just as in the case of Weeds and The Wonder Years,2 the show’s opening song is a vintage hit and not a contemporary track. Big Star’s “In the Street” (1972) depicts the comforting and cohesive simplicity of teenage life. The temporal distance between the screening time of the show’s episodes and the time the song hit the charts additionally marks the intro with a nostalgia for the simpler past:

Hanging out, down the street.
The same old thing, we did last week.
Not a thing to do, but talk to you.
Not a thing to do out in the street.
Mom and dad live upstairs.
The music’s loud so we don’t care. (Big Star)

  • 3 Other teen shows that depict the past decades and adolescence with nostalgia include Happy Days (19 (...)

8In the lyrics, the repetitive but untroubled teenage life in the suburbs is set in a traditional family household with “mom and dad... upstairs” as the unwanted surveillance and a guarantee of security. The continuing appeal of such nostalgic representations is visible in the reboots of both shows: That 80’s Show (2002) and the new Wonder Years (2021; which recasts the original show from an African American perspective), as well as in the numbers of other period shows devoted to teenage life.3 In contrast, Levinson’s drama carries a much different appeal, and it clearly challenges such idealized images of comfortingly boring suburban adolescence.

9Euphoria departs from the popular sitcom depictions of teenage life in the suburbs in a number of ways. Structurally, Levinson’s show is planned as a serial, and thus it does not provide a neat closure either at the end of each episode or even at the end of the season. Unformulaic, it is driven by suspense and narrative uncertainty. In direct opposition, teen sitcom episodes constitute self-contained stories, typically ending in a closure, which provides a sense of comfort to the viewer, who exactly knows what to expect. This comforting feel is even more pronounced in the period shows. Depicting the relatively remote past and frequently narrated by an adult, who nostalgically looks back at the good old days, such narratives ensure the viewer of the inevitable happy ending. Euphoria, on the contrary, is firmly rooted in the present and such lack of temporal distance evokes a sense of uncertainty. Levinson admits that today’s adolescents live in “constant anxiety,” and the show’s aesthetics is meant to express it (“Sam Levinson”). The surreal lighting, many night scenes, and dramatic color schemes of Euphoria produce a very different ambiance than the mostly daylight scenes in The Wonder Years and brightly lit studio sets of That 70’s Show. The aesthetics of Levinson’s series evoke an ambiance of anxiety, in opposition to the carefree, positive feel of the teen sitcoms.

10Yet despite these differences, Euphoria also represents the predicament of suburban boredom, though in the early twenty-first century, it is the anxious boredom of satiety and overstimulation. The characters look for more and more thrilling stimuli, which perfectly illustrates the “anomic search for novelty,” identified by Barbalet as one of the instances when oversaturation leads to boredom (634). Formally, the characteristic, several-second montage scenes that punctuate many episodes—despite their dynamism—aptly represent the condition of getting “too much of the same thing” (Svendsen 41). In the pilot, Rue confesses that she had “a middle-class childhood in an American suburb,” and the first montage depicts suburban architecture. Within five seconds, we see thirteen middle-class houses, most likely located in Southern California, where the show was shot. Their exteriors are remarkably diverse: the buildings are made of different materials (wood, brick, stone), their color schemes vary, and each house is designed in a different style. They are much more individualized than the identical designs from Cheerful Modern Houses for Medium Incomes satirized in Babbit (15). They are also much more varied than Malvina Reynolds’s “little boxes,” which come in four different colors, but still “all look just the same.” Yet, the fast pace of the compilation and similarity of frames actually signify repetitiveness and sameness. Each house is presented from the same wide-lens angle, from the perspective of the driveway, against a cloudless sky, without any living beings in the picture. The images strongly remind of real estate listings, in which all traces of the former inhabitants’ lives are erased so that the houses can become reified, marketable commodities. Euphoria’s flash compilation of static images, devoid of life and movement, differs from an analogous montage at the beginning of The Wonder Years, in which homemade camcorder videos, shot from different angles, depict children playing in the streets and backyards (“Pilot”). Yet—though Levinson’s representation of suburban houses is notably different from traditional depictions of suburbia and clearly challenges the idyll depicted in sitcoms, it expresses the sense of boring emptiness and meaninglessness that echoes the suburban boredom as depicted by Lewis, Burroughs, Friedan, or Bombeck.

11In Euphoria’s pilot episode, the flash montage technique is subsequently used to introduce much more dramatic themes than suburban architecture. The next compilation of shots lasts 20 seconds and depicts Rue’s drug habit. We can see the teenage character open the bathroom cabinet and take her mother’s prescription pills time after time after time. In the montage, Rue is wearing five different outfits, which suggests that this practice has lasted for quite a while. Each time Rue coughs when opening the cabinet to disguise the noise made by the hinges, and each time she flushes the empty toilet. These five repetitions are additionally multiplied by Rue’s reflections in the mirrors. Thus, the scene floods us with different, dynamically edited images, yet their repetitive character signifies routine and sameness. The repetitiveness of this scene powerfully expresses the endless cycle of Rue’s drug habit, but it also depicts her ability to hide it from her family and peers for a long time. Rue’s situation is not unique. In contrast to Burroughs, who had to move from the suburban Midwest to New York to find heroin, Rue—as many addicts today—finds opiates in her mother’s bathroom cabinet and manages to hide the habit thanks to her middle-class affluence. In the twenty-first century, the intersection of suburban setting and opiate addiction is not extraordinary; to the contrary, suburban teenagers are among the new faces of the current drug epidemic. “The signature location of this drug scourge, meanwhile, [is] not the teeming, public crack houses. It [is], instead, kids’ private suburban bedrooms and cars—the products of American prosperity. The bedroom [is] the addict’s sanctuary,” writes Sam Quinones in Dreamland (290). In a chapter of her book Dopesick, tellingly entitled “Suburban Sprawl,” Beth Macy depicts an uptown community with “manicured lawns and attached multiple-car garages,” where “heroin had settled peaceably” at the end of the new millennium’s first decade (109). Boredom in general, and leisure boredom in the case of adolescents in particular, is frequently listed as a factor that correlates positively with substance abuse (Mack et al. 22, 55, 493; Caldwell and Smith 330–45; Iso-Ahola and Crowley 260–71; cf. Gaines 86). Quinones emphasizes that today’s opiate-addicted adolescents, who “had grown up amid the consumerist boom that began in the mid-1990s” felt bored and unchallenged, which led to their experiments with pills (293). Yet, though Euphoria’s characters certainly experience leisure boredom, and it is linked to substance abuse, Rue’s story of addiction is more complex as it is related to her mental health problems.

12In the course of the show, we watch Rue suffer from panic attacks, depression, and manic episodes. This theme is visualized in another montage featured in the pilot. The compilation introduces “great, intelligent, funny, interesting, and creative” people who—as Rue’s mother Leslie tells her—suffered from psychiatric conditions similar to the ones her daughter struggles with. The montage juxtaposes Leslie’s cheery pep talk and preparation of a medicine box with dozens of pills for Rue with short clips featuring several famous faces of mental illness. These include theatrical reenactments of Van Gogh’s and Sylvia Plath’s suicides and Britney Spears’s viral mental breakdown footage. In the context of the whole series, the uniqueness of Van Gogh, Plath, and Spears is undermined as most characters suffer from psychiatric disorders and take drugs, either medically or recreationally. Rue’s closest friend, Jules, as a transgender girl, was a frequent patient in hospitals as a child (“Shook Ones”), and during her therapy session in the special episode, she confesses to suicidal thoughts (“Fuck Anyone”). The show’s darkest character, Nate (Jacob Elordi), has been traumatized by the discovery of his father’s second life. Aged 11, he finds an extremely graphic collection of recordings depicting his father having sex with various young men and transgender women (“Stuntin’”). Supporting characters such as Maddy (Alexis Demie), Kat (Barbie Ferreira), and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) also go through mental breakdowns and meltdowns, concerning toxic relationships and body image issues. Jules’s mother and both of Cassie’s parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Although the range of families in Euphoria and the cast of characters are inclusive, notably absent is a representation of a normative family and carefree teenagers, which were at the center of The Wonder Years or That 70’s Show.

13The last montage in the pilot is similar to the one with houses in the sense that it depicts an everyday, ordinary activity of biking in the suburbs, which is featured in almost every episode of The Wonder Years. The bike compilation in Euphoria, however, evokes completely different affects as it focuses on Rue’s accidents when riding under influence. This representation is potentially linked to her substance abuse and other health problems, and thus it could seriously engage with these topics. Nevertheless, the form of montage, in which the accidents are depicted, removes their dramatic or more serious dimension. The fragment is formally similar to popular video compilations of skateboarding slums. Such videos strip skateboarding crashes of their sensational and exceptional character. Composed out of climactic moments, they lack any suspense or narrative development and thus preclude engagement or reflection. They remind of the literary descriptive method that instead of characters’ development represents “a series of tableaux,” which was criticized by György Lukács for transforming “men into still lives” (140). According to the Hungarian critic, without “an interaction of the characters with world events, objects, the forces of nature and social institutions, even the most extraordinary adventures would be empty and meaningless” (124). Paradoxically, such video compilations, posted to cure leisure boredom, leave the viewer with a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, with the boredom of satiety, which cannot be cured with the next YouTube film that automatically opens once the previous concludes. The compilation of Rue’s bike accidents has an analogous significance—the individual incidents are devoid of any larger connection to her story. As I will show in the second part of the article, her addiction is more effectively represented in the special episode, which is much less dynamic than the pilot, but it focuses on honest conversation.

14In a later episode in season 1, Rue lies in bed, scrolling what seem to be Instagram images, and texts Jules, “I’m bored… Help me” (“Made”). As the girl does not answer immediately but only after several hours, Rue takes opiates stolen from Jules’s father to alleviate the frustration. Although we know about the complex roots of her substance abuse story, leisure boredom is the immediate stimulus that makes Rue resort to opiates. Such mechanism is confirmed by addiction scholars, who claim that people used to substances providing strong stimulation experience boredom in a very acute way, and it is a key factor leading to relapses (Mack et al. 335). Thus, although in contrast to Burroughs’s uptown Midwesterners, Euphoria’s suburban adolescents are exposed to “excessive stimulation” (Barbalet 634), most of the stimuli are neither involving nor meaningful. As a result, although Burroughs’s uneventful suburbs are contrasted with the metropolitan world of bohemians and junkies, and in Levinson’s show they are filled with sensational events, excitements, and drugs, in both cases, the narrators experience boredom.

15Such leisure boredom of satiety is not only experienced by the show’s protagonist. All of Euphoria’s teenage characters are immersed in the virtual reality of their phones, repetitively stimulate themselves with different drugs, and seek novel sexual experiences. As I have shown in my analysis of the montage scenes, this oversaturation with stimuli and unsuccessful search for novelty is expressed in the form of the series: the aesthetic of Euphoria mimics YouTube compilations, music videos, and social media scrolling. The quest for more satisfying stimuli is not successful. Just as Barbalet predicts, in such a kaleidoscope of different stimulants, the adolescent characters feel alienated and lost, and they experience a sense of meaninglessness (634), which they frequently voice. At the beginning of the pilot episode, Rue unemotionally states “Yeah, well the world is coming to an end, and I haven’t even graduated high school yet.” Later, she confesses to her Addicts Anonymous sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) that the “world is just really fucking ugly.” Ali confirms that there is “not a lot of hope out there.” “We are living in dark times,” he adds (“Trouble”). Jules tells Rue that she hates everyone else in the world but her and in a conversation with a psychologist confesses that being an adolescent girl is “fucking terrifying” (“Fuck Anyone”). Their peers also express similar thoughts: one of the most popular girls in school, Maddie feels that “the universe is just out there giving like zero fucks” (“Shook Ones”). Overall, the boredom of satiety as depicted in Euphoria is closely connected with disengagement, anxiety, and a sense of meaninglessness experienced by the characters.

16Barbalet argues that such boredom—because it entails “dissatisfaction with the lack of involvement or meaning”—may initiate a search for meaningfulness and as a result lead to a change of behavior (641, 638). Such a change can be observed in the form of the series when the pilot is juxtaposed with two episodes released between the first and the second season: “Fuck Anyone Who’s Not a Sea Blob” and “Trouble Don’t Last Always.” In contrast to the dizzying pace of the pilot, the special episodes depict only two conversations: between Jules and her psychologist (“Fuck Anyone”) and between Rue and Ali (“Trouble”). In order to best illustrate the disparity between regular and special episodes, I will focus on the latter conversation as it also depicts a meaningful relationship between two of the show’s characters (unlike Jules’s therapy session, which is mostly a monologue, intersected with visualizations of her nightmares and fantasies). In a metatextual remark, Ali comments on the form of “Trouble Don’t Last Always” and its meaning: “you got to believe in poetry, the value of two people sitting in a diner on Christmas Eve, talking about life, addiction, loss” (“Trouble”). In the remaining part of the article, I will analyze the film poetics of their conversation.

  • 4 A different compilation of scenes dubbed with the track is listed as an autonomous video on YouTube

17Rue and Ali meet in the ordinary surroundings of a dark, almost empty suburban shopping plaza. Visually, the episode is the very opposite of the fast-paced pilot and on its own may seem boring. After a four-minute fantasy about Rue’s future at the beginning, it mostly consists of a long dialogue scene. The conversation is broken only twice with even less action-packed moments. First, Ali leaves to smoke outside, and for five minutes, the camera slowly alternates between him, smoking and talking on the phone to his daughters, and Rue, sitting alone at the table and listening to Moses Sumney’s “Me in 20 Years” on her iPhone. Sumney’s track provides diegetic sound to the whole scene. The second break in their conversation also features a song. At the end of the episode, Rue and Ali leave the diner, and he drives her home to the three-minute Labrinth’s cover of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” The two scenes visibly differ from the much more dynamic scenes dubbed with songs in the regular episodes of the show, which frequently remind of music videos. The montage depicting Jules falling in love, backed with Labrinth’s “Still Don’t Know My Name,” is a representative example of such scenes (“Made”). Within two minutes, we can see a series of dozen composite, split-screen shots that depict her and Nate’s texting in different contexts.4 The pace and shots in the song scenes in “Trouble Don’t Last Always” are much less dynamic, but as it turns out, they depict a more meaningful and honest friendship than the digitally mediated relationship between Jules and Nate, who uses a fake dating app profile and engages in catfishing to take advantage of her.

18Apart from the scenes dubbed with “Me in 20 Years” and “Ave Maria,” the remaining forty minutes of the episode present a dialogue, mostly in the shot-reverse-shot technique. The camera work seems very static, yet after a closer analysis, its movements and editing reveal complexity and significance. The meticulous consideration employed in the construction of each frame in “Trouble Don’t Last Always” is well exemplified with the striking similarity between the shots from the outside of the diner and Edward Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks. Such attention to detail further encourages a close analysis of the episode’s camerawork. At first, the scene is made with long over-the-shoulder shots and long shots from outside of the diner, which produces a sense of distance between the viewer and the characters as well as reflects the initial alienation of Rue and Ali. The visual reference to Hopper additionally reinforces the sense of estrangement. We can see blurred street lights reflected in the window panes imposed on the faces of the characters, which makes them seem isolated and mysterious. The street outside is dark and deserted, and the two Addicts Anonymous members sit in an almost empty diner, eating pancakes on Christmas Eve. They seem alienated from the celebrating world outside but due to the camerawork, also from one another.

19The camerawork changes after Rue opens up to her sponsor and talks about her continuing drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and violence against the people she loves. Ali tells her that this is the reason he values their relationship: “I love talking to you because we talk about the real shit, the shit that matters.” The camera moves to medium close-up shots, which gives the viewer an increased sense of presence. In the second part of the episode, the shots from the outside are absent and medium close-up and medium over-the-shoulder shots dominate. We can see both figures in one frame, which emphasizes their closeness and signifies a growing understanding between the characters.

20The significance of the conversation becomes even clearer when it is juxtaposed with the dynamic compilation of Jules and Nate’s texting in “Made You Look.” Whereas the Jules and Nate scene is edited to depict days-long texting, which from the girl’s perspective has enabled her to “get to know him... better than anyone else, other than [Rue]” (“Fuck Anyone”), Rue and Ali’s in-person conversation takes place during one evening. Yet the duration of the conversations is not an accurate testimony of the relationships’ endurance. Jules ultimately realizes that whoever she has been “talking to didn’t exist,” “none of it has been real” (“Fuck Anyone”) and, in contrast, Ali praises Rue for wanting to “talk about the real shit” (“Trouble”). The attractive montage in “Made You Look,” which depicts Jules’s infatuation with and desire for the fake online profile, perfectly expresses the captivating and exciting quality of mediated contacts and may produce longing in the viewer. The compilation emphasizes the sexual difference between the characters’ bodies that drives their mutual fascination: Nate’s muscular torso is juxtaposed with Jules’s slim frame. The more static, seemingly uncut special episode does not represent a relationship that evokes desire or yearning: the attractiveness of the two characters is not highlighted and the relationship lacks the excitement of a romantic engagement. Yet in contrast to Nate’s deceit and Jules’s disillusionment, after their initial alienation, Rue and Ali’s friendship develops and appears to be based on honesty, sympathy, and support. The contrast between the two interactions confirms the claims made by Marco van Leeuwen in his essay “The Digital Void: e-NNUI and Experience.” He argues that—although not altogether devoid of social value—interaction via cyberspace has “noticeable ethical consequences” because “online morality... is looser than that of the real world” (191; emphasis in original). This lack of ethical accountability is further exacerbated by “media-induced boredom,” linked to low engagement, which additionally lowers the meaningfulness of online encounters (192). In contrast, in-person meetings tend to be more engaging because they involve “actually being there, being submerged in the experiences that arise in embodied and embedded interaction” (192; emphasis in original). They are more likely to constitute what van Leeuwen (referring to Benjamin’s concept of Erfahrung) calls “momentous experience,” which is “individual” and content-rich,” “intensely meaningful and essentially personal” (185-86). As I mentioned, the meaningfulness of Rue and Ali’s encounter is expressed in the way the scene is shot: the takes signifying alienation and mediated experience, such as long shots from the outside that foreground window reflections, gradually give way to medium close-up shots from the inside, expressing the growing closeness and engagement of the interaction.

21Despite the complex camerawork and beautifully constructed shots, the overall impression the two special episodes leave is very different from the expectations raised by the series’ regular episodes. As Zendaya comments on Euphoria’s first season, in “the rhythm of the show,” “always something is happening, it is ever moving” (“Sam Levinson”), whereas “Trouble Don’t Last Always” is the very opposite of such dynamic aesthetics. It is not action-packed, there is no suspense, and no narrative twists; there is hardly any actual story it presents. The running time of the episode is the same as the time of the meeting. The boring moments and silences have not been edited out of the conversation, only dubbed with music. Thus, whereas the dizzying aesthetic of Euphoria’s regular episodes represents today’s experience of immersion in media representations and instant communication in a way that feels authentic, “Trouble Don’t Last Always” aims at an authentic, seemingly “unedited” representation of a meaningful, in-person conversation between two people, whose shared experiences and honesty enable them to establish a close relationship. The regular episodes formally mimic the boredom of satiety so frequently experienced in today’s world, whereas the special—with its slow and only seemingly boring aesthetic is an antidote to that kind of boredom. “Trouble Don’t Last Always” demonstrates that “what is boring can often be very interesting indeed,” an assertion that Fredric Jameson makes regarding modernist novels (72). Rue and Ali’s conversation about the meaning of “life, addiction, and loss,” beautifully shot and edited, requires a longer attention span than YouTube-style slam compilations, but it represents the purpose, meaning, and involvement that are impossible to get from a series of tableaux,” which transform people into “still lives” according to Lukács (140). Overall, when read against the excessive stimulation of Euphoria’s regular episodes, the minimalist aesthetic and focus on an in-person encounter in “Trouble Don’t Last Always” are a refreshing, interesting break from the boredom of satiety and overstimulation.

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Notes

1 For an analysis of suburbia and boredom in this issue, see also David Callahan, “Boredom, Cohesion, and Transformation in Nick Drnaso’s Beverly.”

2 The Wonder Years opens with Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” (1968).

3 Other teen shows that depict the past decades and adolescence with nostalgia include Happy Days (1974–1984) set in the 1950s; The Kids Are Alright (2018–2019) and The Get Down (2016–2017) set in the 1970s; and Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000), Everybody Hates Chris (2005–2009), The Goldbergs (2013– ), Stranger Things (2016–), and Son of a Critch (2022) all set in the 1980s. This popular combination of period shows and adolescence is also exemplified by a reboot of The Wonder Years, which is set in the 1960s like the original but depicts a middle-class black family (2021). A slightly different television format that also looks back at childhood with nostalgia—and becomes referenced in Euphoria—is Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983) set in the late 1800s.

4 A different compilation of scenes dubbed with the track is listed as an autonomous video on YouTube.

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References

Electronic reference

Anna Pochmara, “I Don’t Think I Have an Attention Span for Real Life Anymore”: Excessive Stimulation, Sense of Meaninglessness, and Boredom in Sam Levinson’s EuphoriaEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 17-4 | 2022, Online since 26 December 2022, connection on 28 January 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/19092; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejas.19092

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About the author

Anna Pochmara

Anna Pochmara is an Associate Professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw. She is the author of The Making of the New Negro: Black Authorship, Masculinity, and Sexuality (Amsterdam University Press, 2011) and The Nadir and the Zenith: Temperance and Excess in the Early African American Novel (University of Georgia Press, 2021). She edited a Polish companion to James Baldwin (University of Warsaw Press, 2021) and co-edited On Uses of Black Camp, a special issue of Open Cultural Studies (2017, with Justyna Wierzchowska) and CosmopolitanismsRace, and Ethnicity (De Gruyter Open, 2019 with Ewa Luczak and Samir Dayal). Currently, she is working on the anthology The African American Novel in the 21st Century (Brill).

By this author

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Copyright

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