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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at TCU chapter.

Before I talk, quite candidly, about the dark side of Hollywood, I need to provide a disclaimer: I do not deny the good that comes from Hollywood. There are countless movies that evoke joy, that bring people together, that teach us things and expand our perspectives and validate our experiences. I’ve watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower so many times that I could write a 10-page essay about how beautifully it depicts the emotional ups and downs of adolescence. Don’t even get me started on Dead Poets Society. These are my comfort films, movies in which the characters feel so real, so full of life, that I genuinely wish I could reach through the screen and befriend them. Cinema can be very life-affirming in that way—as if our own emotions have taken tangible form to dance in front of us in vivid color.

This article isn’t even about movies specifically, but I need to make it clear that I fully understand why we’re so fascinated with Hollywood; it captures my interest too. Its allure is unquestionable—a place full of mystery, magic, scandal, and the hottest people you’ve ever seen. Whether you’re reading about the latest cheating scandal, binge-watching the newest season of your favorite reality TV show, or, like my friend Chloe, scrolling through pictures of Timothée Chalamet and planning your future life together, one thing is clear; these people, and their stories, intrigue us enough to keep us tuned in.

But there is, undeniably, a dark side to the City of “Angels”. In this industry, stories of addiction and abuse appear almost as often as designer jewelry. Yes, most celebrities’ lives look perfect, but how many stars who seemed happy and well-adjusted have later spoken out about their trauma? It’s no secret that child actors rarely come into adulthood unscathed. Look at Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore, Amanda Bynes, Macaulay Culkin, Jennette McCurdy… All these people have one major thing in common; they entered the realm of fame at a young age, and they were so deeply traumatized that it almost broke them. Being in the public eye can be incredibly damaging to a person’s psyche, and we have enough testimonies of abuse to know that it’s not uncommon for stars to be harmed behind the scenes. But this is just one facet of the problem.

Another problem we need to address is how much these people influence us. When we’re talking about influence in terms of makeup or fashion trends, it’s not explicitly a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s simply a source of creative inspiration. On the other hand, celebrities do not hold back when it comes to flaunting luxury, and this can totally distort our perceptions of success. We often discuss how celebrities present their lives and bodies as “flawless”, and how this can make us feel bad about ourselves. That’s a discussion worth having, but I think there are deeper issues than Kylie Jenner’s Instagram; the kind of problematic influence I have in mind is much darker than that.

We seem to have entered a new era of Hollywood—the days of family-friendly blockbusters are becoming a thing of the past. One of the major releases of 2022 was Babylon, a movie made by Hollywood about Hollywood. Starring big names like Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, it depicts the film industry as a hellish landscape of unchecked hedonism. If I’m being honest, I don’t think they pulled this idea out of thin air. We know that wealth and power can corrupt, and the people who entertain us are not exempt from this statement. We see what they want us to see, but if the stuff they want us to see is how morally depraved Hollywood parties can get, you have to wonder what goes on when the adoring eyes of the public aren’t looking.

Putting speculation about their secrets aside, I think the things they want us to watch are taking on a much darker tone than the media of the past. I’ll give a few examples, but I first want to point out that the media we consume affects us profoundly. It shapes our thoughts, beliefs, and morals, and the things we collectively give attention to can grow in power and popularity. The news cycle shifts far too rapidly for us to engage in conscientious critiques of everything that’s popular, so it’s becoming a lot more common for us to consume large quantities of media without examining the moral implications of what we’re watching. That’s fine when things are moral, but I think many recent releases require deeper inspection.

One standout example is Euphoria. Entertaining? Absolutely. Visually compelling? No doubt. But morally? I have concerns. While it’s a good thing to draw attention to the issues teenagers face, I don’t think the show does a good job of offering solutions for these struggles. Considering its cast of attractive actors wearing an abundance of glittery makeup, and the fact that the fashionable characters never seem to learn anything from their mistakes, the show airs more on the side of glamorizing substance abuse and toxic relationships. I know none of us are looking at Rue as a role model, but I can’t help but wonder how I might have viewed the show differently if it had come out when I was 16. Teenagers derive their sense of what’s cool from the media they consume and how their peers react to it. Euphoria was a blowout success that shaped a year’s worth of makeup trends, fashion choices, and Halloween costumes. Why? Because the characters were depicted as super cool. Sure, they’re constantly making destructive choices, but they seem to be having a lot of stylish, artsy fun while ruining their lives. The show might claim its purpose is to start conversations about mental health, but I think the more likely result for a young audience is the idolization of the characters. And for these characters, the point of high school is consuming every drug known to man, sleeping with your best friend’s boyfriend, and leaving every shred of dignity you have at a house party.

Let’s look at another genre: the growing selection of serial killer movies. Again, there’s an important distinction between drawing attention to a problem and romanticizing it. In recent years, we’ve cast heartthrobs like Zac Efron and Evan Peters to play real-life serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, respectively. Given the public perception of these actors, the result is not surprising—though it is disheartening. Many people have ended up crushing on these portrayals of murderers. The problem with that is obvious, and it’s also obviously problematic that Hollywood executives are making huge profits exploiting the pain of these killers’ real victims and their families. After Netflix released its Dahmer show, the families of his victims referred to it as “retraumatizing.” Think about that for a second. At the same time that they were being retraumatized, people were swooning over Evan Peters as Dahmer, and it was lining the pockets of already ultra-wealthy people in Hollywood.

I’ll leave you with a final consideration. Go look at the most popular shows on Netflix and Hulu. You’ll find a lot of hardcore drugs and a lot of violence disguised as a “good time”. The wildly popular show You is a perfect example. It might not have been the “intended purpose” of the show, but we’ve all just ended up fangirling over Joe. In the real world, none of us would wander within a mile of Joe because he’s obviously a horrible person. But media, as intertwined as it is with our daily lives, blurs the lines between reality and fiction. And I see it as an upsetting trend that Hollywood seems to be churning out an increasing amount of morally bankrupt content in the name of “art”. The more we take pleasure in watching these things, the more positive attention we’re giving to darkness. I like to be entertained as much as the next person, but I think we should talk more about the consequences of the things that keep us entertained. As long as there’s profit in it, Hollywood will keep giving us this kind of content, and I honestly don’t think the net effects of it are good for our society.

TCU '23 • "The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." -Walt Whitman