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The Romanticization of Toxic Relationships in the Media

Why shows and movies need to do a better job at boldening the line between what's acceptable in a relationship

Friends and relationshipsMental health and wellbeingSocial Issues
By VoiceBox ·

Marci Ahr

Marci Ahr is a writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. She has big dreams of becoming a world-renowned journalist or magazine editor.

The Romanticization of Toxic Relationships in the Media

  Most of us have seen Twilight, right? How about Euphoria? The media depicts these relationships to be exciting and desirable, but the hard reality is they are toxic and harmful. Toxic relationships and domestic violence have become a lot more common in our everyday lives, and the romanticization of these relationships often desensitizes us and leads us to believe that they are normal.  Twilight and Euphoria are only two of the more popular examples, but there are numerous other movies and tv shows that normalize toxicity to impressionable viewers.

  Twilight follows Bella Swan, a 17-year-old girl who just moved to Forks, Washington, as she meets Edward Cullen, a vampire who disguises himself as a normal high schooler. Edward quickly becomes obsessed with Bella and begins to watch her sleep, which the hit movies and books frame as “cute” and “romantic,” when it's a serious red flag and crosses so many boundaries. When Bella begins to catch on to Edward’s secret life, he gaslights her and makes her feel like she is losing her mind. A huge problem with this is that in the end, Edward and Bella have a happy ending without ever communicating the obvious issues in their relationship or setting boundaries. Therefore, the young audience often gets an impression that these behaviors are normal, and they tolerate them in their relationships. Rachel White, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, stated that “the relationship between Bella and Edward is 100 percent toxic, unhealthy, and abusive,” and even went as far as to say, “the Twilight movies promote the idea that women are better when they are dull and submissive. Bella exhibits low self-esteem and reminds herself that she is not attractive and anti-social. Plus, her character is shown to find the violence and danger exciting — even thrilling.”

 

  All of the toxicity in Twilight can be excused with the fact that the movie came out in 2008 when a lot of people weren't as educated on toxicity in relationships, so how about a more modern example?

Euphoria is a hit tv show about Rue, a 17-year-old girl struggling with drug addiction and how it affects everybody’s lives around her. There are multiple toxic relationships present in Euphoria, one of the most notable being Nate Jacobs and Maddy Perez. This relationship blurs the line of consent and breaks so many boundaries. Nate is constantly telling Maddy what she can and can not wear and how she can behave, and when Maddy refuses to do what he tells her, he physically abuses her. Another instance of toxicity in their relationship is when Maddy becomes physically involved with another boy after she and Nate broke up and later lies to Nate, stating she was not conscious of what happened, even though she was fully aware of what was happening. Nate then tracks down the other boy and violently assaults him instead of getting the authorities involved, as one should. There are multiple instances of assault and abuse that occur during their relationship, but Maddy refuses to break up with him because of her love for him. Amy Edmunds, author of  the article “The dangerous relationships portrayed in Euphoria,” states that “This type of aggressive behavior is common in the media and contributes to a subtle normalization of violence towards women.”
These portrayals are harmful, especially to young, impressionable teens who have grown up around only toxic relationships. It is harder for them to tell the difference between healthy and toxic behaviors, because they watch tv and have all of their ideas of what a desirable or normal relationship should look like validated when these relationships are actually unhealthy and abusive.

However, I don’t think the media should stop making movies or tv shows surrounding these relationships. I just believe the line between what is and isn't healthy needs to be boldened, and the fact that it is wrong needs to be heavily clarified. The abusive characters could face more consequences, or the other person could speak up and make it clear they don’t like the way they are being treated.

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