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Remembering Degrassi: the Cultural Icon That Raised Us

Op-ed

On October 14, 2001, a new television show named Degrassi: The Next Generation broadcast its first episode and became a trailblazing force in the world of television and entertainment. The series was one of the several aired by the Degrassi franchise.

Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, and The Kids of Degrassi Street are just a few of the many shows that have been used as a vessel to accurately portray the lives of teenagers and the thoughts that run rambunctiously throughout their minds. Degrassi franchise creators Kit Hood and Linda Schuyler attempted multiple times to make teenage drama broadcast-worthy, but they only began to strike gold with The Next Generation, their fourth and, without a doubt, most impactful show. Discussing topics such as sex, drugs, peer pressure, and suicide, it hit home for many and influenced several modern teen dramas, such as Euphoria, Gossip Girl, and Sex Education.

The Teenage Experience Through the Lens of The Next Generation

The teenage experience is involuntarily tragic and filled with events that, when recounted, bring about morose memories of embarrassing encounters. Degrassi was popular amongst young adults for that very reason: it was able to accurately address teenage stereotypes and provide both comfort and truth to those who tuned in to receive its messages.

A raw portrayal of pubescent existence, The Next Generation was able to successfully touch on topics that in the past would’ve been considered taboo or controversial. For example, never before had a television series touched on drugs and sexual violence the way Degrassi did. While, in the modern day, these topics are often glorified and used as a device to further plots and garner widespread attention, Degrassi used it as a way to warn both men and women that horrible, traumatic events can happen to anyone. By providing these messages to educate young, impressionable minds, it created a new generation of educated, conscious people.

The episodes that pushed the boundary and the narrative of what can be talked about on national television were received with acclaim from both critics and viewers alike, with many saying that it was the beginning of an era of informative television that relied on “authenticity and vulnerability.”

Predicting the Unprecedented

The most notable episode in the history of the franchise may have been the one that discussed school shootings. Here, disturbed student Rick Murray brings a gun to school and ends up paralyzing one of his classmates. This, in turn, shakes up dynamics and presents schools, the thresholds for learning, as places of possible danger and harm. This boundary-pushing episode became very predictive of the distressing school shooting epidemic facing the United States.

The same could be said with the show’s treatment of the personal, out-of-school issues that plague teens worldwide. Covering issues such as depression, BPD, and eating disorders brought up a conversation about mental health that is still being debated currently. This has gone on to influence many modern depictions of teen life in the form of drama and true crime, as they now have the ability to address controversial topics without the stigma or fear of offense lingering over the episodes. Where shows like 13 Reasons Why and Euphoria glamourize lifestyles associated with self-harm and drugs, Degrassi was one of the first shows to truly show the detrimental impact these lifestyles can have not only on one’s current state of being, but on their lives long-term.

Reboot

In 2022, the possibility of a reboot for this series has been discussed to the point where HBO Max is set to introduce a new generation of actors for the franchise. Many devout fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation are thrilled to see the show once again tackle difficult topics and garner popularity amongst new audience members. Some, though, fear that this reintroduction will not compare to the nostalgia that the older series evoked, and will, in turn, fall flat and be out of touch.

Time will tell if the 40-year franchise will be able to captivate audiences’ attentions long-term, but nevertheless, if the show is picked up, the topics at hand will surely continue to be relevant and break down barriers in the entertainment industry.

Olivia C
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Olivia C is a writer from Tennessee. She is passionate about entertainment and social journalism and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to write for The Teen Magazine.