Point/Counterpoint: Should adults portray teens in media

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Actors Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes and KJ Apa at the 2017 SDCC. Their hit show Riverdale was one of the first to start controversies within the audience about the age of their cast members.

Against:

With the release of the new season of “Euphoria” rising to popularity, fans and audiences have mixed opinions on the cast, more importantly, the age gap between the actors and the characters they play, several Netflix shows have been accused of the same thing.

Jacob Elordi, who plays “Nate Jacobs” is currently 24, while Nate and the rest of the characters are juniors/seniors in high school. The issue is not Elordi’s amazing performance, but his older appearance which audiences have said does not pass as a teenager, instead very much looking like an adult. Storm Reid, who plays the younger sister “Gia”, is 18, and one of the only actual teenagers in the cast.

“Never Have I Ever”’s Daren Barnet is 30, making him and his co-star Maitreyi have a 10-year age gap. Was it absolutely necessary to cast a grown adult for the role of the love interest? It can be uncomfortable for audiences when cast members have big age differences. Although Daren plays the role very well, it’s just weird.

Having adults portray our favorite teenage character can be harmful for younger audiences who look up to them. Not only does this create false body images of what a highschooler should look or act like, but it also portrays drugs, sex and dangerous activities as ‘cool’, especially in shows like Euphoria.

Older actors dismiss the opportunity for actual teenage actors to be cast for lead/mature roles with big companies and leave them nothing but childish roles on children’s shows. This has happened throughout generations even with movies as iconic as “Mean Girls” where Rachel McAddams was 26. However, cinema nowadays has become more sexual and rated R. While casting adults is the only possible solution in this matter- why are the directors and writers purposely wanting to sexualize these teen characters so much? (Ex: Cassie in Euphoria).

This just makes shows that are meant for teenagers seem targeted for adults. An opposing viewpoint that discusses the exploitation of child actors, which is not an issue rooted from Hollywood, but instead the poor workforce system laws. This exploitation can be seen in cinemas all over the world. As Netflix continues to air show after show, we should demand for an improvement in child labor laws rather than continuing to pass up major role opportunities for actual teenagers to play.

For: 

This counterpoint is really difficult to write – I mean – I’m working against like three whole examples of child actors who ended up living prosperous lives!

Speaking of which, we don’t really hear from a lot of child actors anymore. What happened to Macaulay Culkin, Lindsey Lohan, Gary Coleman, Jodie Sweetin, or Orlando Brown? All incredibly successful childhood actors, I wonder what ever happened to them.

For the most part, their futures after acting as a child involved hard drug use, arrests for robbery or domestic violence, and in some cases, early death. I don’t put the blame on them either – usually they come from a financially abusive upbringing that leads them to rough lives. But that doesn’t mean we should be promoting their participation in child acting and further aiding the industry’s success. Usually, child acting is what leads to the abuse – but delaying financial success until adulthood alleviates the family’s control over the individual, letting them manage their own success – and lives – in a healthier capacity.

The biggest argument the other side poses is “was it absolutely necessary?” and “it’s just weird”. Well, I guess no, it’s not absolutely necessary for major entertainment corporations to do their best to eliminate an abusive system of child labor. But I think we should all be on the same side when I say we shouldn’t be actively promoting it. The other side mentioned the increasingly sexual nature of television, a clear reason to have adults play teen actors, and blamed the writers for this. And to you, I say, good luck trying to desexualize entertainment. It’s been sexualized forever, and that’s not going to change*. But what we can do is limit which actors get sexualized on television. And with the only reason to not cast adult actors being “it’s just weird” – I think it’s a pretty clear best choice.

*If you’re curious as to whether or not that is my naive guess, you are welcome to read the Kama Sutra – a text written on emotional and sexual fulfillment in life – written in approximately the third century CE.

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