Tapping into the angst, confusion and overall challenges that face your average teenager can be a difficult feat to tackle. Just ask the eight percent of them across the globe, as per the current Population Pyramid. Still, somehow the Degrassi brand has always been able to successful plunge their way through everything from teen pregnancy to school shootings, and a string of social topics in between.
For a series that has always embraced such an envelope pushing agenda, it’s certainly seen its share of cycles, which have continuously introduced new generations to its boundary breaking legacy and even jumpstarted the career of one of today’s finest rap titans. In honor of the latest series in the franchise, Degrassi: The Next Class, which premiered on Netflix in mid-January, VH1 wanted to take a look back at the show’s progressive attitude since its early days.
In an effort to dissect the series’ agenda, VH1 spoke with a few twentysomething fans to see just what they thought about the social issues dealt with in three different cycles: Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi: The Next Generation and Degrassi: Next Class. Because if there’s one thing that that Degrassi likes to do, it’s introduce social topics, and dissect them, and react to them and explore them with friends and ultimately attempt to learn from them. Take a look below!
Episode: “Kiss Me, Steph” – Season 1 of Degrassi Junior High (1987)
Synopsis: Degrassi kicked off their “Junior High” installment with newly-minted 8th grader Stephanie. In the episode, she starts dressing sexier because A.) It’s apparently all the rage once you pass the 7th grade and B.) It’s a tactic she uses to campaign for school president as well as giving out kisses to the boys. BFF Voula isn’t down for Stephanie’s revamp, especially after female students call her out for her sexist ways. Simultaneously, Joey, one of Stephanie’s flirty friends, unknowingly taunts her younger brother, Arthur, which forces him to deal with the every day trials of bullying. If this isn’t a lot to digest for a ‘80s teen show, I don’t know what is.
Unsurprisingly, all four folks who watched this episode agreed that the sexism levels were at an all time max, with a few acknowledging the progress we’ve made for female equality since this 1987 release.
Reactions: “Stephanie dressed up in provocative clothing and took on a passive and flirtatious personality because she knew that this is what boys liked,” Amber Lopez, a 20-year-old SUNY Purchase College sophomore, said. “She used the attention she was gaining from her appearance to her campaign’s advantage by letting boys kiss her and remaining passive when they asked her to take her clothes off in hopes of earning their votes. This is isn’t just a sexist way to run a campaign but a potentially dangerous situation.”
Chelsea Jacksonjones, a 24-year-old Sales Coordinator from Martha’s Vineyard, called Stephanie’s actions “sad,” but still praised the progression women have made, saying, “Women now know and accept their strengths and aren’t afraid of broadcasting them.”
On the flip side of things, Jean Delgado, a 28-year-old Administrative Assistant from Houston, reminisced about bullying during Arthur’s era, noting, “It was often overlooked [at that time] because it was just deemed horseplay between kids. Arthur also never spoke up to an adult, which leads me to believe he knew it would fall on deaf ears.”
Episode: “Moonlight Desires” – Season 4 of Degrassi: The Next Generation (2005)
Synopsis: While the ‘80s cycle touched on homosexuality, Degrassi: Next Generation probed many facets of the social issue, including self-acceptance, discrimination and even a touch of the hook-up culture. For this mid-2000s episode, openly gay character Marco experiences two major downfalls when he isn’t able to donate at the blood drive because of his sexuality and then catches his college boyfriend, Dylan, in bed with another man. Cue Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.”
Reactions: Jean found a similar parallel to Marco’s situation, confessing that he, too, was once rejected for donating blood because of his sexuality. “When it happened to me I understood why,” he said, before noting, “I could barely walk in the mall and hold my boyfriend’s hand without getting dirty looks. Chances of them taking my blood to put into other people’s bodies were pretty slim.”
As for Marco’s crossroads with Dylan’s infidelity, Jean said, “Marco was kind of in a tough spot for being a gay teenager. Losing your boyfriend is like death.”
Dayan Jenniffer, a 29-year-old Public Health Consultant from New York City, found a similar understanding to Marco’s disregard for engaging in the hook-up culture when Dylan suggests they have an open relationship. “The ‘hook-up culture’ left me single,” she said. “The hook-up culture taught us that we could have our cake and eat it too, but it didn’t teach us that we’d end up longing for true intimacy… I hope the new season of Degrassi addresses the negative connotation of what we went through. It just doesn’t help promote the cause of establishing healthy relationships.”
Interestingly enough, Ambar echoed Dayan’s exact thoughts, admitting that the culture has scrambled up her romantic judgment because she “finds it hard to tell how badly [she] wants a relationship.”
As did Chelsea, who went straight to the point in saying, “The hook-up culture of the 2000s has made the dating culture extinct.”
Episode: “#NoFilter” – Season 1 of Degrassi: Next Class (2016)
Synopsis: As we enter another era, so does Degrassi with the introduction of “The Next Class,” a Netflix series with a full-fledged batch of Generation Z students dealing with issues old and new. Just look at the inclusion of the hashtag in the title of “#NoFilter.” In the episode, Zoe’s feeling depressed after her boyfriend breaks up with her and her father leaves her family, so she turns to the comforts of the digital age and ends up getting catfished. Move than 1987, this new cycle (much like the previous one) deals with the social impacts of the Internet.
Reactions: “When you have a new generation full of self-hate, self-absorption and the ability to hide behind an avatar, this makes for easy catfish targets. It’s not going anywhere soon,” Dayan explained, before admitting that the tactic in which Zoe’s friends decided to catfish her felt too contrived and not as hard-hitting as the previous Degrassi would have tackled it.
Chelsea, on the other hand, was quick to point out the parallels between this episode and one from The Next Generation. “The first episode of TNG was about Emma being catfished by a creepy older guy. Everyone in my age range is kind of aware of the creeps that lurk behind the Internet. I’m surprised the kids of today’s generation aren’t as aware, especially when kids go on the Internet to escape being who they are.”
“Escaping depression is like bumping into a dead end. Depression is a timeless subject. It’s just one of the many. Teens, more than any group, have used ‘Degrassi’ to understand the way their emotions regulate and why they can sometimes get out of control,” Dayan continued.