How Sam Levinson’s “The Idol” Puts Young Women In Yet Another Controversial and Harmful Spotlight

by Ashley Latcha

Euphoria Sundays” is currently being replaced by Sam Levinson’s newest “torture porn” piece, The Idol. The HBOMax-exclusive television series has been circulating as one of the most anticipated shows co-created by and starring Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and premiered its first episode on June 4. After receiving tons of backlash from the teasers that were released months in advance, the debut only proved critics right.

The controversial series is centered around the young, rising, Britney-esque popstar Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) and, typical of a Levinson production, includes lots of sex, drugs, and out-of-pocket material directed against women. In the first scene, Jocelyn is being photographed and told to make faces for different concepts: doe eyes, laughing, pure sex, vulnerable, and emotional. This was already an indication of how the women are going to be depicted in the show.

Jocelyn, after losing her mother, is said to have gone through a psychotic break which immediately labeled her as a fragile character around her staff. Her managers describe her as a “young, beautiful, and damaged icon”, and when a horrifying scandal breaks out over the internet, everyone is worried about how she is going to react.

The way that mental illness gets exploited and romanticized through the show’s concept is offsetting to watch and to listen to (explicitly referring to the “mental illness is sexy” line…sigh).

Jocelyn’s character is focused on the vulnerability of women in the music industry rather than promoting their resilience. There is the floating idea that unattainable women, like Jocelyn, won’t have sex with men unless the woman is mentally ill. Jocelyn’s image needs to be a tease for men that can’t have her and an idol for women who want to be her. However, Jocelyn’s target audience is also geared towards tween, middle-school-aged girls. The Live Nation representative in charge of Jocelyn’s upcoming tour (Eli Roth) shows up and says how his 13-year-old daughter showed him the viral picture of Jocelyn with cum on her face.

Even though Levinson denied the rumors, with her image, her mental illness, and her target audience, Jocelyn seems to be a forced character trying to represent the rise and fall of Britney Spears.

Tesfaye comes into the picture as Tedros, a popular owner of a hot downtown L.A. club, and is shown in the teasers as this self-help guru/cult leader. His character immediately puts an uneasy feeling in viewers (with or without the rattail) and is expected to brainwash Jocelyn as she prepares for her tour. When Jocelyn’s best friend says that he seems “kind of rapey”, Jocelyn’s response was “I kinda like that about him.” The writing that Levinson gives to his female characters only puts them in a position to promote harmful and dangerous expectations about sex. Having a beautiful, young woman talk about how she is turned on by rape culture only gives men who watch the show more leverage about what they believe girls want. Soon after, Jocelyn is seen masturbating in her room and choking herself in order to have an orgasm.

In multiple interviews, Lily-Rose Depp mentions that she actually enjoys working on The Idol. The 23-year-old model and daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis actually lives a life that is quite the opposite of who she plays on screen. “My parents protected my brother [Jack] and me from [fame] as much as possible,” she tells ELLE. Depp does not own Twitter and only uses her Instagram to promote her upcoming brand events. She explains how she likes to stay out of the social media spotlight, but her role as Jocelyn has given her a reason to think about how aware the public eye is — and how hungry they are for something like a cum-shot scandal.

Even though the show is turning heads with negative reviews, HBO is sure that the ratings will start to skyrocket on Max as they expected with Euphoria, which has won 28 awards and is the second-most-watched show in HBO history. With a total of 913,000 viewers for The Idol’s first episode, trends in past HBO hit shows have created high (possibly unattainable) hopes for the growth of The Idol’s viewership.

The Idol is scheduled to release 5 more episodes on Max every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. The newest one, “Double Fantasy”, is out now.

Top photo by The Idol on Max.

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