White Apathy: A Critique of “The End of the F***ing World”

All photos courtesy of Netflix.

~TRIGGER AND CONTENT WARNING: mentions of murder, sexual assault, mental illness and trauma~ (also spoilers!)

While Netflix’s influx of original series can be quick, compelling, and entertaining they are also no stranger to the “white apathy” trope, and their newest show is no different. Based on the comic by Charles Forsman, The End of The F***ing World follows two out of place 17-year olds—James, a presumed psychopath and Alyssa, a self proclaimed outsider—who find each other and start a journey full of violence, danger, and falling in love along the way.

The show has received countless praise, receiving a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. This isn’t a misrepresentation at all in my opinion; the show is beautifully constructed and offers a raw and unfiltered depiction of young love and incorporates perfectly timed dark humor. The cinematography is stunning, each shot more complex and dynamic than the last. It’s one of those shows that I binged in one night because the cliffhangers were just that good. So yeah, it’s a really good show but because of the reasons I’m about to list I don’t know if it’s good enough.

The identities we carry with us heavily influence how we view the world and in turn how we view media. I’m explaining my identity in order to properly inform the reader of my biases in a way that will hopefully help further clarify the grievances I have with TEOTFW. I’m a mixed-race woman of color, I live with mental illness, I’m an abuse and trauma survivor, I’m heterosexual, I’m a liberal college student living in the age of the Trump Administration, and I f***ing love TV and movies.

James (Alex Lawther) right off the bat explains to the audience that he’s pretty sure he’s a psychopath. He’s fascinated with death and wants to graduate from killing animals to killing an actual person. He sets his sights on Alyssa, our favorite apathetic, anti-love (I’ve written about this before) white girl who just “isn’t like the rest.”

Yawn.

My first issue with this depiction is the labeling of James as a psychopath. It’s later revealed that James’ mother committed suicide right in front of him at a very young age and this is what kick-started his downward spiral. Our world still experiences intense stigma surrounding mental illness and trauma and storylines like this maintain this stigmatization. To put forth the notion that a kid who suffered from severe trauma in his childhood is going to grow up to be a psychopath who kills animals and people is dangerous and perpetuates the negativity surrounding mental illness. This trope is extremely popular in crime shows, such as Criminal Minds, where the perpetrator’s violent, vicious, and murderous actions are usually attributed to childhood trauma when in reality this is rarely the case. In order to advocate and support children who have suffered from trauma, and in turn experience mental illness later in life, we need to stop portraying them in media as murderers, psychopaths, and sociopaths—it’s old and I’m tired of it.

Similarly, there’s a part of me that feels like James’ character is too real and too prevalent in our society to be truly entertaining. We’re living in an extremely terrifying time—since 2013 there has been over 300 school shootings which averages to about one school shooting per week. These are absolutely startling statistics: 54% of these active shooters are white males and fit the profile built for James. If we’re going to go as far as to label this kid a psychopath with a fascination for killing, humanizing him is also incredibly dangerous. A white guy who is also a psychopath is not groundbreaking when it comes to popular media. His character develops and Alyssa teaches him to love and the show strives for the “maybe he’s not a psychopath after all” idea ignoring the fact that he fantasized about killing this girl throughout the entire show. Women die at the hands of violent men every day and humanizing their actions or creating tropes that allow audiences to sympathize with them is detrimental.

On a different note, the show itself is chalked full of triggers and there’s not a single trigger warning before any of the episodes. There are graphic r*pe and murder scenes and Netflix didn’t warn the viewer of any of these nor offer a graphic content warning. Twitter user @reylophobe created a master list of trigger warnings equipped with time stamps. I would highly recommend this for anyone who suffers from any sort of mental illness or is healing from any sort of trauma and I’m really disappointed that Netflix didn’t take these extremely necessary precautions. I’m embedding the tweet at the end of this article with her permission! Thank you, Alicia!

Overall, TEOTFW is borderline genius cinematically and because it was released I understand why it’s doing so well, I just don’t think it needed to be created at all. We need to take steps to destigmatize mental illness and trauma; we need psychologists on sets, we need (willing) people living with mental illness in writing rooms, and we need to break away from the overused storyline of the white male “psychopath” who is saved by a girl. Most importantly, as a society and as creators we need to do better.

 

CAMERON PAYNE | over it as always | KXSU Head Arts Reporter

 


i put together some trigger warnings for end of the f***ing world with time stamps! if there are any you would like times for dm me or reply! please rt for others and stay safe

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