By Max Tarlton
Growing up as a member of the millennia generation, I was constantly surrounded by television shows that supposedly depicted what problems and controversies happen in the daily lives of preteens and teenagers. Shows like Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, 90210, and Gossip Girl have had an impact on the lives of thousands, not only here in America, but on a global standpoint as well. But to me, as an only child who was nearly addicted to television, Degrassi – The Next Generation was the show that really captivated me as an audience member. While, at the same time, it embraced diversity within it’s cast. Degrassi – The Next Generation, is a Canadian television show that’s set in the fictional Degrassi community which was originally created in the late 1970s. The Next Generation series, was the fourth series to be based in the fictional city which followed teenagers that attend the local community school district. With a very diverse cast of characters, it was inevitable that a character from the show would be relatable to that of any viewer. Which in part, was a major reason why I started watching the shows nearly religiously – I could relate to their issues.
The original cast of Degrassi – The Next Generation was a very diverse group of kids, racially. Originally following the Caucasian family that came from the preceding Degrassi series, Emma and her diverse group of friends prepare to tackle the challenges of young adulthood. The African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities were equally represented in the show as well, eventually making everyone an important aspect of the show. Of course, many other ethnic or minority groups were not portrayed in the original first few seasons, but were introduced into later episodes. Like the Indian-American family for example, they became a major focal point in the show’s story line after the series’ seventh season. Degrassi has been considered a racially fair show according to its viewers. Mainly, because it represents nearly every major ethnicity that’s alive in America (and Canada) today. Though the show was filmed in Canada, it had a major audience in the United States that it represented as well.
Degrassi portrayed stereotypes in a relatively fair manner when it came to teen issues, making it a major relatable aspect of the show. The blonde girl who goes from “nerdy” to “hotty,” The all-American popular boy who deals with teen parenthood and later gets killed, The African-American basketball star who gets shot and paralyzed, and the African-American valedictorian who gets involved with an interracial relationship and a teen pregnancy. Other characters like the Latino homosexual boy who struggles with his sexuality, and the Latino cheerleader who gets involved with the “wrong” crowd were also portrayed with equal life altering situations throughout the show. All of which, shined a light onto many problems that were beginning to be seen in teenagers around the world. Though vague stereotypes, the teen pregnancy and violence aspects of the show were represented in every culture depicted on Degrassi. Thus, making it fair and including less judgmental situations in the show, truly implying that this situations could truly happen to anyone.
As someone who struggled with my sexuality in middle school, high school, and even during college, the shows representation of the gay community and the struggles of homosexuality really hit home for me. Though I really didn’t realize it until I was a bit older, I realized that I always related to the people that were a bit different in the show. It was also very interesting that a straight character, Paige, began a same sex relationship with another girl in the show, while at the same time the gay male character, Marco was figuring out his sexuality, dating Paige’s brother in the show. Not only were homosexual relationships represented in the show, but interracial couples were a big part of the show as well. Liberty and JT’s relationship was one of the most fan-craved relationships on the show, not only because of the interracial relationship, but the teen pregnancy they both experienced as well. In the second season, Emma dated African-American character Chris which emphasized another interracial couple and the normality that they have become in society.
Expressing originality and representing a diverse cast of characters in Degrassi, is a reason the show has become one of the most successful teen television shows in history. Because of the situations the kids experience in the show cover almost every issue possible, as an audience member it makes the show very relatable to almost any background. Though stereotypes were represented in the program, each character was fairly represented to prove that situations like these could happen to anyone: coma’s, deaths, pregnancies, drugs, and rape just to name a few. Still today, Degrassi still reaches out to audiences around the world, reflecting issues that teens deal with on a daily basis. I personally, watched the show because I felt that in those times in my life, I was experiencing the same things the kids in the show were experiencing. It seemed to be quite therapeutic for me. I’m not quite sure how well Degrassi will do now that it’s on its twelfth season, but I do know that it has had an impact on lives for generations around the world, including mine.