Trigger Warning: This piece discusses physical and sex abuse/assault, blackmail, and use of the F slur.
Yesterday was the finale of HBO showstopper, Euphoria. For weeks, every Sunday, the Internet watched with bated breath to see the plethora of penises, to hear Rue’s internal monologue and to witness the glittery eye looks Jules served.
The show gave us one of the most honest and vivid depictions of addiction, depression, sexuality and relationships that we’ve seen on TV in quite some time. But it missed the mark on matters concerning other mental illnesses, race, and privilege. As a Non-Black Person of Colour, I’m going to leave the race discourse to a writer more qualified than me. Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) made a brief twitter thread about it, and you can check out here.
The mental illness and privilege aspect that’s within my lane, so let’s buckle in and talk about the intersection of wealth, male privilege, and violence.
Nate Jacobs is conventionally attractive, and more importantly, he’s rich and white. He displays a lack of empathy, a short fuse and a disregard for rules that hinder him from attaining his selfish desires. It’s evident that the creators of Euphoria want us to see him as damaged and sociopathic; and many few viewers do.
Throughout the twitter-verse, you can see reactions from show watchers calling Nate a sociopath or a psychopath. But, these labels are flippant and follow the narrative that if there is something wrong with a white man, it is a product of mental illness and not of their own volition. Sociopathy (an outdated term), now called Antisocial Personality Disorder is one of several Cluster B Personality disorders. As someone who has a diagnosed Cluster B mental illness, has worked with others with them and has friends with them, I speak on the topic from a place of understanding.
Let’s talk about how these disorders develop. Through the insights the show gives into Nate’s life, and we can see that his childhood was mostly uneventful, with the exclusion of finding his dad’s well organized “home movies.” There was no mention of abuse, neglect or addiction in the family — none of the usual risk factors that might increase the likelihood of developing Antisocial Personality Disorder.
What Nate did have was an overbearing father who put his expectations on his youngest son and a mother who wasn’t involved in his formative years as an active parent. He grew up in a home where women were meant to be props that serve to be an extension of their male partners and not people of their own. This disregard for women only served as a breeding ground for toxic masculinity and hyper aggression towards femme people exercising autonomy. Signs here don’t point to a mental illness that leads to aggression and abuse but instead towards learned toxic behaviour.
This behaviour was only worsened by the power and access he had through generational wealth. Mr. Jacobs, father of creeps, owns most of the town that Euphoria is set in. It lets him get away with his sexcapades and allows his sons to fly under the radar while doing things that are both illegal and morally bankrupt. Nate’s older brother knowingly sleeps with a minor because he didn’t fear statutory rape charges. Nate hosted an open-door part with liquor and drugs in a house full of minors without a care in the world. When Nate was sexting with Jules, he was aware that he was requesting and collecting child pornography. Nate still used those pictures to blackmail Jules, knowing he had the money and access to protect him from consequence.
In the last episode, Nate blackmailed Tyler into taking the fall for the assault charges levied against him. We see his father acknowledge that he knows that Nate did something to manufacture the confession and did likely assault Maddy. That’s not a product nature but of nurture. In the finale, we saw him again get physical with Maddy, while in his own home with his father just next door after just being cleared of assault charges. The ability to evade punishment and to have his behaviour condoned, empowers him to break the law and devalue people. That is what makes Nate Jacob the horrifying villain he is, not some undiagnosed personality disorder!
Labeling his behaviour and actions as sociopathy or psychopathy reduces them to symptoms of circumstances when the reality is that they’re intended to be hurtful.
People who live with Cluster B disorders have varying levels of empathy, and difficulty with emotional stability, but we don’t have difficulty telling right from wrong.
Those with fully progressed disorders and no longer feel any real emotions can study social cues and react accordingly. They have an understanding of what is appropriate and what is not. The idea that they are ruled by their baser instincts and will react violently or “sociopathically” isn’t true. The concept of consent and personal space still exists within these brains, and people with personality disorders do respect them. People with personality disorders will subconsciously find each other because they often occupy similar spaces in society. Once they find that space, where they can drop their facades. Using that space to freely interact with each other and only superficially participate in general social convention as they don’t see a benefit.
This is the opposite of what Nate Jacobs does in the show. His life is devoted to being the ideal. It’s why he hates his father and called him the F slur in the finale. He wants not just to be a participant in society but to be the best member of it. Being the best quarterback, best student, having a virginal girlfriend that the world envies him for having.
All of these things indicate deep-rooted insecurity and awareness of the importance of social standing. These aren’t things that matter to someone with a personality disorder. People living with personality disorders will only do these things not out of desire to be a member of society but to gain the power they need to live a life beyond rules and restrictions. Someone like Nate doesn’t need to do this at all since he already has the power and access to live his life freely.
From everything in the show, I can say that Nate shows narcissistic traits that people without experience with mental illness may deem to be a Personality Disorder, but there is a stark difference is having narcissistic tendencies and a full-blown personality disorder. The character Nate is an uncomfortable reality that people aren’t willing to accept because the idea that someone can behave this way and not be “damaged” is scary. Nate’s abuse of privilege isn’t the same thing as living mental illness.
To truly show this, Euphoria needs to acknowledge the actual problem, deconstruct what caused it and show Nate modify his behaviour to recognize the impulse to harm others. Most importantly, they need the world Nate lives in to do the same because that is the only way we in the real world will see what we need to do to combat the terror of white male rage that we are all survivors of today.
By: Keshav Kant