Degrassi is back in session

Degrassi, the ridiculous high school comedy/drama/satire/after school special, is back. This is truly one of my guilty pleasures. Pop Culture Happy Hour (one of my favorite podcasts) has addressed the topic of guilty pleasure, and they make a fantastic point. Most guilty pleasures are actually shameful pleasures. Guilt comes from within, knowing that one is doing something wrong. Shame is externally instigated, being told that one is doing the wrong thing. But in my case it is guilt, as Degrassi is completely and utterly not for me. It’s a show about high school, ostensibly for high school kids.

But is it truly? When I watch it, there is a layer of cheese so thick that I can’t imagine it being the true to life show that it seems to want to be. In fact, when I really look back at the tone(s) of the show, I can’t figure out what it is trying to be. There’s been an awful lot of singing in recent season, by way of school musicals, but the singing is so bad that I can’t tell when the character is about to be applauded or laughed at until the student body responds. The variation from episode to episode is also off the wall. There are arcs about rape that are surprisingly sincere. There are also musical episodes and guest appearances by the likes of Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. There’s a nostalgia factor, or was a few seasons back, when many of the main characters’ parents were actors reprising their role from the original Degrassi. But then those kids graduated, and the family members vanished. A short while ago there was this forced attempt to stay with some of the characters after they graduated, but eventually all of the non-students plot lines were dropped.

The thing with Degrassi is that it’s like a pocket universe. The school is set and customs are relatively fixed, due to high school aged kids being, well, high school aged kids. The same sort of stories are told over and over, from different perspectives, and sometimes in response to the changing of the world. Sexting has had two recent story lines. The first revolved around a girl being photographed while drunk, the second was about a group monetizing their own photos. But what each time, since these characters are all shown during this permanent window of adolescence, is how they react in the context of now. As bizarre and off the wall this show can be, it’s a fascinating look at contemporary social issues. Or at least, how adult writers interpret high school social issues.

The flip side to this is that you sometimes see the same issues interpreted in wildly different ways. In the two most recent episodes there are currently two characters wrestling with the issue of whether or not to kiss someone. There’s Winston, who’s feeling insecure. His friend Lola is nice to him, he misinterprets this as interest, and kisses her1. That’s a sort of simple misunderstanding that seems huge in high school. Then there’s Clare and Eli. Clare is trying to not get back together with Eli as they go through birthing classes together, in preparation of their child, because she’s looking for stability. Clare and Winston are dealing with basically the same conundrum (the aftermath of a problematic kiss) but in wildly different context. This sort of thing happens a lot, with the heightened stakes mainly coming from whomever has had more screen time, and therefore more melodrama build up.

So is all of this part of a deep reading into Degrassi? Is it some sort of justification for why I watch? Oh, no. Degrassi is a perpetual motion train wreck that I enjoy with much less irony than anyone my age has a right to. I don’t need to justify it, it’s just my guilty pleasure. I’m not even alone in my circle of friends. All I want to say is that I like this show far more than I should, and If you want to watch the sort of thing where Kevin Smith films a Canadian melodrama in one episode, and Drake gets shot in the spine in the next, you’re all welcome to join me.


1 To be fair to him, the actress sounds like she’s reading text off the back of a cereal box, so it’s hard to tell what emotion she’s trying to convey.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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