***Warning: spoilers, mental health, body image and eating disorders***
Once more I was lured in by the banner at the top of my Netflix flaunting a new series. This time it was Dare Me. On the surface it seemed to be a Riverdale-esque teen drama, centred around cheerleaders. Given that Riverdale is my guilty pleasure and being a member of the University’s Cheerleading and Gymnastics squads, I was inevitably drawn to the show. However, within the first episode it was clear that this series was both badly written and should certainly contain a trigger warning, given its appalling treatment of body image and eating disorders. The acting was generally poor, and the so-called cheerleading was even worse, and borderline laughable. The reckless treatment of mental health issues, as well as the bizarre plot, made me quickly realise I would not be recommending Dare Me to my lockdown-bound friends.
Dare Me follows the journey of a cheer squad at a high school after the arrival of the elusive, and destructive, new coach Colette French. Amidst the generally toxic behaviour of the squad, the protagonists Addy and Beth become intertwined in the coach’s affair. Beth functions as the rebellious figure, constantly blackmailing characters and leading Addy into danger. The fact that Beth points a gun at Addy in the first episode is, bizarrely, quickly forgotten within minutes. The squad operates as the elite hierarchy of the school, so Dare Me conforms to the stereotype of the mean cheerleader, confined to the bully role. Dare Me consistently hints at a sexual relationship between both Addy and Beth, as well as Addy and Colette. These unspoken sexual relationships do not add nuance or interest to the plot; they are so obscurely treated and unresolved that the viewer becomes as frustrated and confused as the characters themselves. For good reason, Twitter fans have been quick to condemn the show as queerbaiting, one viewer questioned: “Is this show gonna get gay for real or is it just queerbaiting with a lot of homoerotic subtext that goes nowhere? #dareme”.Throw in a bit of murder, drinking, and oh, a bit more queerbaiting, and Dare Me finally comes to an end and puts the viewer out of their misery.
Despite the problematic representations of sexuality, the most alarming aspect of the show is undoubtedly the treatment of body image. Within just the first episode, the coach pinches a student’s stomach saying: “Fix this, we don’t do this”. Next, Beth kicks a girl in the stomach to help her be sick, before the rest of the squad continues to laugh over the ordeal. The second episode is no better as it shows Addy and Beth refusing to swallow cookies. This continues throughout the entire series, from girls refusing food to over exercising. Dare Me does not offer a careful exploration of the mental health issues faced by many young girls, instead, it risks encouraging dangerous eating behaviours. This is heightened as each girl ultimately seeks to be the “top girl” of the pyramid, which fuels a toxic hierarchy within the squad.
Earlier this year Netflix released Cheer, a documentary following the squad at Navarro College. The show was revolutionary as it dispelled the stereotypes of cheer, instead depicting the amazing athleticism of the cheerleaders. The squad were supportive, strong, inclusive and ultimately pushed their bodies to the limits of their athleticism, as we see time and time again in the rest of the sporting world. Cheer brought the world of All Star Cheer into the spotlight and showcased both the talent and sportsmanship of the athletes. Following the success of Cheer, Dare Me was a huge disappointment. In the process of fictionalising the cheer world, Dare Me falls into the stereotypes of the bullying cheerleader who is driven solely by appearance rather than sport. Ultimately, Dare Me undoes the good work of Cheer. The actual cheerleading itself adds a comic element to the series; the show could certainly have benefitted from the use of stunt doubles. Whilst I wait impatiently for the second series of Cheer, we can only hope that Netflix does not release another season of Dare Me.
– Hattie Hansford