A look at Degrassi, 25 years after resonating with teens:
Degrassi ’s grassroots approach to social class served as a near-invisible narrative strategy, but it anticipated the show’s most memorable legacy: its unflinching, plain-spoken treatment of pregnancy, suicide, interracial dating (a big deal in 1987), and HIV/AIDS. What’s more, Degrassi didn’t treat its characters with benevolence. Spike’s pregnancy at age fourteen — the result of a clumsy first-time sexual encounter with Shane, a baby-faced ninth-grader — didn’t end with a convenient miscarriage. Her character spent the remainder of the series as a struggling single parent. Later that season, Shane experimented with LSD, fell off a bridge, and suffered permanent brain damage. Wheels, one of the most popular characters, lost his parents to a drunk driver, and later experienced a breakdown that culminated in a drunk driving incident that killed a child, blinded his friend Lucy, and landed him in prison. In the early years of HIV/AIDS, Dwayne contracted the virus after having unprotected sex with his girlfriend (a thoughtful plot choice in an era when many thought of it as a ‘gay disease’). In a 1999 cast reunion on the CBC talk show Jonovision, actor Darrin Brown, who played Dwayne, was asked where his character would be now. ‘Dwayne would probably be dead,’ he replied.