13 Reasons Why or Why Not

| May 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Netflix’s newest hit series has sparked Internet discourse like never before. 13 Reasons Why, based on the book of the same name, is a miniseries about a girl who kills herself and leaves tapes behind explaining the reasons why each person on the list contributed to her suicide. The show has been hailed as a triumph by many because of its frank discussions of heavy subjects such as sexual assault and suicide, but at the same time another camp of people have been attacking it for its irresponsible messages.

As a mentally ill person, a lot of the topics discussed in the show hit close to home. It was a grueling three-day journey through all thirteen episodes, and I struggled to deal with the negative feelings it arose. I have a strong stomach for gore and blood, but the final suicide scene was too much for me, and I had to cover the screen and turn away because of the graphic content. I am not a sexual assault survivor like that suicidal teen, but I can only imagine how hard it must be to watch that scene for someone who actually experienced a sexual assault.

But despite the intense triggering content, upon my first viewing,  I enjoyed the show. Overall, I thought they handled the other scenes directly relating to sexual assault particularly well. There were trigger warnings at the beginning of each episode, and the content was never so graphic as to show every detail of what was happening. The show did a good job at portraying sexual assaulters are normal people who often seem harmless and that many young people (especially boys) are unaware of the boundaries between sex and assault.

What rubbed me the wrong way was the treatment of Hannah and her story. First of all, the suicide scene was too graphic. It broke guidelines set for showing such content in media, and in the wrong context a teen could see it as a video on how-to to commit suicide. In the show, Hannah struggles with bullying and making friends throughout her time in high school, and yet the topic of mental illness is never broached. Teens who suffer like Hannah almost always have an underlying mental illness such as depression or anxiety that drives them to commit suicide, but as far as the show is concerned, Hannah is just a normal kid who makes a tragic decision.

There are also many gray areas left in Netflix’s interpretation. For example, Hannah attempts to reach out and talk to a school counselor only to be turned away and told to basically “get over” her sexual assault. First of all, no school counselor should ever be as irresponsible and ignorant as the show’s depiction. I understand why they made that artistic choice, to show that Hannah had nowhere else to turn, but what worries me is that younger teens, especially those suffering with the same issues, might watch that episode and become convinced that professional help is unattainable. Suicide is not a revenge fantasy, and Hannah is not the hero. What the other students did to her was undeniably wrong, but it was also wrong of her to cause them unnecessary guilt and pain through her twisted tape plot.

I would encourage younger viewers to watch the show with a parent or older sibling who can help answer their questions. This is not a show you can just blindly enjoy. 13 Reasons Why has its merits and its mistakes, and it demands to be examined critically by its viewers and not just taken at face value.


featured photo credit: asvensson Original Sony TPS-L2 Walkman via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Social Activism, TV and Movies

Charlie Scanlan

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Charlie is a journalism major in the College of Communication.

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