Just to give you a forewarning, there are spoilers in the article.
It’s safe to say that Netflix’s newest novel to series hit 13 Reasons Why has been the subject of many articles since its release. While it’s been received more positively than negatively, arguments have been raised of the show glorifying suicide and otherwise being harmful and triggering for those who are victims of bullying, sexual abuse or have previously attempted suicide. The arguments are understandable as the scenes are not watered down to make it easy to watch. In fact, it’s very much a show that was made to show adults the struggles that teenagers go through on a day-to-day basis. Of course, everyone will have their own opinions of whether or not they think the show is doing more harm than good, but the writer of this article sides with those who believe a show like 13 Reasons Why has been very much needed for quite some time.
Below are a few reasons why we as a modern society needed this story to come to life on the screen.
- Suicide is, and has been for years, the second leading cause of death in teens and young adults. It’s not some new concept that magically formulated because of this story – just a hot button topic that our PC society would rather keep under wraps until it’s a big named person that does it than actually discuss. We’re afraid of things that make us feel uncomfortable, especially when it’s a very real and very serious topic.
- Suicide, no matter what’s being done, is ugly. Hollywood tries to make suicide and death scenes easier to watch for the sake of entertainment, so the way Hannah’s suicide was chosen to be depicted has been a controversial topic. Yes, Hannah cutting her wrists and bleeding to death in the bathtub is graphic and not something that’s easily stomached. But honestly, most depictions of suicide tends to be in a ‘behind closed doors’ way, mentioned in passing between characters, or shown to the utmost minimum amount as to not scare away their audience. With how realistic the depictions of other situations were, it would’ve been a complete injustice to the emotional aspect of the story if they chose to not show her death in that unpretty of a way.
- Bullying still happens. Period. Luckily, a lot more students are becoming aware that it’s wrong and are fighting against it. Unfortunately, the fact that the younger generation is more attached to technology and social media, enables more to bullying than just shoving someone into a locker or spreading rumors via word-of-mouth. It’s our responsibility as a society to try to snuff that kind of behavior out because even the smallest actions or words can have an affect on someone.
- Hannah is a prime example of someone who contemplated her suicide for a while and was trying her hardest to find a ray of light to keep her from going through with it. While she cared about her parents and they cared about her, she felt like a burden on them as they struggled with keeping their store afloat. While there was a connection between her and Clay, she felt like damaged goods and unworthy of pursuing a future with him. She even went to the school counselor and pretty much spelled out that she was contemplating suicide and was raped and Mr. Porter unfortunately was focused on retreating from the unpleasant topics that her pleas were lost.
- Justin’s character showed that even though people can appear like nothing is wrong, there is so much more underneath the surface. Seeing him be physically abused by his deadbeat mom’s boyfriend and having his own best friend play the ‘what’s yours is mine’ card in order to get some action with his girlfriend is seriously messed up and reminds you that you never know what’s going on in someone’s life – including the popular kids.
- Courtney and Marcus embody the people in society who, excuse my language, have their heads so far up their asses that they would rather push something as important as turning Bryce in for Jessica and Hannah’s rapes just to keep their reputations intact. Unfortunately, that kind of ‘what will people think?’ mindset occurs when it comes to sexual assault for not only those involved, but also for the people that know them. It doesn’t matter what age you are.
- Zach is an example of how differently people deal with rejection. Instead of accepting Hannah’s choice of not wanting to go out with him, he went ahead and took away something that genuinely made her happy. His actions were obviously a little more extreme than they should’ve been, but when you’re at that age having people like you is more important than you let on. While we still harbor that same urge to have people like us when we go off into the real world, that feeling is heightened a lot more when you’re a teenager that considers being well-liked a life goal.
- Alex’s obvious guilt eats him up inside throughout each episode until he ultimately believed that committing suicide himself is the appropriate punishment for his role in Hannah’s death. He showed signs of his feelings when he was practically drowning in Bryce’s pool and continued to verbally mention that he wish he could take his actions back. It’s been stated by professionals that feelings of guilt can play a factor in someone’s choice to kill themselves and it’s always important to actively show support to those who where close to the person even if they hadn’t been as close as they were in the past. Death to a person you know of is one thing, but death to someone you personally knew completely changes you.
- Jessica’s story is tragic. We learn all about her relationship with Hannah and how watching her be raped by Bryce during her party made Hannah feel like she failed her. Even though they weren’t as close of friends as they were at the very beginning, they were always civil to one another and Hannah wanted to her to listen to her tapes in an attempt to bring Bryce to justice for his actions. That in itself was meant to be Hannah’s last noble act to try to come forward when so many others are afraid to. We see her struggle with wanting to say something, but also terrified of what will happen if she does. Sexual assault survivors have to deal with this everyday and is not an easy choice to make when society finds it so easy to victim shame than take these instances as serious cases.
- Bryce is the most realistic representation of what happens when sports players are accused of sexual assault. At first, it’s pretty clear that every girl wants him, every guy wants to be him, and any adult figure considers him to be the shining star of the school. Behind that ‘perfect All-American Boy’ exterior, we learn that not only does he deal weed to his peers and is a complete and total bully to his ‘best friend’ Justin in more ways than one, but he is a serial rapist that thinks he’s entitled to doing whatever the fuck (sorry for the language again) he wants because everyone in his life tells him he can. He tries to make himself the victim for being wrongfully blamed when Justin finally admits to Jessica she was raped and does the same thing when Clay goes to confront him about Hannah’s rape. Men like Bryce exist in this world and 13 Reasons Why did a great job at showing us that the ‘nicest’ and most ‘respectable’ people are in fact capable of such evils like sexual assault.
- Clay cared so much about Hannah that even in death he still wanted to help her. He tried so hard to reach out to the other students on the tapes and learned that either they were too self-absorbed for them to care about their involvement or they were completely falling apart from the inside out from knowing they pushed her to suicide. Clay didn’t deserve his tape, but Hannah pushing him away showed that sometimes having people that care about you still isn’t enough to save you from the darkness.
- Mr. Porter the school guidance councilor was the last person to see Hannah alive and she wanted him to be the one to stop her from going through with her suicide. You see that he’s super uncomfortable and unsure of what he was supposed to do. Hell, she pretty much told him that Bryce raped her and his response was that he was graduating in a few months and that she’ll get over it. While there are real school councilors out there that are willing to go above and beyond to help their students, there are still councilors like Mr. Porter who aren’t properly trained to handle students like Hannah. A sad, but true reality.
- 13 Reasons Why is getting people talking about the heavy topics depicted more than ever before. Sure, there are those who are against the show and those who are strong supporters of its message. Regardless of which side you’re on, it’s still being talked about and the more we’re aware of these topics the more we can try to better ourselves as a society and offer help to those like Hannah. Raising awareness is the beginning of us hopefully growing to become a more accepting and supportive society.
On a personal level, I will admit it was pretty hard for me to watch 13 Reasons Why as my own adolescent school experiences weren’t particularly the best of times for me. In fact, some of those experiences still affect me to this very day and the show made me very emotional with how real everything was being depicted. I am by no means comparing my experiences to the severity of Hannah’s, but bullying is not a new concept and with our rapidly changing societal norms and developing technology there are more tools and “reasons” that bullies can implement into their mean-spirited games. Even the way schools are run and how parents raise their kids are noticeably different than when I was younger so I can only imagine what crazy things are happening in the average teenager’s daily life.
It’s been brought up that the show can be “triggering” to those who know someone who has committed suicide as well as survivors of attempted suicide, bullying, and sexual assault and I definitely agree with that thought. To me, this show is so intense that binge watching it would have made it lose its powerful message. While I do respect everyone’s opinion on the show and their way of watching it, I have a few suggestions that I’d like to leave you with.
- Take breaks if you start to feel uncomfortable. 2 rape scenes (Jessica and Hannah), child abuse (Justin), a car accident death (Jeff) and Hannah’s suicide scene is all lot to handle in one night and had to take sporadic crying breaks.
- Don’t be afraid of asking for support if you’re watching the show alone. These are extremely heavy subject matters and they are shown in such realistic ways where you feel the character’s pain as it plays out on the screen.
- If you’re a parent wanting to watch this with your kids, please take the time to make sure they understand what’s going on in the scenes. This is not a kids’ show even though its storyline is set in high school. The overflowing of comments from parents saying the show has opened up communication between them and their kids is a beautiful thing.
- If you have experienced any of the situations in the show and get triggered, don’t force yourself to continue the show for the sake of keeping up with conversation, curiousity, etc. You chose to start watching it and you always have the choice to continue it or not. I personally chose to continue watching the series despite feeling waves of past emotions because this is the best dramatized representation of these subject matters in non-documentary form that I’ve seen in a long time.
- If you insist on disagreeing with the show despite not seeing it, please for the love of God don’t victim blame or say ‘get over it’ or ‘that the weak never survive.’ Everyone, including the fictional characters in this series, deals with their suffering and frustrations differently and there is no textbook way of understanding how one handles the kind of situations in the show without it personally happening to you. Just respect people that have found comfort in the show.