We’ve all been there.
It’s a Friday night, you have no plans (again), and a pantry full of food waiting to accompany a movie or TV show marathon. After having an alarming number of friends tell me that 13 Reasons Why is a must-see, I thought sweet, I have the next 10 hours of my life sorted. Little did I know the next 10 hours would be horrible.
The plot follows a group of teenagers who knew Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who committed suicide. Before her suicide, Hannah recorded 13 tapes intended to be listened to by the people on them. These people were those who acted against her in horrible ways; physically, mentally and emotionally. They were the reasons she killed herself.
Even writing this amazes me how this show, a show that has such a nasty idea and dramatises teen suicide – practically making it a game – exists.
There are numerous reasons why this show isn’t an appropriate or ground-breaking show. Here are a few.
One of the many parts of this show that pissed me off was the idea that Clay Jenson, our protagonist, could have prevented Hannah Baker from killing herself if he simply had said he loved her. Sorry, but this is a load of crap. Portraying the idea that a woman needs a man to have self-worth and essentially a reason to live is disgusting, and what’s even worse is having her kill herself because of it. Women do not need men to make life worth living. Mental illness cannot be solved by some guy saying I love you. The show diminishes the complex nature of mental illness with this stupid idea of teenage love preventing it.
The whole story is a form of revenge and redemption for Hannah Baker. She is basically getting the last word in. She is getting back at those who wronged her in the most horrific fashion, making them question every action of their young lives. We must remember that these characters are teenagers, not able to make rational decisions. They are full of angst and inner struggles. The way in which Hannah causes them emotional and mental torment is hypocritical. Why would someone who felt suicide was the only option want to cause those around her to feel the same? While I’m not condoning the actions of her peers, her attack and her tapes portray suicide as a revenge fantasy and that is not okay.
A major problem with the show is its absence of help or guidance. The show explores the devastating effects bullying can have in young lives. While bullying is a genuine issue impacting over 3 million people a year, the show does not explore nor even mention the words “depression” or “mental illness”, the leading cause of suicide (over 90% of suicides are due to untreated mental illnesses, depression being the most common). The bullying she experienced, while horrible, would only be one part, not the sole cause, of her suicide. The psychological pain she would have experienced is not touched on. The show doesn’t explore the helplines available to young teens. It doesn’t demonstrate how one should go about dealing with it. It doesn’t encourage them to talk openly with someone, or ask for help. It just portrays suicide as a romantic and glamorised solution.
There are times when people push the boundaries with graphic content. However, in my opinion the show visualises things that should not be shown to audiences for dramatic effect. Visually seeing Hannah get into a bath and cut deeply into her wrists, hearing her screams and watching her slowly fade out before her parents found her was deeply unsettling. Mindframe (national media coverage) instructs that we don’t:
a) “divulge the method of suicide” or
b) “refer to any explicit details left in a suicide note”.
These are the two things that make the show. Showing impressionable minds how to commit suicide is not something that should be classified as a “must-see”.
Many people are arguing that this show is ground-breaking. They say that it’s meant to be confronting so people will talk about the elephant in the room that is suicide. But there is another way to do this rather than glamorising and making suicide entertainment.
Yes, art should confront and challenge its audience, but this show goes beyond that and its exploration of teen suicide is not art.