Warning: This post contains spoilers.
13 Reasons Why has taken off. The addictive nature of this Netflix series has made it a massive talking point, and watching the series within a day or two seems to be the norm. Although the series might be seen as another Netflix Original hit, things are a bit more complicated than that. Dealing with the topic of suicide, many have heralded 13 Reasons Why for making this issue a talking point. However, the series has come under fire by viewers and experts alike for the way it deals with this topic.
13 Reasons Why centres on the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker, who leaves behind a bunch of audio tapes intended for a select group of her classmates. Each tape is dedicated to a specific person, who, according to Hannah herself, contributed to her death. Suicide prevention experts have reportedly spoken out against the premise of the series, as well as its graphic portrayal of Hannah’s self-inflicted death. The lack of support shown towards Hannah and the ‘glamorizing’ of her suicide through the use of the tapes have left a bad taste, as one expert says the series sends ‘a potentially dangerous message to viewers’.
Reports such as these are extremely important, and a reminder that we should not take everything at face value. Series like 13 Reasons Why are immensely powerful purely because of the topics they deal with, and critical reactions to them should always be taken seriously. That is why I do encourage anyone who has watched the series or who plans to do so to read up on these topics. The article linked above is a good place to start.
That being said, I had some additional thoughts and feelings about the series. Some in conjunction with what has been said above, some formed during watching, and some after. Anyway, here’s my 2 cents – or 13, actually:
The series deals with the issue of bullying, which in itself is a good thing: the topic needs more attention. The series shows the detrimental effects bullying can have on young people, and emphasises the idea that we cannot know what is really going on in someone’s life, and therefore we should all treat each other nicely. It’s a nice thought; we could all be a little bit nicer to one another. However, when the series is connecting bullying to Hannah’s death, it skips over one very important issue…
Mental health. For a series that deals with topics such as bullying, rape, and suicide, it remains uncomfortably silent when it comes to discussing issues of mental and emotional health. Hannah’s death is not discussed in relation to this, not even by herself; her tapes place the blame of her suicide on those around her. Although it’s very safe to say that bullying played a substantial role in Hannah’s death, the series misses a step when it puts bullying and suicide in a step 1- step 2 connection.
Hannah’s mental state is never really discussed but merely hinted at. As such the showrunners are not doing themselves any favours. They had a chance to start the conversation about mental health but fail to do so on an epic scale. Not just Hannah, but other characters in the series seem to be dealing with pretty serious issues. Clay himself seems to be experiencing some kind of anxiety issues, but again these are never discussed as such. Nobody in the series talks about mental health, not the victims themselves, the teachers, the parents, the school counselor, nobody. The result of these decisions has already been discussed above. Not only can de series be deemed as potentially harmful, it also looses credibility. If it was really serious about discussing topics like bullying and suicide, how can it fail to mention the mental health aspect that runs as the undercurrent of the show?
We’ve all been to high school, and we know what it’s like; kids can be mean. At Hannah’ school however, everyone seems to be from planet horrible. Everyone always thinks the worst, says the worst, or does the worst. With the exception of Clay, of course, 13 Reasons Why’s poster child for turning a blind eye. The series seems to strike an unrealistic balance as it only focuses on the mean kids, and thus the drama.
The series shows the big impact parents can have on their kids. Perhaps the most interesting example is Alex, whose ‘yes sir, no sir’ relationship with his dad seems to be in conjunction with his inability to express his feelings.
The kids in 13 Reasons Why seem very concerned with their reputation, turning their backs on their friends, family, and the truth to protect their squeaky clean repute. The series shows the hollowness of the concept of reputation, and how damaging keeping up appearances can be.
High school drama is toxic, 13 Reasons Why shows that. The sad thing is that for Hannah – or anyone else for that matter – no way out is introduced. Even when Hannah goes to a poetry group outside of the high school environment the drama seems to follow her around. The series does a good job of showing how in high school, even the smallest things can seems enormous, while the big things are ignored. What it fails to do is show a different perspective.
Even though the series can be addictive, it can also be annoyingly slow sometimes. There are times where it is very clear that the showrunners are just buying themselves more time and dragging it out, which adds nothing (good) to the viewing experience.
One text can reach a lot of people in a really short span of time in 13 Reasons Why. Are we supposed to believe that everyone is the same group app or somehow everyone has everyone’s number? The forwarding speed of these kids is incredible. Or am I just old?
Friends do not seem to exist in 13 Reasons Why. Everyone betrays each other in a heartbeat, and nobody is to be trusted. Sure, these things happen, especially in high school. But again, every single person Hannah meets lets her down in some way. For a show that has young people as its intended audience it is sad that no better examples of friendships are given. Except of course Kat, who is swept away in the first episode only to be heard from in the last.
The word slut gets thrown around a lot in the series, and again there is not one voice of reason to dispute the use of the term. Again, the series is setting a very sad example.
It is really simple: if you don’t fit a stereotype, 13 Reasons Why doesn’t need you. For a series so concerned with changing the conversation its approach to presenting truly original characters is uninspiring. The evil gang of jocks, the mean cheerleaders, the awkward kid who works for the school newspaper and the easy target, they’re all there, doing what they do.
Upon finishing 13 Reasons Why you might ask yourself whether the series was really about Hannah, about Clay, or about someone else altogether. The deeper you get into the series the less it seems concerned with presenting Hannah’s experiences and feelings.
The question of a second season is still up in the air, but some hints have already been dropped in the final episodes as to what might happen if a new season was to come. In any case, the showrunners have some time to take into consideration some of the criticism that they have received. My only hope is that they do.