You’ve likely heard of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” based on a 2007 young adult novel by best-selling author Jay Asher. Selena Gomez, actress and popstar co-produced the 13-episode Netflix adaptation.
The fictional story line follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he returns home from school to a mysterious box with his name lying on his porch. On opening it, he discovers 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), his classmate and love interest, who committed suicide two weeks prior. On each tape she unfolds an audio diary spilling her emotions and detailing the 13 reasons that led her to end her life. Throughout Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, the show weaves through the events leading up to Hannah’s suicide, specifically targeting the actions of the people she held responsible for her decision.
Throughout Hannah’s high school experience, she is slut-shamed, raped and carries a lot of emotional baggage that she doesn’t feel equipped to sort through, among many other things. I believe they accurately captured those struggles of a high school girl and a woman in general.
Before delving into some of the popular disagreements with the show, I will say that mental health, specifically, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and suicide, are stigmatized and put on the pile of things we refuse to acknowledge. We procrastinate to dissect and talk more about them. I appreciate the attempt at bringing awareness to a highly ignored and disregarded topic.
However, I do think that suicide is inaccurately portrayed in the show in several ways. Although it’s a complex issue to address in the first season’s short span, it should make it all the more challenging to make sure they address it carefully.
Firstly, when a person is contemplating taking their life, many times they are not blaming other people. They’re blaming themselves and feel that they’re the one people would be better off without. While to others it may seem selfish, the person going through it feels they’re doing the world some good by eliminating themselves from it. The show paints suicide to be vengeful, placing blame and guilt on everyone who brought the main character to kill herself, when in the end, it was her choice to make. It makes suicide seem like a dramatic and selfish act when in reality the person in Hannah’s place would not see it that way.
Secondly, in the last tape, Hannah says “I’m going to give life one more try.” When undergoing such emotionally distressing turmoil, you don’t give life just one more try. You give it a few, perhaps several more. The show fails to highlight the many options available to an emotionally downtrodden person. People who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts and other impressionable audiences who watch this show may feel that they relate to Hannah’s story, and in turn think that suicide is the easy way out. It’s not.
“When we watched the show, we didn’t think about the suicide. We just thought it was an entertaining show,” I heard in passing from the mouths of pre-teens in conversation. Knowledge is power, but are we handing this knowledge to the right audience?
Suicide is an extremely raw and sensitive topic, making it equally important to portray carefully and have in depth conversations about.
Whether you agree or disagree with the show, don’t completely write it off, but allow it to serve as grounds for awareness and discussion concerning many issues often ignored and unaddressed on our campuses and communities.