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The case for '13 Reasons Why'

Mon, Apr 24th 2017 08:40 pm

"13 Reasons Why" effectively depicts the devastating effects of teen bullying, however, in attempt of doing so, the series has received major criticism in its portrayal of teen suicide

By Amelia Gulley

Special to NFP

Warning: This article contains spoilers

Hannah Baker is smart, pretty and wholesome. She is beautifully sarcastic and fierce in all that she does. Loved by both of her parents and wanting to follow them in their old-school romantic ways, she is your average high school student attempting to find herself amongst her peers.

But Hannah Baker died at age 17.

Well, what on earth was her cause of death?

She bled to death through slitting her own two wrists in her family bathroom.

Well, why would she do that?


Stalkers. Rape. Unwanted butt grabs. Hot lists and No. 1 best ass. If you have graduated high school and are in denial of the realities of unwanted graphic sexualization, then please let me know which high school you attended; I'll send my kids there. 

There was plenty of uncertainty in the air when Netflix released its 13-episode-long adaption of Jay Asher's 2007 book, "13 Reasons Why." The teen drama mystery follows high school sweet heart Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minnette, unwrap the 13 reasons why his friend and lover, Hannah Baker, takes her own life.

"Pardon me, but you really hurt my feelings," exclaims Hannah Baker, portrayed by Katherine Langford, one of the main protagonists in the series. However those eight words could arguably be the reason behind the creation of the Netflix show depicting how Hannah Baker's life ended.

Hannah Baker's voice effectively drives the series from start to finish. Before she commits suicide, she leaves behind a series of cassette tapes describing the reasons as to why she felt so low and, indeed, killed herself. Although these are extremely hard to listen to as a viewer, as they detail scenes of rape and mistreatment, one cannot deny that there is a sense of realism among the flashback-filled scenes.

While critique of the Netflix series fills the air, much of us are forgetting that suicide is not supposed to be pretty or easily watched. Often, television is unrealistic and dreamy, making us become addicted to the lives of made-up characters. However, "13 Reasons Why" captures the modern day reality of intense cyberbullying, rape, depression and a failure to be able to talk about how we feel with our parents, peers and teachers. And although this depiction may not be pretty or idealistic, unfortunately, in many cases, it is a reality.

We don't want to be Hannah Baker and that underlining message is crucial.

Neha Sahah, of NewStatesman, exclaims in her article regarding the show, "disappointingly, writer Brian Yorkey's adaptation of '13 Reasons Why' falls far short of its ambitions."

She continues, "There is a cruel irony in the fact that all 13 episodes are released at once, leaving viewers with a choice."

Instead of seeing this choice as a negative, you could alternatively see much beauty in this irony.

As a viewer, we are forced to make gripping decisions. On the edge of our chairs, we make the decision to binge watch the tapes just as the majority of the cast does. We are unlike the protagonist, Clay, in the fact that we fail to truly take the time to comprehend each tape. But are there people like Clay, who couldn't listen to all of the tapes at once?

Catherine M., a Niagara University student, has dealt with mental illness.

"Being someone who has been in her shoes, contemplated suicide and attempted suicide, it was very triggering for me," she said of the series. "It gave me vivid flashbacks to the lowest points in my life, and it was horrible to me in every way. I had to shut off the television and clear my head, because the show was so raw and nothing was sugarcoated at all. The whole show's plot is very dangerous to someone who has a history with mental illness."

One questioned must be answered: Should suicide be allowed on TV and, if so, what measures must be followed?

Catherine said, "There should be a warning before the show that gives a number to a hotline or something. After I watched only two episodes, I started to have suicidal thoughts again."

The Reporting on Suicide website, a guideline for media outlets wishing to represent mental illness on TV, states, "risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death."

Unfortunately, "13 Reasons Why" has been said to have done all of the above.

For all the negative critique the show has received, the reality is that people are finally starting to talk about mental illness. 

Catherine said, "This was a horrible thing and a good thing at the same time. For someone who has been affected by depression and suicide, it's a very dangerous show to watch, because of the flashbacks one might get while watching it."

"On the other hand, it's very real to what someone with depression and suicidal thoughts would go through," she added. "It's not censored; it's the real deal. It's the emotions that the suicidal girl felt and the viewer really gets put into her shoes. This is a good thing for people who haven't been through mental illness or for the people who need to be further educated on the subject."

"13 Reasons Why" is arguably receiving criticism because people are choosing to be in denial of suicide and mental illness. Often, viewers don't want to think of this as a reality, because they wouldn't want it to happen to their child or friend, but unfortunately it can.

The National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI) states, "1 in 4 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness." This means, "20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, 11% of youth have a mood disorder, 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder and 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder."

The statistics show just how prolific mental illness among youths is across America.

As a society, we must do better at understanding mental illness and realize that, just as our organs can get sick or unwell, so can our brain.

Modern TV will always have a hard time sufficiently portraying the truths behind mental illness. Credit must be given to the staff behind "13 Reasons Why" for attempting to tackle and spread awareness of this extremely difficult topic, although more must be done to ensure that a portrayal of suicide on TV is not harmful or triggering to the public.

The Reporting on Suicide website further states, "Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misconceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help."

With all being said, "13 Reasons Why" exposes the high school environment perfectly. Each character is in search of their true identity, just as high school students are. The cast is fruitful and compelling, while the premise is, unfortunately, a reality to some. This show is, therefore, extremely relevant and necessary, which makes it a must-watch for those who are in search of understanding other people better.



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