When I first set out to write about 13 Reasons Why, my plan was to post “13 Reasons Why” the show was troubling. Why I couldn’t recommend the show, for people of any age. How the show stays with you, even after it’s over, but not for the “right” reasons.
And then I found myself having conversations with my friends about it. I began reading what people who enjoyed the show were saying about it. And I started thinking, if it’s being discussed this much, can it be all bad?
Yes, ’13 Reasons Why’ is Problematic
There are TONS of articles which all detail the reasons 13 Reasons Why is problematic, far better than I could ever hope to do. Alyse Ruriani covers how the show simplifies suicide, and suggests that there is always someone to blame in her post 6 Reasons I’m Not a Fan of ’13 Reasons Why’.
But to perpetuate the idea there is a straight, linear path to why a suicide happened […] is harmful. Suicide is a complex issue and it cannot be defined by placing the onus on someone else…It is upsetting to see a suicide portrayed as the suicidal person wanting others to feel guilty, rather than focusing on the person’s emotions and thoughts.
In Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is an irresponsible dramatisation of teenage suicide, Neha Shah highlights how the show fails, on epic proportions, to cover how mental illness contributed to Hannah’s decision to end her life:
Suicide is a difficult topic to tackle without being sensationalist or reductive. But 13 Reasons Why manages to fall into both of these categories at once […] Of course, bullying can be a contributing factor towards suicidal thoughts and behaviour. But it is wrong to portray it as a direct cause – a lazy and unforgivable simplification of the infinitely more complex nature of mental illness. 13 Reasons attempts to take on suicide without so much as a token mention of the word “depression”.
And Sezin Koehler set out and accomplished exactly what I had planned: 13 Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” is Dangerously Problematic. She covers what I took issue with, and then some.
And this is just a snippet at what is problematic. I’m sure I could continue looking into this issue and find article after article that further extrapolates on these ideas.
But Isn’t the Conversation Important, Too?
Even though 13 Reasons Why sensationalizes suicide, is it possible that it still manages to encourage people to understand the impact their actions have on others? Aren’t the conversations that are happening more important than the show being able to deliver on all of our expectations for a dramatization about teen suicide? Would any of these conversations be happening without this show’s influence?
And it’s not like all the messages from the show are troublesome. Arguably, the over-arching message of 13 Reasons Why is that our actions, whether direct or indirect, impact other people. And when you don’t know what else they’re going through, those actions can amount to mean more than we intended. Long story short, the message is to be kind to each other.
What ’13 Reasons Why’ Gets Right
There’s also a LOT that the show gets right.
For millennials, it’s one of the first shows to tackle subjects like bullying, rape and suicide in mainstream media. And it does it in such a way that you have a hard time looking away.
There are moments that are so true to the teenage experience, I could feel myself standing back in the hallways at high school. Worrying about what the people walking by me were thinking about me. Worrying that they weren’t thinking about me. It made me able to relate to Hannah, and many of her experiences with bullying. So I can only imagine the impact this show must have on someone currently living that experience. The glimpses of white male privilege were also so true as to be uncomfortable. Is there anything those guys couldn’t get away with? Authenticity is one of the best things going for 13 Reasons Why.
And while seemingly unimportant, the show also calls out rape for what it is – rape. It doesn’t skirt around, hiding behind terms like sexual assault. Rape is rape and a person who rapes someone is a rapist.
While bringing an issue to light and dealing with it correctly are two separate things, and 13 Reasons Why failed on at least one account, I don’t think we can so quickly discount the conversations that are happening just because the show was irresponsible.
What do you think? Are the conversations that are happening because of 13 Reasons Why’s influence more important than the show having gotten everything right? Or do you think the problems outweigh any positive impact derived from conversations about the show?