By Aidan O’Leary
Thirteen Reason Why is a new but short series on Netflix with, you guessed it, thirteen episodes. The show is based off of a 2007 novel by Jay Asher but was formed into a series and was executively produced by Selena Gomez just now, in 2017. Thirteen Reasons Why has become the most tweeted about show ever to appear on Netflix because of the opinions and arguments it has created. The show brings on a range of emotions, some scenes are graphic, some scenes make you angry, sad, and some are heartfelt. The heartfelt scenes center around kindness and the sweet roles some characters play. However, since it is mostly a sad show that makes you angry, whatever in the show that happens that can be considered a “kind act” is even more heartwarming. The balance of the show, story, and the range of emotions have created an outburst on Twitter and clearly to many of the shows viewers.
Thirteen Reasons Why is centered around a shy and innocent high school kid named Clay Jensen who returns from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it. The show itself does an oddly weird job of giving the box a type of mysterious look; it is hard to explain. After discovering the box Clay opens it and finds cassette tapes recorded by a girl named Hannah Baker who had recently committed suicide. Hannah happened to be Clay’s crush as well as classmate. On the tapes, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life, and the thirteen reasons are all because of the actions of thirteen people including classmates, friends, and their high school guidance counselor.
The main reasons why Hannah decided to end her life was because of a cruel bully of a classmate named Bryce Walker, her lack of ability to stand up for herself and others in certain circumstances, the blame she put on herself for that, and the others (her friends, former friends and classmates) who merely played a part in hurting her feelings, not helping her out, or neglecting her call for help. However, the main argument I have is that Hannah blamed others for her death, when suicide is a personal choice and she did so in a way that made the suicide seem like the perfect revenge to the people that she claims led her to taking her own life; she also makes others feel guilty for her death where as some such as Bryce Walker deserve it, but he is too cold hearted to even care, so it is almost like no justice is done, but Hannah is able to tell her story to make sure others realize their actions, the truth, and inevitably feel more guilty.
Singer Zara Larsson Tweeted out: “In my opinion it (the show) romanticizes a revenge suicide and it does not bring up mental illness or depression.” This is a great point and it leaves a glaring hole in the show. Hannah experienced and went through some awful things and she did so at a very vulnerable age, she was seventeen, but she was incapable of talking to people about the smallest of problems, and took some things to heart way more than she should have and she showed it, which made her and even bigger target. It was clear to me, before the tape and episode in which Hannah was raped, that she was severely depressed, and was suffering from some type of mental illness even though she was able to put on a smile and seem happy for a majority of the show.
After Larsson sent out that tweet, fans of the show, in particularly Selena Gomez fans, attacked Larsson to the point where she deleted her twitter account. Larsson’s fans then came to her defense by saying Selena’s fans had totally missed the message of the show by doing exactly what the show is asking people not to do like bullying and being unkind to other people. This is just one example of the many arguments this show has created, but it does bring up the point that the main message was to tell people to be kind and to look out for others who are being bullied, that is where I believe the show succeeded, it also succeeded for the simple fact that it is a great watch, there are a lot of emotions, a lot of things that left me guessing, and a powerful message behind it all. However it is such a sensitive topic, bullying, rape, and suicide, that it creates a lot of emotions and with emotions come opinions.
The other main argument or issue I had with the show was how graphic the scene was in which Hannah killed herself. She sat in the bathtub with an old pair of clothes on and slit both of her wrists with a razor she bought at her own parents convenient store. This scene itself could lead to more suicides simply because of the influence behind it. The other problem I have with the scene is that it is not how Hannah killed herself in the book. In the book she killed herself by taking pills. The show changed it to make it way more dramatic, and it worked, that scene was intense and has a lot of people talking. The point I believe people are missing, again, is how much the show avoids the issue of mental illness. It seems to simplify suicide as something that comes simply from bullying and sexual assault. Not only does is simplify suicide but it also seems to glorify suicide by making it seem like killing oneself and leaving behind a note, tape, or a video is the only way to send a message.
Although the shows message may make others want to be nicer, and look out for others more, there can be an argument made that because of the show people who are suffering and who are thinking about suicide may not even try to reach out because of how they saw the people in the show react to Hannah when she tried to. Not only that but the show provides no real resources for those who are struggling, in fact the show ends with a seemingly grieving guidance counselor who failed miserably at doing his job. He, like the others in the show, seemed to think Hannah was dramatic and attention seeking which inevitably perpetuates stereotypes or could influence others to seek similar types of drama and attention, but that is also where the show and how it was directed does a great job. It never goes overboard with Hannah and her drama, and her drama, or I should say problems before the rape were real, but she did have a way of making bigger deals out of things and never did anything about her problems; which is another reason why when looking back and trying to recapture the show it is obvious to think that Hannah did in fact have a mental illness, and obviously she was very depressed and the rape and the negligence after the rape was the final straw for her.
All in all it was a good show but there are holes that need to be filled correctly in order for people to truly understand. Being kind and looking out for others is a great point but the show could have done a much better job examining the mental illness aspect of what was going on with Hannah, and the scene that was substituted from the original book, Hannah’s suicide, did not have to be done, and it could have done a much better job of showing people how to get help, but because it did such a poor job at that, it may increase awareness, awareness in people and awareness in programs to get out there more. In the show, a few times, it was very unenthusiastically mentioned a few times the “posters were being put up around the school” (about suicide prevention) but it could have been a jab at how little is done and how much more seriously this topic should be taken especially with kids in high school and college at vulnerable ages.