“Thirteen Reasons Why” follows a group of 12 high school students as they piece together a story as it is described on a series of cassette tapes left for them by their classmate, Hannah Baker, who has committed suicide. The show follows Clay Jensen’s life as he listens to the tapes while continuing to attend school and try to maintain his stability after realizing that Hannah Baker, his love is never coming back. Many people think this show is necessary to teen development and suicide awareness, and has become a pivotal way in educating youth through television. Jay Asher, the author of the novel 13 Reasons Why, which turned into the Netflix television show, aims to illustrate the point that someone’s actions can have a huge and sometimes very detrimental impact on people’s lives. In my opinion, this show does quite the opposite, instead glorifying and fantasizing suicide as a way to receive attention.
In committing suicide, Hannah Baker ended up receiving everything in death that she was hoping for from the students that she targeted in this tape, such as Clay, Justin Foley, Alex Standall, Jessica Davis, and Bryce Walker, among others. The students feel deep regret, deep sympathy, and the beginnings of a lifelong guilty conscious on what they did that caused Hannah to commit this suicide. The “what if” thought as to what they could have done differently so this tragedy did not have to occur will forever be in their minds, and takes a great affect on their lives. I see this is an inaccurate educational tool, because not any other person is responsible for one’s mental health that would cause them to commit suicide. In addition as you see in the latter part of the series, Alex Standall ends up attempting to take his own life as a result of these cassette tapes and how much guilt they have put on other people.
In an article by USA Today, How ’13 Reasons Why’ gets suicide wrong: Voices, it talks about how the show misleads the viewer into believing that there is always someone else to blame for suicide. This is inaccurate because if someone is ready to commit suicide, they have a mental health issue that goes much deeper than someone bullying them. As Alex Standall states in the show “Well, we ALL killed Hannah Baker”. Since the show does not discuss mental illness at all in an educational way or how someone that is going through what Hannah Baker was internally going through, the show suggests that the way to save someone from suicide is as easy as a friendly gesture, and being kind to one another. This is just not the case, and is sending the absolute wrong message to teenagers everywhere.
As a teenager, it is much harder to process the permanence of death, therefore younger children in middle school and highschool that could potentially be watching this show as a form of “education” do not comprehend the fact that taking one’s life is actually permanent; something they can not take back. As a result of this, suicide in a teenages mind seems like an actual option because they do not realize that they are actually ending their lives as opposed to the possibility of “making a statement” or “searching for attention”.
After the release of 13 Reasons Why, many schools came out with statements to the parents of the students warning them on why they should not allow their children to watch the show. People Magazine, in the article Why Schools Are Warning Parents About Netflix’s Series 13 Reasons Why the National Association of School Psychologist issued a public statement warning parents not to allow their “vulnerable youth” to watch the show. “Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” the statement read. According to the NBC News4 Washington, “Mental health professionals are concerned that adolescents, watching without an adult available to process the themes and their own feelings, could be at an increased risk of self-harm,” the glamorization of suicide is a huge concern.
Here is what should have happened in this show if they wanted to accurately depict suicide:
ReportingOnSuicide.org created recommendations as a guideline for the media on how to safely report on suicide. Research shows us that how suicide is reported has an impact on the public health of society. According to ReportingOnSuicide.org:
- Don’t sensationalize the suicide
- Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one
- Don’t describe the suicide method
- Describe the suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself” rather than “committed suicide”
- Don’t glamorize suicide
If you watch this show, you realize they did ALL OF THIS WRONG!
Along with the suicide aspect, it justifies many of the character’s actions, because by hiding behind the tapes even when they know what is on them proves to teenagers that doing something bad and not telling anyone about it means that it is okay, even if the action was illegal. If no one finds out, it is okay in these teenagers minds, sending the wrong message to viewers everywhere. Take for example Bryce. He raped not only Jessica but also Hannah, and every other student that has heard this tape knows that Bryce is a rapist, however continues to stay friends with him. They are all selfish in the way that they are so worried about themselves that they would rather not incriminate a rapist who has affected one girl so much that it drives her to suicide. Who knows how many other girls Bryce has raped that have stayed silent, or how many girls he will continue to target in the future.
This show does not do a good job at explaining what rape is and pretty much brushes off the fact that by Jessica and Hannah not saying “no” they were “agreeing to have sex.” If this is a show that is so necessary for teenagers everywhere, it should show the consequences of what a rapist should face, and how horrible of a crime this really is, whether alcohol was involved or not. It should also educate victims of sexual assault on how to tell their parents and peers, and ways to cope with being a victim of sexual assault.
This can all easily be incorporated into the show without making it seem as if it is a public service announcement. Talking about an issue as strong and societally relevant as sexual assault or suicide but then brushing it off and not giving any insight on how to deal with it is what makes this show the opposite of educational. The power that Hannah has received as a result of her suicide depicts to teenagers that suicide could solve their problem and make people realize what they were not able to tell them in person. If anything, I would suggest that in high schools, teachers could show clips from this show and have discussions about it, making it seem more real life when talking about such issues as these.