My Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why is Problematic
May 26th, 2018
CONTENT WARNING: mentions suicide and sexual assault
I picked the novel by Jay Asher up from the shelves of a Barnes and Noble when I was twelve because I thought it was cool that, if you run your finger over the “tape” on the cover, it’s bumpy as if it were actual tape – I am 110% the type of person that judges a book by its cover.
I read the book over summer break, and even though the braid-wearing, gappy-toothed twelve-year-old I was at the time didn’t completely understand everything that was going on, I loved it. And when I saw posters for the Netflix series on the subway when I was fourteen, I reread the book in anticipation for it.
When it came out, I loved the show so much, more than I loved the book (gasp!). I loved the acting, I loved how Clay looked almost exactly the way I pictured him when I read the book, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I loved Justin Foley’s face (I mean, who didn’t?). I couldn’t wait for season two to come out.
That was before the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I found out my best friend committed suicide.
When season two came out on May 18th, sitting down to watch it did not cross my mind once. Almost a week later, it still hasn’t, and I know it won’t any time soon. It is, quite simply, something I will never do.
Here are my reasons why.
From the very beginning, 13 Reasons Why is supposed to get people talking about suicide, along with depression, bullying, and sexual assault. It’s supposed to bring awareness to these problems, to try and prevent other people from making the same choice that the protagonist, Hannah Baker, did. Members of the cast even got semicolon tattoos to represent that one’s fight is not the end of their story, but the beginning, which is nice and all, until you remember that the tactics used in the filming of the show were not executed with the best interest of a suicidal person in mind.
There is absolutely no way a survivor of sexual assault or suicide could be comforted by watching someone go through the same exact thing that happened to them. While I’m sure the viewer discretion advised disclaimers that filled the screen for five seconds before the more triggering episodes began were helpful, those scenes were not necessary in making clear how horrible rape and suicide are – two-minute-long clips from a YA television series aren’t going to change the way the world views these things. The creators of the show even went as far as to change the way Hannah ends her life (in the book she swallows pills, but in the series she cuts herself and bleeds to death in her bathtub) to make it more graphic, and there’s a reason why the release of the show is linked to a 26% increase in Google searches for “how to commit suicide.” Those clips should have never been shown on screen the way they were.
That aside, the series also heavily implies that Clay’s love could have saved Hannah. On tape six, side A of the first season, Clay tells Hannah he loves her, to which she responds, “Why didn’t you tell me that when I was alive?”
Putting so much emphasis on the love of a teenage boy directed towards a girl not only downplays everything Hannah was going through, it romanticizes suicide – oh, if only she knew he loved her, everything would be okay.
Lastly, the way the characters react to her death are unrealistic. They are rarely seen grieving over the loss of who she was to them, but are almost always shown reacting to the drama around her death. Hannah’s life is never able to truly end that way. So much is added to the show to ensure it’s dramatic enough to keep viewers coming back for more and makes the producers money that it becomes unrealistic. There are flowers, photos and notes up on her locker, a memorial many schools don’t get to have for the one they lost because it is something that is adamantly discouraged by mental health professionals. Everything lines up for Hannah in such a linear way – there is so much order to everything leading up to her death, the causes and signs are so clear – it doesn’t perfectly translate to suicides that happen in real life. There aren’t always traumatic events that someone can point to and say oh yes, that is one of the causes. There aren’t always signs and cries for help. And there aren’t always tapes from the deceased telling people why.
13 Reasons Why isn’t a terrible show. The conversation they’re trying to start is right, but they’re doing it in all the wrong ways. This article isn’t meant to tell you what to do: if you want to watch it, by all means, watch it. This isn’t meant to be one of the articles rallying for the show to be taken down. It is just trying to bring to light the perspective of the few who actually have experienced suicide, either by someone they loved or their own attempt.
When it comes to subjects that people are uncomfortable talking about, often times it is because the majority of people haven’t experienced it themselves – subjects in 13 Reasons Why included. But there are still some people who have.
Listen to them.