I binged it in two days. One night, I just didn't even bother to sleep. Whenever you have sensitive topics such as suicide and rape, told by teenagers, its bound to be coated in layers of controversy. I see schools putting up trigger signs and warning parents. I see people criticizing the subject matter and the way it was portrayed. I haven't read Jay Asher's book. I've seen it on Goodreads and Amazon with excellent reviews, but my interest in Young Adult genre at the time was specific to medieval fantasy, science fiction & dystopia. I guess I just wasn't attracted to real-life, sensitive topics. With all that said, I'm no longer interested in just...escaping.
The buzz over 13 Reasons Why is REAL. I can't remember last time I saw something that was on exact same spectrum of love & hate. And I'm right there with it: I love it...and I hate it at the same time.
If you haven't seen the show, beware: this post will be spoiler heavy.
Before I express my thoughts on a show about suicide, here are some real facts about suicide:
*38,000 people die of suicide every year in US.
*Depression is the leading cause.
*80 to 90% of people who sought treatment are treated successfully. (This number is HUGE and telling of how important mental health and available resources are.)
*More males commit suicide while more females experience suicidal thoughts and episodes.
*Its a THIRD leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24. (This is terrifying to me.)
There are more facts and numbers out there for you to research. I wanna dig into the show itself. More often than not, when someone commits suicide, the big question is WHY. Why would someone do that? What drove them to that? Why? Why? What were the signs? Why? 13 Reasons Why gives you just that. And I think its what shocked the people the most. You can always speculate, judge, make guesses, assume...never really know what exactly happened. Hannah Baker tells you: here are 13 reasons that drove me to that bathtub. Do not for ONE second think that the subject matter is watered down and diluted for "sensitive" eyes and minds. Hannah slitting her wrists was by far one of the most disturbing, heart wrenching things I ever watched. I caught myself looking away because its so graphic and devastating. That doesn't even include the emotional and physical abuse, rape, slutshaming, bullying, drug & alcohol abuse, poverty, homelessness, male privilege, internalized misogyny, sports worship over human beings, parental ignorance ("my special, perfect snowflake could never do such thing" - kind of bullshit), cyber bullying, etc. 13 Reasons Why covers all those bases.
On the surface (and maybe the main reason I "hate" the show) its just that its too simple. Boys are mean to the pretty white girl and she can't have any friends since she's so pretty, other girls ignore her. So she kills herself. Please bare with me for a moment.
Personally, I know what depression feels like. I know how badly it can alter your world view and how it can make you feel hopeless, lonely, isolated and worthless. I've been there and for a long time too. High school was a living nightmare for me. But a quiet sort of nightmare. Right at the brink of technological evolution, my high school generation was probably the last one that was cell phone free. My misery ended the moment I left that godforsaken property. Teenagers today don't stand a chance. Bullying does not end with exiting the school property. The world is brutal and it will do whatever it can to rip you to pieces. As much as I love technology, I see the deadly side of it as well, so yes younglings of today: I empathize and sympathize with you more than you can image. And no, I will not dwell into the specifics of my youth and every factor that plagued it. Just know that I was too invisible to be harassed...and please take that with a grain of salt.
I do think 13 Reasons Why is not complex enough.
The issue of rape, suicide, depression and bullying is not to be taken and treated lightly. But maybe its not meant to be in this case. Maybe it is supposed to represent teenage fragility and cruelty down to its most basic definitions. After all, its from a POV of a teenager. I'm not saying teenagers are not complex creatures (quite opposite) but in terms of storytelling, it would be unrealistic to expect teenage mind frame on an adult level. That was one of the main issues I have with writers like John Green. His teenagers are 40 year old wise men. I don't believe in them or that they exist. I do, however, believe in girls like Hannah, Jessica, Courtney and boys like Clay, Alex and Bryce. While the show lacks complexity, it makes up for it with very cruel and real reality: Bullying was and IS attributed to suicide.
For Hannah, it wasn't just slam to the locker room, dunk your head in the toilet - your corny cartoon type of bullying. She was sexually harassed, slutshamed, abused emotionally and brutally raped.
Is the show triggering? Potentially yes. I do feel like it made light of Hannah's tapes. I think that a suicidal person might follow this step and take the tapes to heart. Because the focus wasn't so much Hannah's mental health, but rather "This is all your faults" (which, don't get me wrong, it most certainly was) too many teens contemplate suicide out of "I'll kill myself, that'll show em!" reasons and that is problematic as fuck. I got the vibe that if you leave tapes or notes behind, people you left behind would come together in a kumbaya everyone-hold-their-hands and realize how much they've grown from someones suicide. Its bullshit. Its no longer Hannah's story, but a story of Clay - average, shy, awkward boy finally learns how to express himself. When he approached Sky in the conclusion of the story, I got the "white savior" vibe from the whole scene. Am I supposed to forget Hannah and her dead body in a tub? Motherfucker no. I feel like the balance shifted away from her, from her mental health...from her ordeal into super cheesy drive off to sunset category and rest of the teens.
I 101% agree that parents & teens really need to approach this show with an open mind and extreme caution. Its powerful story telling but its also very triggering. Some of the suicide parts may be glamorized - such as the mix of Hannah's blood with water in the tub, the way it spilled. That image CAN be construed as romantic. But then its followed by the mind and body numbing pain and her parents finding her. That anguish took breath from my lungs while watching. I've never seen anything more devastating than that particular scene.
Yes, 13 Reasons Why is FULL of flaws. Number one being the oversimplification of a complex issue. Second, the triggering aspects behind the tapes and her motivations. Third, the romantic imagery of some of the darkest moments and fourth, slew of minor characters whose overall character development was either non existent or so minor, it contributed truly nothing to the overall story. Why have them there in the first place? Why waste time?
But it also has some truly valuable lessons to be learned. When I was done with it I told my husband how important words are. How you NEVER know what's going on with someone and just how little can it take to push them over the edge. I mean, this is not something new. Don't be a fucking asshole to people - its really that simple. Also, if it took a problematic show on television for you to realize that: you are the problem and its time to re-evaluate because WORDS MATTER. Whatever you might think of 13 Reasons Why, one thing is certain: We are finally having a conversation about suicide & mental health.
To find a support group, visit this website
Not ready or unable to attend a support group in person? Consider these online support groups:
If you are a victim of sexual assault, please visit RAINN website for all the resources.
If you are a victim of bullying, please call the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide is never ever ever evvvvvvvver an answer. NEVER. Please seek help. Someone out there cares for you.