‘13 Reasons Why’ Isn’t As Revolutionary As You Think It Is.
Why the Netflix series does more harm than good for its intended audience.
I’m a huge fan of crappy teen movies and shows. I can stomach the bad writing, shaky plots and corny dialogue that are a staple of the genre because I don’t expect anything more, I’m not waiting to be taught some huge lesson or hoping that the show will educate me on topics of importance. I’ve given up expecting that shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale or Gossip Girl have any substance to them at all. However, 13 Reasons Why was the one show I had hope for.
I had never read the book that 13 Reasons Why is based on, but I was aware of the story from a friend of mine who loved it. I was told about Hannah, how she was treated and how that ultimately led her to commit suicide via pills. At the time I avoided reading the book due to the topic of suicide being central to it, because I have depression and media such as this usually ends up triggering that one symptom I don’t need awakened.
Fast forward to 2017, we got the 13 Reasons Why adaptation from Netflix, with Selena Gomez as the producer. Before the show had aired, we had seen videos of the cast speaking about how important this show was and how it was something meant to help suicidal teens or teens who have been sexually assaulted. With that in mind, I thought that this show if anything would understand how to tackle mental illness and sexual assault. That it would aim to help the victims instead of dramatizing the events that took place.
I watched from the first episode up until the ninth and I was in shock. Hannah had witnessed her friend being assaulted whilst she was passed out. I was surprised but I thought the show would have Hannah tell Jessica what had happened, both because they were friends and because it was the right thing to do nonetheless. The show was supposed to be good with tackling these issues, it was marketed as a sort of “PSA”, so I expected it would actually show what kids should do in a similar situation. Yet, instead of telling Jessica the truth, Hannah recorded the events that transpired on a cassette for a bunch of people to listen to. Jessica had to find out that she was assaulted in that way and somehow we’re supposed to not hate Hannah for it? If the show went out of their way to say that what she had done was wrong I’d get why they did it, but they didn’t. It’s framed as if that was her last resort when we all know that it wasn’t.
Alongside that, we witness Hannah killing herself. I was under the impression that Hannah overdoses on pills and, again due to how the show was presenting itself, I assumed that it would be done in a way that was both tactful and respectful. Yet, for shock factor I assume, they had Hannah slit her wrists in a bathtub and showed her actions in close, morbid detail. The argument that people made in defense of this change is that, “well, in order for people to understand how serious suicide is, [the audience] must see how gory it is”. That’s not only untrue — there are many ways to convey the gravity and horror of suicide without leaning into morbidity — but it’s also extremely irresponsible.
If this show really were trying to help suicidal people, it wouldn’t have shown a scene that risks triggering a suicidal episode or setting off a copycat suicide. ReportingOnSuicide.org states that there are many do’s and don’ts of showing and reporting on suicide within media and they explicitly say: do not include photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials, or funerals. Why? Because, ‘risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death’. Suicide Contagion, or “Copycat Suicide”, occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.
But if all of this happens in the first season, why am I only talking about this now? Well, yesterday I saw something that pissed me off. I learned that 13 Reasons Why had brought Hannah back as a Ghost in order to still use her suicide as part of the plot. What’s worse is, I learned that the season 2 finale graphically shows a boy being brutally sexually assaulted in order to set up season 3. Yep, you heard that right! They used sexual assault as a plot device.
Now, I was gonna just let it be and rant on my twitter about the show because, at this point, we all know it’s bad. But, whilst searching up reviews, I came across this video:
It seems as if our friends from 13 Reasons Why are still attempting to use this show as PSA. (@ Selena Gomez, How Many Times Do We Have To Teach You This Lesson, Old Woman?) You cannot both use your show as a PSA for victims of sexual assault and people who suffer from mental illness and suicidal tendencies whilst dramatising, romanticising and using both as lazy plot devices. You’re still basically saying: Hey, so this show is something that should help people going through those issues, but we won’t take care to not retraumatize them! Instead we’ll be even more graphic this time round!
So far, 13 Reasons Why has shown three instances of graphic sexual assault (Hannah, Jessica and Tyler) and a graphic suicide scene. Every time, the victims were pretty much left powerless, were gaslit by the people supposed to help them, were repeatedly retraumatized, and were never offered any real help or justice. There were no examples of what they could’ve done in their circumstances in order to heal or seek justice, but instead they were used for shock value and to move the plot along. Hannah should’ve been given a chance to speak about what had occured with someone she viewed as a friend, should’ve been offered some sort of therapy for the depression she was facing. The counselor was the only mental health professional in the show, and his awful portrayal only discourages mentally ill viewers from seeking help. 13 Reasons Why should show the teens watching that there is a way out of depression, that there are alternatives to suicide, and that there are people who are willing to help if one reaches out. Instead, it simply sets up an issue and shows the worst of it in the most gruesome way possible, never offering any resolution, only to go on about how much this show saves lives.
As said in this USA Today review: “The new season tries to make a point about rape culture, slut shaming and sexual harassment, but its depiction of these complex topics has all the subtlety of a sledge hammer.”
Edited By: Andrea Merodeadora