13 Reasons Why is making waves at a seismic level, but the impact is a source of debate. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, I’m talking about a show adapted from Jay Asher’s 2007 novel that has aired on Netflix. It covers the story of teen girl, Hannah Baker, whose experiences with thirteen different people drive her to take her own life. Before her suicide, she creates tapes that describe these experiences and instructs for them to be passed to each of the thirteen individuals.
Does the Show Glorify Suicide?
Not surprisingly, the main controversy of the show is the effect it could have on adolescents who already have suicidal tendencies. If you browse social media or even turn on the radio in your car, then you’ve most likely heard something about the topic. Recently, the National Association of School Psychologists have expressed their concern that vulnerable individuals that watch the show will “romanticize” actions taken by the characters. More disturbingly, they also have this to say:
“Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
This is only kind of a spoiler (and there might a couple more minor ones) since Hannah’s fate is already known, but she does commit suicide on the show and it is graphic. So it’s easy to see why people are up in arms about the effect this could have on our youth with suicidal tendencies, but the show is so much more than just that horrific scene. Yes, it’s very hard to swallow all the terrible things that happen to Hannah as well as other students in the show, but that’s because it’s all so real. Even if you’re well out of high school (as I am), 13 Reasons Why does an exceptional job of transporting you right back there. Most of us are probably lucky enough to have experienced some of the good parts as well as the bad. Things like making a new friend helps offset the feeling of being bullied in the hallways. Being asked to the dance goes a long way after being ridiculed about your weight. In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker is an unfortunate target for too much of the bad and not enough of the good. The tapes she leaves behind expose issues like bullying, slut shaming, and sexual assault. I’m not saying this show is for everyone, and watching something so real and relevant to their lives is bound to affect a teenager one way or another. It’s distressing to think that the show could cause a teen to do something drastic and terrible, but browsing through the Twitter page for 13 Reasons Why will show you that plenty of them have been positively impacted by it. And not just teenagers, of course. You’re never too old to learn that even small actions you take may have catastrophic results. After all, the whole lesson of the show is that the combined actions of thirteen people led to Hannah’s terrible decision.
The High School Experience for Most Girls is Not Good
Not to take away from what is surely the main point, but 13 Reasons Why also sheds some serious light on what girls go through in high school. We watch as Hannah and other girls are time and time again objectified and humiliated. Early on, a picture of Hannah going down a slide in a skirt is floated around her school by her first kiss. Later, a list is passed along that designates a girl for the best and worst…attributes? I put it as a question because, obviously, qualities like a girl’s ass, lips, breasts or willingness to “put out” really shouldn’t be used to define her as happened on the list. Yet both genders are taught early on that these qualities are what’s important. It’s disturbing to watch in the show as girls scrutinize and slut shame each other right alongside the boys. Stomping on another girl’s feelings is totally worth it and can score you points with the “in” crowd, right? And, of course, that crowd includes the revered jocks of any high school, which brings to mind a very relevant quote from 13 Reasons Why.
“You try going to school with a bunch of Neanderthals who are told that they are the only thing of value and that the rest of us are merely here to cheer them on and provide them with whatever support they need.”
This is a line said by Hannah’s friend who had moved away early in the season, who also happens to be a cheerleader rooting for those very “Neanderthals.” She completely recognizes that the whole system is bogus but is clearly still pressured by it. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of system where girls don’t have much of shot and just don’t matter as much. It’s also where the Bryce Walker’s of the world will thrive, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to live in a world where entitled rich boys that rape girls rule. How many Hannah Baker’s are out there facing that exact scenario? Hey, this isn’t just limited to females either. Plenty of the male characters from 13 Reasons Why, including Clay and Alex, also struggle in such a scenario.
I truly feel that the show has a lot to offer to teens, parents, and anyone really, but there is no denying that it is traumatic to watch. The concern that certain people are not equipped to handle watching it is definitely justifiable, but the experience that everyone else may get could be beneficial to our general community. Personally, suicide is much more of a reality for me after watching it, and the scene where Hannah actually commits the act was a very rude awakening. While part of me wishes I could unsee it, watching her go through with it in spite of the pain and the terror she was feeling had such an impact. I would like to think even someone considering taking their own life would take away from the show that there is someone out there that cares about them and that suicide only transfers their pain to those around them. That may not be the case, though, and it’s not for anyone else to say how this show may impact another. A line from the “Yoda” of 13 Reasons Why wraps this up pretty well.
“You never really know what’s gonna hit how. You really don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life.”