(Warning: SPOILERS. Stop reading if you haven’t watched this series and intend to.)
Lots of them.
13 Reasons Why.
Everyone had been buzzing about this show and I admit, I was immediately sucked in and finished the series in just three nights. At first, I praised the show, thinking I gained something from it as a mom, some understanding about how the teenage years work these days.
But the truth is, after I allowed the show to haunt me for two days after completing it, and after I’ve sat with it for over a week now, I now realize that I’m not particularly fond of some of it, and yet, some of it I feel is so necessary to discuss. I’m very torn which means it must be worth discussing. I don’t know that it’s at all helpful for parents or teens to watch… but it does bring up so many fantastic talking points that are so necessary to unpack.
And here are my 9 Reasons Why I think it might, or might not, be a bad idea to watch Hannah Baker’s version of suicide. Here’s what’s right and what’s wrong about it from a novice perspective:
1.) The theme of revenge.
Listen, I am not a suicide expert. I have never been suicidal, thankfully, but I have known a few people that had taken their lives at a very young age; I have been close to suicide professionally as well. And not one of them seemingly did it for revenge alone. They did it because there was so much darkness and hopelessness in their soul. They wanted their pain to end. They felt there was no place in this world for them. But. There was no specific, direct blame implicated.
Based on Hannah’s tapes left for her 13 reasons why she carried out her suicide, she was directly blaming specific incidents, and further more, the individuals behind the incidents, for taking her own life as opposed to the incidents adding to her darkness of depression. I believe those are two very different things. This idea that these 13 people (well, 12 since Justin had 2 tapes) were to blame does not make sense in the grand scheme of an actual act of suicide. It’s about being unable to bear the pain of life any longer for those that commit suicide. Their feelings surrounding certain life shattering events certainly may play into suicidal tendencies, I’m certain, but this message of blame feel dangerous in this series.
A dark, yet somehow cute, endearing way to get a message from beyond the grave using a cassette tape project seems somehow glorifying and intriguing (obviously, to get us to watch), not accurate or preventative. I do not believe a suicidal person would revengefully leave a message of blame, per se.
Suicide is about inner turmoil, it’s about mental health, not revenge alone.
2.) The darkness of depression.
Although I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, I have experienced depression. And it’s so very dark and hallow and isolated. Hannah’s feelings were constantly hurt by her peer interactions, which can certainly contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, but the series seemed to lack that depth and complexity into her soul. It focused far too much on the behaviors of others.
I get it. They were trying to send a message of self-awareness and being kind, but if you want to talk about suicide, you have a responsibility to talk about the dark depression, isolation, and hopelessness that goes hand in hand. It lacked this content. I wanted to see deeper into her. It was left too surface, too shallow.
3.) The graphic nature.
It’s my belief that many suicidal teens watched this show and will now copycat Hannah’s death. The whole scene: the tapes, the razors, the bath…
Suicide does not own a ton of logic because the depression speaks and carries out the act, so suicidal kids might see this as a vehicle, and not exactly as a tool for learning compassion or as a preventative to their own suicide.
It’s my hope that some got the message to be more kind but my fear is that more will use this as a way to send a message within their own execution. Teens just work like that. They’re egocentric. Their mindset is on the now. They don’t see much past tomorrow. And they’re dramatic. I do not think, for one solid second, that it was necessary to see her carry out the act of slicing her wrists and bleeding out.
Why, Netflix, was this at all necessary? If this was to raise suicide awareness, couldn’t it have been assumed? The raw effect had very little bearing on the impact of the message.
4.) Rape culture.
This was a huge theme throughout the series and one of the most crucial talking points for kids and teens. 1 out of 6 women will be raped, or attempted to be raped, in their lifetime. We must talk about it. It’s not getting any better and we actually are getting more desensitized to it. It certainly starts in these tender teenage years.
I believe this series got it mostly right in this realm. I believe the graphic rape scenes were necessary. Rape looks different in many situations. I believe both date rapes in the series show how it’s not as easy as simply saying “no” or fighting back aggressively.
It’s not about the victim, it’s about the rapist. It’s about power. It’s about control. And I believe that was accurately portrayed. The way victims of rape are treated was also accurate. Society loves to immediately victim blame when it comes to rape and we all felt like Hannah lost so much of her soul being in that room during Jessica’s rape and then being raped herself.
I am certain that many that watched this said such things as, “Why did Hannah go to Bryce’s that night if she knew he was a rapist?”, “Why didn’t Hannah fight more during her rape?”, these are important talking points for our kids, important for the directed conversation to be on the rapist, not the victim.
For me, the series could have been based on this rape culture effect alone, without the suicide, and it would have been fabulous. We need to talk about it. We need to talk to our young men about it. We need to make changes, big changes, in this space.
5.) Glorification of the Jocks.
I could write an entire post on my qualms with organized sports, especially male sports, and the adverse effect that it has on our children. So many people praise the positives that come from being “coachable”, and yes, there are some wonderful things that stem from being a part of a team, but one hugely ignored disadvantage is how we glorify these athletes and send them the message from such a young age that if they’re good at this one specific thing, this sport, that their worth immediately increases exponentially. More so than academia, more so than any other activity known to man. They’re paid the most in the professional sector, they’re idolized the most. They can do no wrong, shy of actually being convicted of murder. And it becomes so desirable at such a young age.
Teachers and coaches tend to give athletes special privileges, which is where it begins, where these athletes then don’t have to be as accountable for their actions. Bad grade on a test? Ah, it’s because there was a big game last night. Let’s look past it. Skipped class? Oh, that’s because you have to do some extra batting practice, no worries. All excusable.
This isn’t new. This has been a thing probably since the beginning of time. But does our society see the danger? Do we recognize how it’s contributing to rape culture and violence? We give these boys power when they’re the star of the team, we’re defining their worth by this. When this is the only message they hear, when this is where the importance is focused, this power becomes confusing in a young mind. It becomes too much. That power then tends to be abused by so many. I felt the series did a pretty good job recognizing this but I’m not quite sure that many see this correlation and the danger here.
Bullying is clearly such a hot topic, especially with the horrors of social media’s contribution. The online community has made it brutal to be a teen, more so than it already was. I do not envy our children growing up in a society where they’re constantly looking for a reward when they open their smart phone. How many likes? How many comments? How many followers? So.very.dangerous. to one’s psyche.
It was clear that this was the underlying message of the series. Bullying is bad and terrible and hurtful and damaging.
But I thought they could have done better.
Hannah was well liked, all in all. Even after unfortunate pictures would circulate, Hannah still managed to be in with the “popular” crowd, have boys fawning after her, and had friendships. Many of Hannah’s “reasons” revolved around her sexual reputation, her sexual interactions, her sexual encounters and relationships.
Those that committed suicide when I was young might have been liked by some…but they weren’t noticed by many. They were invisible. Hannah wasn’t invisible. She didn’t shrink down. She never went unnoticed.
Bullying is isolating. Bullying is usually relentless. And bullying doesn’t always have to do with sex. I had a hard time believing Hannah was bullied in the specific sense of the word. She was sexually assaulted and treated unkindly at times, but I don’t know that this series should claim to target bullying. I felt conflicted by the messages.
Hannah’s lack of self awareness bothered me the entire time. She was a victim of a lot of unfortunate circumstances, yes, but she also failed to recognize how she could have owned some responsibility, even within her own suicide. The series gave the ideation that reputation supersedes everything for every single teen in high school. I don’t believe that to be true. And Hannah’s character wanted to fit in, yes, I see that, but she was unapologetic about also being who she was…which was confusing as to how it led her to suicide.
It isn’t lost on me that this might be the aspect of suicide that I just don’t understand, however, Hannah never once mentioned herself in her own demise. She did not seem to be self loathing and I believe that’s an important component of a suicidal person. She seemed to fall more into the stereotype that suicide is a selfish act and that’s definitely problematic if we’re talking about awareness.
8.) Peer pressure.
Peer pressure is still very alive and well, probably more so than ever. Social influences are pressing our kids to grow up much too fast and kids are feeling that pressure to keep up. It’s not just alcohol and drugs anymore. It’s looking a certain way with plump lips, a tiny waist and big boobs at a very young age. It’s having the latest technology and the right hairstyle. It’s so much more than the generation before.
I believe that bullying and peer pressure are easily confused at times and have to be differentiated. However, they are certainly also intertwined at times.
Alex shot himself at the end, which was a bit of a surprise to me and it left me to assume that it was the peer pressure that maxed him out and caused his stress and depression. I believe he was actually the character we should focus on. He was more of the silent bystander of sorts. He was the one that just wanted to fit in, all while being picked on and pressured. I believe he sent the more accurate message of awareness.
I wish you would have done better, Netflix. At the end of the day, I know this was supposed to be entertainment and you had a lot of great components here worthy of some awesome discussions, but where you lacked was the appropriate content to actually bring awareness to suicide and suicide prevention. I think you missed the mark. You did a fabulous job of scaring parents, for sure, and for that, perhaps the goal was achieved. We are aware that teens are scarier than ever before, so thank you. But all in all, I think you failed our teens with an overall conflicting message.
For a far, far better watch with your teens, check out Audrie and Daisy. Real life stories of sexual assault and suicide.
Educate yourself here on suicide statistics.
And for parents, I found this link helpful.