Warning for discussions of sensitive material ahead, including suicide and rape.
(You see, Netflix? That’s what you’re supposed to do. Put a trigger warning beforehand.)
Hey, it’s Catherine. Catherine, the Red Lady. That’s right. Don’t adjust your…whatever device you’re reading this on. It’s me, live on the internet. No return engagements, no encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you why 13 Reasons Why is garbage.
I read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher in high school. I knew going in that it was about a girl who commits suicide and then leaves behind a series of cassette tapes (what is this, 1994?) narrating why she killed herself, and why her classmates are to blame.
I wasn’t greatly affected by the book because a), I already knew what was coming, and b) I wasn’t suicidal in high school. Depressed, yes, suicidal, no. I didn’t really think much of the book to be totally honest. It was about Stephanie Meyer level prose. Just milquetoast teen melodrama.
Then about a year and a half ago I learned that that book I read in high school was getting its own Netflix series. And I remember thinking to myself, this could potentially be very bad. Suicide is a touchy subject for most people. That’s not to say there should be a taboo on the subject. I think a certain amount of healthy discussion can actually help prevent suicide. It’s all in how you handle it. The important thing is to show suicidal people the consequences of committing such an act, without glorifying suicide or shaming those who might be contemplating it–as if suicidal people don’t have enough to feel bad about. It can be a tenuous feat, which is why most people don’t even touch it. Between glorification and victim shaming, I’m sad to say that 13 Reasons Why succeeds in doing both.
It’s been roughly 13 months since the first season debuted on Netflix, so I think now is a fitting time to discuss it, especially since a second season is in the making why??? Why would they do this?????.
Everyone’s hot take on 13RW is that it’s suicide glorification…which is true. Hannah Baker leaves a suicide note behind for the express purpose of inflicting guilt on everyone she felt had wronged her. Suicide isn’t about other people. Suicides are singular events. People kill themselves because they truly feel they have nothing to live for. They aren’t thinking about revenge or how sad everyone will be about their deaths as they do the deed. They’re just thinking about how everything will finally stop, and maybe there will finally be peace.
Even though it’s mostly Hannah’s point of view guiding the audience through the flashbacks, it’s a boy named Clay who is the narrator. He was in love with Hannah, and only sees her as this guileless cinnamon roll who was too good, too pure for this world™️. Since the two main points of views come from the victim herself and the guy who was blindingly in love with her, of course Hannah’s death is going to feel romanticized.
But at the same time, 13RW also manages to shame suicidal people as well. It paints suicide victims as pathetic and vengeful, as people just seeking attention. Hannah’s tapes torture the people she talks about on them, and then she ensured those tapes were distributed. Not to her parents, who might be horrified to learn of what their daughter went through in that last year but at least they could make sense of this horrendous tragedy and not wonder forever if it was their fault…but to the people Hannah deemed responsible for her death. The backstabbing friends, the slut-shamers, the rapist, and the dismissive counselor. And also Clay; for some reason Hannah decided to torture him for 10 tapes or so before finally revealing that he wasn’t to blame because he was actually really nice to her. And then there’s the contingency that if the tapes are properly listened to and shared, an ally of Hannah’s was going to make sure the tapes went public. It was very clear that this girl was seeking revenge, not peace.
…oh yeah, and all the obvious ones, like the graphic rape scenes and Hannah slitting her wrists onscreen (in the book, she just takes pills, but I guess that doesn’t have any shock value), but everyone else has already covered that.
Look, I appreciate what Selena Gomez and the creators of this show were trying to do. Suicide and depression are serious topics, especially for teenagers, so they made a show specifically targeted at teens to dissuade them from killing themselves. But like the book, this series didn’t have anything poignant to say on the subject. It was essentially thirteen hours of angst and violence porn that only caused an upsurge in teen suicide rates. I haven’t heard of anyone who was comforted by watching the show–only traumatized or further depressed by it. I don’t know that there’s a positive way to portray suicide…but this definitely isn’t it.
And I beg of you, if you are contemplating suicide, consider this your sign not to. Talk to someone. If there’s not a counselor or someone close to you you can open to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (America): 1-800-273-8255. Or if you’re not American, go look up the hotline for your own country. Because speaking as someone who has been depressed for years and feels as though surviving each day is an uphill battle, believe me when I say: there is always something worth living for. ~TRL
(PS, I wasn’t serious about that “no return engagements” thing, that was just a joke. I’m still going to make posts on here. That is, if I’m still able to if and after Congress repeals net neutrality.)