“Welcome to your tape” sounds comforting to the naïve ear, but for the characters in this show it marks the beginning of trouble, anxiety, and fear. In a show that glorifies the tragic topic of suicide, it’s dangerous food for thought to the exact people they are trying to touch with their story.
’13 Reasons Why’ is a television series based on the 2007 novel of the same name. The show follows the aftermath of high school student Hannah Baker’s (played by Katherine Langford) suicide as the people she leaves behind are each left with 13 tapes, each tape explaining a different reason why she killed herself. Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) is the main focus of the aftermath as he was Hannah’s closest friend and love interest. I believe this show ultimately had good intentions but several things really bothered me:
- THERE WAS A LOT OF GOOD IN HER LIFE
Hannah had a happy and healthy relationship with her family. She lived in a nice house with two parents who love each other and love her. Additionally, she is an only child and thus receives all of her parents’ love. In one scene her parents buy her a brand new car so she has a nice ride to the school dance. The show really focuses on her grieving parents, specifically her mother, Olivia (played by Kate Walsh). Her mother takes responsibility for her daughter’s suicide, feeling like she should have noticed the signs. Hannah’s complete disregard for her parents’ feelings really upset me.
- SENSATIONALIZING SUICIDE IS SICKENING
The show is too graphic for the subject matter and audience they are trying to reach. Several episodes depict graphic and gruesome scenes that have potential to be traumatic to some. Keep in mind this show is attracting high school students and young adults, many of whom may have personally experienced situations/feelings similar to Hannah or who have been in Clay’s position, trying to deal with the loss of a friend who has committed suicide. Showing these suggestive scenes has great potential to stir negative emotions.
- CONFUSING SCENE CHANGES
The show is often difficult to follow as it switches between present and the past with no warning or explanation. I often found myself quickly rewinding to try to catch the switch between past and present to avoid confusion. As there’s already a lot of plot lines and action in the show, the subtle switches in time do not make it any easier to follow.
- NO APOLOGIES FROM HANNAH
Hannah’s tapes do not have (sincere) apologies or words of love to anyone. This makes me feel as if she doesn’t really care about anyone, not even those who truly do love her, like her parents or Clay. She felt as if she wasn’t loved and then makes others feel the same way. Her actions are antithetical to the message she should have been trying to emit.
- DEAD SET ON REVENGE
In addition to not showing any signs of remorse or love before she dies, the words she does leave behind are words of hate. Her main goal on the tapes is to make those who “wronged” her feel the same pain she felt. For someone who committed suicide because of how others treated her, it bothers me that her posthumous wish is that others suffer. I think that sends a horrible message to those who have felt/feel like Hannah did. It sends a message to hurt others how they hurt you.
- NO SYMPATHY FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND
In several points throughout the series, those who try to set up memorials or mourn Hannah’s death are looked down upon as people who don’t deserve to mourn because they “didn’t know her that well”. I understand the anger felt after a suicide but people should not be shunned for trying to bring together grieving students at a time of great loss. This sense of togetherness could potentially save others from falling into the same depression as Hannah.
- INTENT TO INFLICT SUFFERING
Hannah’s maliciousness in her tapes is one problem. Another problem altogether is how many tapes she had, how she made people spend so much time listening anxiously to hear what they did wrong, how they betrayed her. The way she makes her peers and friends suffer is upsetting. She sends them on a scavenger hunt to solve the mystery of her suicide without realizing or caring that this would be devastating for them.
- IGNORANCE TO BIGGER ISSUES
There are many reasons a person may be driven to suicide. And, like Hannah’s suicide, many people choose a premature exit to life because of bullying, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, etc. While ’13 Reasons Why’ covers many of these topics, it doesn’t cover the most dominant part of suicide – mental illness. Sadly, the choice to ignore this aspect of suicide is, in my eyes, the most detrimental mistake that could be made. Addressing the topic of mental illness more in depth is what could be beneficial to those who watch this show. But, instead, it’s ignored.
- LITTLE EFFORT TO HELP HERSELF
Hannah did have misfortune fall on her, often in her teenage life but there were many things she misinterpreted or chose to not further pursue to find answers. Additionally, she doesn’t really ask for help. At one point she goes to her school counselor, but this is not someone who knows her well. She had several people in her life that would have done anything to help her: Clay, her parents, etc. Getting help is easier said than done but it upset me that she didn’t try harder to get help.
- SIMPLIFICATION OF ISSUES ADDRESSED
’13 Reasons Why’ is trying to send a good message but it’s more complex than what lies above the surface. The message here is that kindness can save lives; however, suicide and the mental illnesses associated are much more complex than that. This again ties into the fact that the show chose to essentially ignore the mental illness aspect of suicide.
- FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE SUCCESSFULLY
Netflix is watched by many different audiences, age groups, etc. and in great magnitude. They were presented with the perfect opportunity to raise awareness that affects people everywhere in one way or another. I feel as if they were self-destructive in the release of this series. They sent the wrong message to a massive audience on a very important topic.
- DRAMA OVERSHADOWS ACTUAL PROBLEM
Another grievance I have with the tapes is that it allows Hannah’s suicide to be broadcasted long after she’s gone. Those listening to the tapes become transfixed by them and often lose focus of what has really happened; Hannah’s suicide. The tapes aren’t full of good memories or heartfelt goodbyes and, for that reason, her suicide is pushed aside for the drama and mystery that the tapes bring.
- SUICIDE IS NOT COOL
Hannah’s tapes make her suicide seem like a show (no irony intended). She teases the listeners of the tapes as she drags them through her life. She makes jokes when nothing about this is funny. It’s as if she wants the power and is using death as her means to the throne. It’s not that simple and it’s not that cool.
’13 Reasons Why’ perpetuates the idea that suicide’s causes and resolutions are simple. They are, in no way, simple. The glorification and glamorization of suicide in this show disgusts me, as does Hannah’s prerogative with hurting others. Those who have been in Hannah’s position, or Clay’s position, or the position of her parents’ should not watch this show. The topics are addressed incorrectly and a good opportunity to send a message to a mass audience was wasted.