I recently finished the Netflix original television series “13 Reasons Why”, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m happy because I don’t have to watch any more. I’m free.
13 Reasons took social media by storm with its controversial subject matter. The fictional series follows the aftermath of a high school girl’s suicide. Before she takes her own life, she creates 13 tapes addressed to the 13 people who contributed to making her life miserable. Each episode centers on one of the tapes and the person the tape is addressed to. Hannah, speaking from the dead as the voice on the tapes, serves as the series’ narrator. By the end of the season, the puzzle is complete. We know why she killed herself and who is responsible. We also get to see the perpetrators suffering as a result of what they have done.
Below are my reasons why “13 Reasons Why” left a bad taste in my mouth.
It makes suicide seem like a good idea
Hannah basically gets what she wants with her suicide. We see those who wronged her get their justice as their lives fall apart. Hannah gets to be the voice of authority from beyond, and everyone has to listen to her. The show glorifies suicide by demonstrating how much power you have over people when you take your own life. The quiet, marginalized, person doesn’t have to be powerless forever. Try suicide! That will fix the problem.
Hannah’s ever-present voice on the tapes serves as a misleading notion that she is actually present to experience her justice. The reality is that suicide accomplishes nothing for the person since they won’t be around to reap any of the perceived benefits. Suicide is also presented as the only option Hannah had left. It falsely robs her of any responsibility for her own decision and presents it as an inevitability.
The authority figures are portrayed as morons
There is not a single, competent authority figure on the show. The parents, teachers and guidance counselors all make the worst possible decisions. The most common statement made on the show is “I’ll be here if you need someone to talk to.” No one knows how to get these students to open up and they don’t bother to love them in meaningful, sacrificial ways. The message is clear: No one can understand you, so you can only trust yourself. Don’t reach out to anyone because they will probably let you down.
It makes revenge a good thing
Revenge is a common theme in the series. The tapes are Hannah’s revenge. The main protagonist in the show, Clay, is shown to take his own revenge against those who did Hannah wrong. There isn’t really a falling out for these decisions. They are portrayed as completely justified, and we are made to feel satisfied when Clay keys a persons car, breaks another persons window and humiliates a creepy person publicly. The truth is revenge is destructive and does nothing to bring about actual justice. It only makes all parties miserable.
It is a suicide how-to guide
The final episode shows Hannah’s suicide in excruciating detail – from where and how to cut to how much water to fill your tub with. It is a painful scene to watch and is meant to depict suicide in a gross, unflattering light. To me, it just serves as the perfect guide on how to commit suicide the right way. The decision to include this in a series targeted to high school students is irresponsible.
The writing is terrible
Hannah is portrayed as the most unlucky person in the universe. Each episode shows an escalation of horrible things happening to her. It’s as if the entire world turned against her all at once to destroy her life. In one night, Hannah experiences three completely unrelated, incredibly traumatizing, events. I understand that there are people in the world who go through many traumatic experiences, but the way these happen in the show consecutively and in a short time can be chalked up to bad writing.
The show’s depiction of high school life is also unrealistic. All the common tropes present in 80’s high school movies, like the Breakfast Club, are present here. There is a clear separation between the jocks, geeks, punks, and weirdos, and everyone pretty much stays within their social clique and behaves accordingly. High school is more nuanced than that, and I wish the series brought more realistic issues and experiences to bear so students could relate better. The conversations the characters have with one another are often pointless and circular with no bearing on the plot. That’s just lazy writing. The show fails on its own regardless of the dangerous depiction of suicide and false messages.
I don’t think the writers of 13 Reasons Why had ill intentions. I get what they are trying to do: depict the raw horror of suicide and bring the struggles of young people to light. I like that they tackle the issue of bullying, especially in the online world. However, the way they do this is in the most unrealistic and dangerous way possible, especially when we consider the main demographic: high school students. Even if the intentions are good, the show undermines them by portraying a false reality.