13 Reasons Why is a controversial three season long Netflix original directed in part by “Tom McCarthy” stirred the pot across the nation. From previews and trailers, what was a seemingly twisted teenage drama at an initial glance panned out to be a much darker and deeper storyline.
The three part series begins succeeding the suicide of key character, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). After experiencing the utter shock from both Hannah’s parents and classmates the story begins to unfold in a rather unexpected manner. Main character Clay Jenson (Dylan Minnette) has a connection with Hannah that is somewhat elusive as it slowly builds throughout the season. He receives a shoebox containing audio cassette tapes recorded by Hannah leading up to her death – relaying a promise to explain why she did what she did and the events leading up to the tragedy.
As the story builds and we gain insight to the devastatingly traumatic events that Hannah withstood leading up to her death, we start to form this empathetic love towards her and a desire to know her more. The show has a way of making us feel deeply connected to the characters as if we are experiencing the events alongside them. The series brings up issues that arise in teens and schools such as struggles with sexual orientation, invasion of privacy and corruption among leaders. But more explicitly revealed to us is a world of graphic rape/nudity, severe bullying, brutal murders and tragedy that all took place among a group of teens within a high school. Aside from the extreme issues portrayed that at times can be hard to view, you still have your standard teenage drama to smooth the surface and allow you to breathe in between scenes.
Now that you have a brief overview of the series “13 Reasons Why” let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about the controversial chatter that flooded the internet, news and radio stations – was this series a solid, light-shedding depiction of issues amongst teens or was it an unjust glorification of suicide? If you were like most people you were swamped with a gluttonous amount of bias information before you had the chance to pop some frigg’n popcorn and make your own observations and opinions (yes, I was a victim of this unfortunate overload of opinions if you were wondering).
I didn’t hear many opinions favoring the idea of the show being a positive depiction of mental health issues and teen bullying but was indeed overwhelmed by the outpouring of shell -shocked parents and teachers along with local news stations extreme opposition to the racy content. Many were completely turned off to the idea of even viewing the series after the word got out about the plot revolving around teen suicide and the graphic depictions of the act. Understandably so, the somewhat disturbing truth behind the matter can be a tough pill to swallow and even harder to view.
The idea of the show somehow glorifying taking your own life was derived from the ongoing scenes of Hannah Baker living a sort of “afterlife” by watching her friends listen to her pre-recorded tapes and re-living her traumatic memories. The show plays this out in such a way that it takes on the look of an “unconventional murder mystery” which translated to some that once you’re dead you can somehow become vindicated by your acts of self-harm by pushing blame on all who harmed you (which unfortunately is not the case). Contrary to some beliefs, once you decide to take your life, you are gone. Not temporarily, not until you’re ready to resurface, but gone forever. Hannah Bakers’ presence lingers to those who were prompted to listen to the tapes In order to hear her truth, feel her pain and in ways seek revenge to those who wronged her. This is where the issues of an unrealistic portrayal of suicide and the afterlife came into play, deifying an act that is permanent and harmful to many more than just the victim.
Now, let’s take a look at the opposition. I’m not sure that there is a positive way to depict the raw truth about mental illness without doing it in such a way to save face”. Sure, the show could have told the story of a severely traumatized, bullied teen that was struggling with negative feelings of self-worth and depression after being violently raped in a more graceful way… But that would defeat the purpose of what the show embodies. Truth. Whether ugly or pretty, tasteful or raw, truth is truth no matter the form it reveals itself in. Though, more graphic than some people prefer the direction that the producers chose to take was not intended to tread lightly on people’s feelings or not offend the highly-offended (heaven forbid). The show was created to provoke emotion and to show things that are hidden in a dark corner and not talked about. The stigma attached to mental illness hinders anyone affected. Though “13 reasons why” offers some added shock value the intention is to allow the stigma to be broken. They decided to show graphic details that are rarely portrayed in order to reveal what these issues truly look like and how they come in all different shapes and forms. Bullying is not just being teased for your weight or your physical appearance – it can be slut-shaming a young girl because she chose not to put out. Depression doesn’t always look “sad or helpless” it can be roaming the halls amongst hundreds of others smiling on the outside but dying on the inside.
This is what the producers of “13 Reasons Why” intended to do. Create thought provoking content that made people see these issues in another light. Recently, the Creator of the show, Brian Yorkey, removed the entire suicide scene from the first season in order to “do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers”. He continued with stating “No one scene is more important than the life of the show, and it’s message that we must take better care of each other”. That’s a good message to take with you.
Regardless of the backlash the show received for the heavy content, if you can get past some graphic, real-life scenes I would rate this show 100 percent binge worthy approved.