By Quaye Dydasco
The controversial, debate-inducing 13 Reasons Why is making its return on May 18th this spring. It’s no surprise that people on social media and students in school are already buzzing about this show. In April of last year, this series was the talk of the town. Discussions of suicide, bullying, and sexual assault arose amongst students who never paid much mind to it prior and with that, teachers became concerned and parents started to worry. Many parents spoke out about the dangers of this show, and like Newton’s Third Law, their statements met opposing ones with the same passion about how this is exactly what our students need to see. While the morals of this show are up for debate, there is none however in regards to the return of this show. Its impact was profound last spring with its intense somber topics and there is no doubt it will make headlines this year as well.
13 Reasons Why creates a great claim throughout the story that suicide not only affects the deceased but affects everybody that person knew. If you haven’t seen the show or read the novel by Jay Asher, the premise of the show is that a girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide and along with the headlines of her death, she also leaves behind thirteen tapes to all the people who impacted the months before her death. Each tape was dedicated to a specific person who did something that affected her whether it was of harassment, sexual assault, or a backstabbing friend. One by one, as each of the thirteen teens/adults listened to the tapes, talk of Hannah’s suicide insinuates into the school through rumors and gossip. Soon enough, the whole town is haunted by Hannah Baker and the tapes that succeeded her.
The show was put on blast for the overdramatized embodiment of Hannah and her suicide and the lack of mental illness awareness regarding suicide and bullying. There is no doubt that the series told an impactful narrative, but many arguments claimed that suicide is not revenge nor is it a final comeback to those who wronged you. Hannah Baker had terrible occurrences dealt upon her, but this show left young students feeling like this was the girl’s only option that if terrible things happen to you and you feel like you’ve exhausted your options, that suicide is the path you should take. “This show was over-dramatized and at the time I watched it, I wasn’t considering killing myself, but while watching it, I definitely thought about it more,” a fellow student at Beaverton who wishes to remain anonymous reveals her experience with the show. Then again, many teens felt that there were misconceptions about the show. One student said, “A lot of people say it glamorized suicide then that means the book did too, it goes both ways. You can’t degrade the show without degrading the book as well.” With this in mind, many people had strong opinions about this show which lead to discussions in and outside of school about these issues that teens face in their life.
(Photo courtesy of http://www.noisiamofuturo.it).
Did this show change anybody? Did it change anybody instead of just making them feel worse? I don’t think this changed anyone’s perspective on what they would’ve done in real life if they saw a friend who wanted to commit suicide. I don’t blame the show or the book, it’s an incredibly hard question to answer because at the end of the day, how much can one person really do? A person or a community can provide resources and emotional support for a person, but it can only help if someone is able, ready, and wants to be helped. A person who does not want to be helped cannot be helped until they find it within themselves to accept it. That is an aspect of the show that was not touched upon; Hannah Baker had support from Clay, her parents, and her peers (of course, not all of them). However, Hannah Baker didn’t know what to do, she turned to people who couldn’t help her and in the end, felt as if she had run out of options. There is more to the story than people who did Hannah Baker wrong, there is more to Hannah Baker than this suicide which is the only thing she is remembered for. She had a life in and outside of that town that is not expressed in the show and if people could have seen that side of her, the show would have a more meaningful impression on its viewers in terms of what leads to suicide because bullying is an accompaniment to the cause of suicide, not the cause itself.
With the second season approaching, it’s likely to hear the same groaning, the same complaints about the show. “It’s an over-dramatization”, “Suicide isn’t really like that”, but these are all things that the producers and directors expect us to say. It’s like miming, in order for us to understand the message that the producers are trying to get across is to make a huge deal out of a single point – to get viewers to talk and think whether it be good or bad. You know what they say, any publicity is good publicity. Let’s be honest though, those PSA’s that Netflix is going to put before every select intense episode is pointless. Yes, we understand the trauma and seriousness of this episode but with the president we have, how much worse can this show make me feel? Regardless of anybody’s opinion of the show, it is successful and the reason why it’s so successful is that it is a social media frenzy. From young adults to grandparents, everybody has a form of social media nowadays and the platform has a vast range. The discussions that ensue are all the rage and all in all, this show is about raising awareness and the means of getting there is up for interpretation and subject to debate, but it does accomplish that goal. People are passionate about this show and it ranges from “Watch it! It’s such an important show!” to “It’s stupid, the characters are over-dramatized and the story is so much different than the book.”
Should you watch the second season? Well, from previews of the show, it looks to carry the same heavy-weighted topics that it did in the previous season. Last season contained topics of suicide, sexual assault, and bullying while this season will feature the intense psychological effects that the teenagers are dealing with, the rash decisions they make, the brutality of the judicial system, and even a school shooting. 13 Reasons Why makes an effort to stay modern in its issues from school shootings to sexual assault, these topics are difficult to tackle as millions of women came forward during the #MeToo movement and there have already been twenty school shootings from Parkland, Florida to Lexington Park, Maryland. As much as students may disregard it and try to focus on their studies and sports, we live in this world. This world where there’s fear of our school being next and the fear that the people we love could hurt us the most. It’s there, it’s your reality and it’s mine as well, we can’t escape the world we live in through jokes on Saturday Night Live because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t change anything.
This show doesn’t sugarcoat anything and that’s why I think it’s important to watch, it’s hard to watch that’s for sure, it’s intense and heartbreaking, but just because it may be a theatrical version of our reality, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Facing the backlash and caution that this show does, it won’t stop viewers from watching it. Critics will watch it to follow up on their claims from the first season, parents will watch it, teens will watch it, your friends and my friends will all watch it. Whether we like the show or not, it’s a phenomenon, not one show has shown suicide and the effects of it as this show has. It may not have done it in the best or most meaningful way, but the point was to get a message across not to have it clean-cut and served to you on a silver platter. The purpose of 13 Reasons Why was to make an impact on a nation and it did just that.
(Photo courtesy of metro.co.uk).