13 Reasons Why: Yay or Nay
By Jay Marburger
It’s the most tweeted about show of 2017 (according to Twitter data exclusively obtained by Variety, a popular entertainment source online). In the social media world, that’s a really big deal. Film critics haven’t been left behind too. IMDb, the largest, most comprehensive movie database on the Web, gave it a rating of 8.6/10…which isn’t half bad at all.
What is the story in 13 Reasons Why?
A teenager, Clay Jensen played by Dylan Minnette, finds a box of tapes on his porch and in it he finds some cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who was his classmate and committed suicide some two weeks earlier. On these tapes she explains the thirteen reasons why she decided to take her life. It’s anyone’s guess why this show has tongues wagging as much as it does.
Hannah Baker’s recordings are emotional. There are issues on bullying, sexual assault, and perhaps the most disturbing issue of all is the depression that led to an act of suicide, a mental health concern. In an episode of the first season, Hannah Baker’s suicide is shown to the audience…a move that has elicited reactions from many, both negative and positive.
One argument against has to do with the vulnerability of the target audience intended for 13 Reasons Why; teenagers. Would a graphic portrayal of a suicide be beneficial to this audience that can be quite impressionable? Would it cause them to think against suicide, or would they look at it as a viable option out when they are hurting?
One of the writers of the show, Nic Sheff, has a different opinion. Himself a suicide survivor, he says he thought not showing the suicide in all its brutal honesty would be irresponsible. With reference to his own suicide attempt, it was the details of another suicide survivor’s details of her own attempt that gave him the motivation to not give up and remain alive. We cannot deny there is some truth in sometimes painting the picture as it really is for a better informed interpretation of a situation.
Did you ever watch the Passion of the Christ? Do you remember the awfully graphic scenes of Christ being whipped, tortured and being nailed to a cross? Did it add power to the story, or should it have been dialed down a notch or two? Did seeing how painful His experience was help you appreciate the meaning His sacrifice for us?
I know of someone very close to me who has struggled with mental health issues, up to the point of suicidal attempts. I have seen the struggles she goes through, the intense moments of hopelessness and the defeated attitude and posture she will often adopt. One thing I do know is, for many, suicide is usually a desperate attempt to not feel pain any more. Emotional pain can be so intense, it borders on paralyzing for some. She’s watched the series, and I was curious about her opinion. Did 13 Reasons Why resonate with her at all, and what did she feel about the message?
She identified with Hannah, in some ways; more so, on feeling pain so intense and not knowing how to share it, or have it understood leading to a state of depression. Having carried out suicide attempts in the past, she was able to identify with Hannah in those last moments before she took her life. The tears, the visible pain and the drama and ceremony of that entire experience. It’s raw, and real. And very very sobering.
13 Reasons Why told someone else’s story…but it could have been hers. Mental health is not those topics that are talked about from the top of the hill, but rather, behind closed doors with very hushed tones. The stigma faced by people struggling with mental health issues is unfortunate as many have felt safer to battle within, and sadly, many have succumbed.
While I can see the truth in being responsible over content that has potential to influence thought patterns, I also see the relevance of showing things as they really are. When Netflix first launched the show, it did not have any warnings encouraging viewers who may be struggling with mental health issues to seek for help. With the outcry from members of the public and some mental health institutions, they now have added advisories including a warning at the beginning of the first episode of the show. Is this enough however?
I do appreciate the production of the show itself. The actors do a good job of depicting their characters. The storyline is interesting to follow, as sad as it’s contents may be. I personally appreciated the choice of tracks used throughout the show.
Aesthetics aside though, I do appreciate that it has brought up all this conversation concerning mental health. I also do recognize the need for responsible filming. It’s not enough to produce a show that has addressed an issue as deep as mental health without some sort of call to action, specifically towards finding healing and spreading hope.
Perhaps in demonizing the show itself though, we should ask ourselves if this show is the problem, or the conversations it is forcing us to have. Are there other ways to depict mental health issues on film without glamorizing it, or causing a contagion effect? Or do we really need to start talking about the real reasons such a show is causing such reactions; perhaps there are underlying issues we never talk about, and 13 Reasons Why gave many that chance.
Feedback? Comments? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts if you’ve watched the show.