13 Reasons Why is Netflix's most controversial show yet, and for good reason. Yes, I'm one of those people on the bandwagon of "What the hell did I just watch" and "It's so messed up I feel sick to my stomach."
Warning: Spoilers below from 13 Reasons Why. We're getting all up in the twists and turns of this series so don't continue reading unless you're ready to discuss all the feels.
First of all, I want to make it clear that these are my thoughts, and my thoughts alone. You don't have to agree with me. Second, I want start by talking about the good in this show. The acting is on point. On. Point. I love Selena Gomez, and I love that she is getting into producing. I appreciate that despite my feelings about this show it's really digging in deep into those conversations about suicide, bullying, rape and addiction that are difficult to have.
However, I cannot support the message this show sends about suicide. Here are 13 reasons why 13 Reasons Why made my heart hurt... and not in a good way.
Hannah kills herself and then tells all these teenagers why they're responsible for her death as her goodbye letter. Talk about needing counseling for the rest of your life. Not to mention the fact that all the other people heard every single person's dirty laundry. Hannah's actions could have encouraged others to consider suicide. Alex did shoot himself and was left in critical condition at the end. So how does this make Hannah any better than any of the others? (Obviously, this is not including Bryce. Bryce is a whole other story.)
Clay wouldn't throw a rock through Tyler's window, but he's totally OK sharing a naked photo of Tyler and spreading it around the entire school? One, let's not even get into the legality of sharing a nude photo of a minor. Is being involved in the sharing a naked photo of a minor not considered a felony (or three)? Two, watching Tyler cry made me lose all respect for Clay. I'm not saying what Tyler did was right, but in an eye-for-an-eye situation, everyone just ends up blind. Two wrongs don't make a right, people. When this plotline unfolded on the show, I almost stopped watching because I was so disturbed that Clay thought that was appropriate. Also, the show just kind of glossed over it, and Tyler let it go like NBD. Not cool. Really not cool.
My roommate and I couldn't get over the fact that all these teenage kids have tons of tattoos. I remember when a girl at my high school turned 18, she got these flowers on her foot, and it was a big deal because no one had tattoos. Maybe it was just my school. Maybe I'm an old 20-something and behind the times. My high school definitely wasn't this hardcore.
My mother was my lifeline in middle and high school. I've been told I'm an anomaly on this front, but you're going to tell me that none of these kids are close enough to their parents to tell them about the tapes? My mother would have been the first person I told. Yet, it wasn't until the end when all of the kids had listened to the tapes that someone finally cracked.
Hannah's friends turned their backs on her, which was hurtful and neglectful and sadly, happens in every high school across the globe. But instead of spending majority of the time pointing fingers at the kids who bullied Hannah, the show could have focused on how to respond and get help in the midst of bullying. I think, in general, most of the kids on Hannah's tapes were good kids. They weren't trying to hurt Hannah in such an extreme way. That doesn't make their decisions OK, but it also doesn't mean that Hannah's death was their fault. Suicide is complex (which the show did a great job of portraying) but they made it seem like she ran out of options for help. In fact, shouldn't the message be that suicide should never be an option and there are always more resources for help? Sending a message that there is no hope if you don't have friends in high school or the one counselor you see doesn't understand seems dangerous, and it just isn't true.
This movie made Hannah out to be a villain instead of the bullied teen in need of help that she was. Sure, Hannah may have made some mistakes, but no one is one-dimensional either. And while revenge can certainly be something people with suicidal ideation consider, it's not the only reason. Yes, the show is about the serious consequences bullying can have, but glossing over the other very real problems Hannah was likely having sends the wrong message about suicide, which is equally dangerous.
This is never really explained. Was it because he was embarrassed for how she treated him at the party when he kissed her? Did he feel rejected and therefore rejected Hannah? That just doesn't seem like the kind of character Clay is, but maybe he felt because she had rejected him before she died, he couldn't call her his friend? I just don't get this one, but it really bothered me that he told people he wasn't close with her.
I know Tony clarifies in the next episode that he also said everyone was responsible for Hannah's death, but how is telling an emotionally unstable 17-year-old that he's to blame for killing a girl a smart call? Given all the events that happened up to this point, it's no wonder Clay stood on that ledge and considered his next move.
For the first half of the show, the rape crimes were only hinted at. And then shit got real. The show finally began to weave itself together, threading the pieces of the culture at the school with Bryce's ability to take advantage of situations to commit these heinous crimes. While I do see how community support could have stopped Bryce from raping these girls, I also struggle to blame anyone but Bryce, who clearly has a sick, twisted, super-messed-up brain. It's like the show was trying to say teens should be able to recognize the signs of a predator more easily, and that's a fine line to walk.
Yes, we all need to be more loving and available to help our neighbor, but life is messy and complicated and we make mistakes. Heck, when I was a teenager, I was so caught up in myself that I couldn't see past my own hormones to reach out to any of my classmates. Now, as an "emotionally mature" adult, I like to think that I am more empathetic to the people around me, but as a high schooler? Forget about it. I was angst personified. I was a kid. There is no way I would ever put the emotional heaviness of someone else's suicidal thoughts on a teenager. That just seems absolutely crazy to me. And the therapist isn't to blame either. Yes, he could have done more. We should all strive to do more, be better, but that doesn't mean we're always going to recognize the signs we should see. And that doesn't make us bad people.
The rich jock, the popular cheerleader, the moody Goth girl, the smart Asian, the compassionate nerd... I would have hoped that television was past the point of putting anyone in these stereotypical boxes.
I don't need a beautiful bow on my season finales. In fact, I love them with some mystery and lingering questions, but 13 Reasons Why takes loose ends to a whole new level of messed up. So, Justin is turning to vodka for a family, Alex shot himself in the head, Tyler is maybe also planning some kind of super-messed-up shooting, Bryce thinks he's going to get away with rape and the school is still trying to get out of admitting they have a problem. What exactly was I supposed to get out of this show?
The message in this series needed to be bigger than "we should do more to help people." The conversation should be about the fact that suicide doesn't solve anything. It only leaves a trail of hurt in it's wake. I don't begin to try to comprehend her suffering. What she went through was terrible. I repeat — terrible. Please don't mistake these critiques as undermining anything Hannah went through. But her life wasn't worth Bryce's confession. It just wasn't. Nothing that happened because of her tapes justified her decision. Life is more precious than any kind of justice or revenge and that should have been the message communicated to the thousands — heck, maybe millions — of kids who tuned in.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help at 1-800-273-8255.
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