After seeing a lot of controversy surrounding the 13 Reasons Why series (released on Netflix last month), I have been meaning to watch the series myself and write about my reaction to the show. I finished the last episode and additional epilogue episode a few days ago, and since then have been trying to formulate an eloquent response to it… but it’s hard.
If you didn’t know, 13 Reasons Why is originally a novel by Jay Asher. I read the book in middle school, and at the time, I remember feeling uncomfortable… I remember feeling like the story was a little too intense and dark for my 13-year-old mind. Yet, I finished it anyway. This discomfort was still present as I watched it as a 19-year-old, college-educated me over the past few weeks. The point is, suicide is not an easy or comfortable topic to face. However, it is necessary to have conversations about it. This is the basis for my argument that 13 Reasons Why is a powerful catalyst for those dialogues to happen.
The novel/TV show is a cautionary tale about suicide, showing young people the consequences of suicide and the importance of looking out for others who may be struggling mentally. Two of the biggest criticisms of the show that I’ve read in other reviews are its negative representation of guidance counselors and the glorification of suicide. I completely agree that Mr. Porter (the guidance counselor in 13RW) is not presented as a professional and should not be taken as a holistic representation of guidance counselors. However, I disagree that Hannah’s death in this tale is presented as a heroic or romantic act. I interpreted her death as a tragedy- a devastation to her family and the people who cared for her. Although Hannah’s suicide sparks a big lesson within many of her classmates, it is not a glamorous act. If you watch the series, I highly encourage you to to view the epilogue episode where the producers, consultants, and actors discuss the show and the intent behind it. The executive producers, while consulting with professional psychologists and counselors through the process, put extreme care and attention to detail in re-constructing Asher’s story. The epilogue made me think deeply about the implications of 13RW, and really brought its message full circle. Also, if you happen to be parent or guardian of a youngster interested in watching the show (like my 13-year-old self), I encourage you to watch the show with your child rather than allowing them to dive into it alone. I have a young cousin who said that the show was too much for her and, like my younger self, wasn’t ready for it. The more graphic episodes that feature difficult scenes (rape and suicide) include trigger warnings at the beginning.
I think that the overarching take-a-way from 13 Reasons Why is the value in looking out for others, being an upstander, and taking the initiative to help someone who you think may be struggling. It can simply start with a “how are you?” to show someone you care and that they are not alone. Although suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges, it is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and should not be pushed aside. I think 13 Reasons Why gave this issue a voice in a unique medium where suicide not usually addressed.
Lastly, if you are struggling or know someone who is, please know that you are not alone. Visit 13reasonswhy.info if you are in need of help.