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May 06 2017
by Celia Janes

A Realist's Take on 13 Reasons Why

By Celia Janes - May 06 2017
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Warning: Contains Spoilers

At this point, I’m sure most of you have heard of the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show is based on the teen novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, which consists of thirteen cassette tapes in which a teenage girl named Hannah describes the reasons for her suicide. The show follows the same format as the book, with one tape per episode.  It has been incredibly popular among college students who can relate to the recent stresses of high school.

Recently, the show has been met with a great deal of backlash. Many claim that the show features unrealistic characters, glorifies suicide and has scenes that are much too graphic for television. This show is especially relevant for teenagers and college students who may be suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.  While I agree that the show has some areas it could work on, I believe that it can still help a lot of struggling people and can be used as a tool if it is viewed in the right light.

Some people dislike the characters in the show for being overly awful and unrealistic. Certain people hate Hannah for blaming her suicide on others, and many disapprove of her actions. However, I believe that that is a part of what the show tries to portray: Hannah is not a perfect character. She makes a lot of mistakes, gets involved in situations she knows could be bad, attends parties with people who she knows have hurt her or others and pushes people away, especially Clay, the show’s protagonist. She is hesitant to reach out to those who she knows can help her, like her parents. She is deeply flawed. And many of the mistakes she makes contribute to her suicide. That is a part of the show’s message — Hannah constantly pushes people away, and that contributes to many of her mental health problems. By showing this, the show tries to encourage others to reach out for help and make better decisions. While we should feel sympathy for Hannah and many of the situations she’s been in, we should recognize the mistakes she makes and try to prevent ourselves from repeating them.

Many people also point out that many of the situations or character portrayals are unrealistic. People who have this point of view tend to treat the show as a PSA. However, the show does not claim to be any sort of documentary or non-fiction show. While there are real topics covered, this is still a drama. The plot will move faster than real life. Some events will seem unrealistic. The show is meant to be fast-paced with over-dramatized situations and characters, especially when it comes to the supporting cast. This is a work of fiction and should be treated as such.

The show humanized the people on the tapes in a way that the book didn’t. We get to see the point of view of both Hannah and her peers. It is good to acknowledge that you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life and while certain behavior should never be excused, it can at least be understood.

Another complaint stems from the graphic depictions of rape and suicide. Many claim that it is unsuitable for television. However, no one is forced to watch these scenes as they sit through the show. In episodes with graphic scenes, a warning message is included at the beginning. The show is also rated TV-MA and Netflix recently added a new precaution at the beginning of the series to warn viewers of the show’s serious nature. You will not be forced to watch any scenes that may be triggering. There is a point to including those scenes: you should feel uncomfortable about them. There were scenes I couldn’t even watch. You should understand that these aren’t trivial matters that can be dealt with vaguely. The show wants to capture what these characters went through. And if you feel like you can’t watch these scenes, don’t. That’s OK. You have the option. Either way, the scenes are meant to portray a depth of emotion related to these tragic incidences that is not captured in most media.

This all being said, I believe the show has some problems as well. My greatest concern was the character who defends self-harm by saying that “suicide is for the weak.” This is not true at all. Both self-harm and suicide are serious mental health issues and if you or anyone you know suffers from either, please speak to a trained professional. Also, while I applaud the show for pointing out that it was wrong for the counselor to treat the news of Hannah’s rape trivially, the counselor’s role also may make some feel that no counselor will listen. I understand that this scene had a dramatic element, but there should have been a notice included at the end of this episode that acknowledged that this is a fictional show and there are many counselors who are willing to help you with these issues. The show also should have provided numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other resources for those struggling with these issues. While the show is not a PSA, it still deals with heavy topics and should do its best to support its viewers and try to prevent future suicides.

Finally, I do wish the show had portrayed Hannah’s mental illness better. While watching the show, we can see the path that led to Hannah’s suicide. However, while other people can contribute to a suicide or to depression, external reasons alone are typically not the only cause. Others did not just hurt Hannah. She lost her motivation to live. She suffered from depression and the show should have focused on this more than the lives of those on the tapes.

I do not want to advocate for or against this show. It can be helpful for some but painfully triggering for others. Please don’t watch this show lightly. Know whether you can handle this type of information and graphic portrayals of violence. If you have any doubt about this show, I suggest that you don’t watch it. And if you choose to watch it, please don’t take it too literally. While there are some great elements of truth, this is still a work of fiction. Suicide is not a way to get revenge. It is a decision to end your life and once that decision is made, it can never be undone. Please be cautious when thinking about these issues. And don’t repeat Hannah’s mistakes. Feel free to reach out for help. Here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide.org

Mental Health Crisis Hotlines 

And please remember: you are loved. You are not the only one. You are not alone. You have resources and people who care about you. Your life is worth living.

Lead Image Credit: Netflix

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Celia Janes -

Celia Janes is a sophomore at UCLA. She is majoring in Human Biology and Society with a minor in History. She enjoys running, reading, and watching Netflix. Her favorite classes include Journalism in high school and Italian Film in college. She is involved in Bruin Scouts, Honors Fellows, and HOOLIGAN Theatre. She loves trying new food and exploring LA (especially new hikes) in her free time.

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