Let's Talk About '13 Reasons Why'

April 20, 2017

As a disclaimer, I don't intend to reveal any spoilers but I also make no promises.

The Netflix series '13 Reasons Why' has caused quite the stir since its release at the end of March. The response seems to be an even split amongst those cheering it on as a step toward suicide prevention and those claiming that it may act as a trigger for those already susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts. 

One of the first thoughts I had while watching this series was:

Is it possible that this is an accurate depiction of high school? 
If so, how sheltered was I during those four years?

Aside from the fact that the actors are clearly not high school students (see: "'13 Reasons Why' Sophmores vs. Me as a Sophmore"), was '13 Reasons Why' an accurate depiction of what high school is like? Is it possible for high school to be that traumatic? If you told me that it was, in fact, that traumatic, I would have no basis to argue. I am genuinely curious because these kinds of shows make me feel like I had the most sheltered life throughout high school and I guess I'm grateful for it. In thirteen episodes, the series addressed a variety of serious issues that teenagers can/do face in high school: depression, suicide, alcoholism, sexual abuse, bullying, peer pressure... 

Throughout most of the series, I found myself thinking
Isn't Hannah Baker being a bit dramatic?

Hannah was put through hell, but were her peers right when they said that she attracted the bad energy she received? Was Clay wrong to tell her to stop attracting drama and making things about herself?

I initially found myself thinking that she was taking some things too personally/seriously... but soon realized that it wasn't relevant what I thought of her perspective. It doesn't matter what we want to make of someone else's experience, because it isn't our experience. The experiences that a person has are very much real regardless of how valid we deem them to be. This realization seems so obvious in hindsight, and maybe I'm the only d-bag who made this realization so late in life, but it was an important point that I took away from the show. I have known a lot of people like Hannah Baker and, thinking back, I often found myself minimizing or dismissing their issues because I did not personally find them to be valid... a point that I have realized is completely unproductive for those who were often people I appreciated and loved.

Will 'the message' do more harm than good?

One of the main arguments since the release of the series is whether it will prevent suicide or romanticize it. 
I was part of the generation that grew up learning about issues like depression, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse through the original Degrassi High in health class, and I would say that those messages were at least somewhat effective. I didn't have to experience drug abuse myself because I saw what effect it had on the individual and those surrounding them as it was depicted by fictional characters. 

Another argument in response to '13 Reasons Why' is its graphic nature. Little was left to the imagination, especially in the later episodes, when it came to depictions of rape and suicide. To the series' defense, those potentially triggering episodes were prefaced with clear warnings about the shocking content. I initially wished that the creators of the show left out the graphic scenes which often had me looking away and/or physically cringing, but I later came to appreciate the value of how real these experiences are and that we shouldn't be turning away from them. 

I don't stand firmly on one side of the argument or the other, but I can't help but think that this series shouldn't be dismissed and would be more beneficial if it was followed by a discussion. Despite being out of high school for over 10 years, watching '13 Reasons Why' caused me to reflect on a lot of my experiences and what I could have done/can do to be a better human. Even without this series, people should be talking about peer pressure, bullying, and depression especially with those who are more susceptible to facing those issues. I'm not implying that everything can be solved through open communication, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

Lastly, the question that came up time and time again:

Seriously, why the hell did it take Clay so long to get through the tapes?

Image © Penguin Teen 

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