13 (Minus 3) Reasons Why Not: A Review

“And I so hate consequences
And running from you is what my best defense is
Consequences
Oh God, don’t make me face up to this
And I so hate consequences
And running from you is what my best defense is
Cause I know that I let you down
And I don’t want to deal with that.”

I So Hate Consequences by Relient K

If any song would have served as an appropriate theme song, Relient K’s song would have been the best. This is a show about seeking to avoid the consequences of one’s action or inaction. Netflix recently put out a show entitled “13 Reasons Why.” Based off a book of the same name, the series follows a teenage boy who receives a series of tapes from a girl who committed suicide. Each tape lists the ’13 reasons why’ she committed suicide. Obviously, because I will be talking about the show ’13 Reasons Why,’ there will indeed be spoilers. That is my warning, though part of my reason for reviewing the show is to explain why I don’t think people should watch the show. Due to the nature of the show, some of the following reasons address sensitive and even graphic material from the show. Reader discretion is advised.

Reason 10: The Mystery

While “13 Reasons Why” was difficult to watch as a whole, there was something about it that kept drawing me in more and more. I sort of hated how interested I was in the show. Each episode, I was pulled in, wondering who did what and what would happen next. The writers did a good job at making the series interesting and creating an atmosphere of mystery. The show was indeed interesting and did what a show is supposed to do: it coaxed me in and made me want more (even though I objectively did not want more).

Reason 9: The Hook

While we can look at the fact that this is a television show and so should be interesting and hook you, let’s take a step back and think about this show specifically. This is a show revolving around the suicide of a young teenage girl, who was heavily influenced by the terrible actions of those around her. It should disturb us that a show about this is entertaining. We should not want to continue watching for entertainment value. NOTHING about suicide and bullying is entertaining. Yet, the creators of the show (and, I presume, the writer of the book) managed to make us want more and more, hooking us on this most terrible of topics. Why are we so interested in watching this girl’s life getting screwed up by those around her? That’s not entertainment; that’s what’s on the news. If we want to see the horrible effects that suicide has, then all we have to do is read the paper or watch the news.

Reason 8: The Truth

What is true? What is a lie? Many of the students whose decisions led to the death of Hannah Baker often claim throughout the show that she lied about things that really happen. They are actively denying what Hannah posits as the reasons for her suicide. People go back and forth, saying this is true and that is not. Therefore, by denying these truths, these teenagers are trying to displace responsibility from themselves. While objective truth is important, we can neglect the subjective experience of each human person. Because Hannah Baker has died, she has no reason to lie.

Although she might not be lying, the objective truth of the scenarios might still be different from what she says. But why should that matter? Obviously we should never neglect that which is objectively true. However, each person has their own subjective experience of truth. While ‘subjective truth’ cannot cannot trump ‘objective truth,’ we must recognize the subjective experience of the other – an experience beyond what we can truly know. Maybe certain things did not happen objectively, but she had a subjective experience of these interactions. This subjective experience cannot be neglected in the name of ‘objective truth.’ If you’ve read my blog before, you would know how much stress I place on the importance of truth and always seeking it. However, there is truth to be found in the human experience. We cannot forget to look at how someone experiences reality. If Hannah Baker experienced bullying and other forms of abuse, it should not matter if she actually did get bullied. Rather, we should seek to address that experience, instead of quibbling over what objectively happened. This is why we cannot just shrug off our actions as ‘joking’ or acceptable to that person: we do not honestly know their experience of what you are doing to them.

Reason 7: The Indifference

Not everything about the show is bad. If nothing else, the show brings to the attention of the audience the clear indifference that people often give to those who are suffering. Hannah Baker was suffering. Once again, while we cannot neglect the truth of the events, we must recognize her subjective experience of that truths. And her experience of those events was that of pain and suffering. How did people react to it? Oh, she’s just being dramatic. She always has to make everything about her. She’s just an emotional teenage girl. How often do people react in this way? While sometimes people are being dramatic, that should not be our first assumption. People (and especially teenagers) undergo a lot of pain and anguish daily. Too often is this pain ignored, because it is shrugged off as being dramatic. As an educator, I was definitely hurt by the indifference of the school counselor. While all sorts of people are guilty of being indifferent to the emotional pain and suffering of those around them, educators and counselors have a certain obligation to recognize the reality of that suffering. The show calls us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, doing what we can to overcome this terrible indifference that makes us numb to and neglectful of the pain of others.

Reason 6: “The Attention”

While certain characters are not prone to think it, the first season of ’13 Reasons Why’ is characterized by this idea that Hannah Baker merely used the tapes and her suicide as a way to get attention. The show really makes light of the whole idea of suicide. Suicide just became a way for Hannah to gain this attention, and it was not seen as Hannah’s only idea for escape. Related to the idea of indifference, Hannah was just being dramatic, and we did not actually have a part in her suicide. Thus, while the story does try to focus on the tragedy that was her suicide and the events that led her to that point, at a point, we seem to lose sight of that, mainly focusing on how it was not their fault. We lose sight of the tragedy, and it becomes a blame game and an attempt to cover up the truth. Who cares if Hannah Baker killed herself? Yeah, it sucks, but it wasn’t my fault! Hannah just wanted attention. Suicide should not be made light of. People are bullied, deal with depression, or experience any number of things, and they feel that suicide is their only escape from this terrible situation. After Hannah kills herself, the characters are more concerned with pushing the blame back on Hannah, making light of the entire situation. DO NOT MAKE LIGHT OF SUICIDE. Suicide is a tragedy that we can help to prevent. We should not just try to place the blame back on the person contemplating/attempting/committing suicide.

Reason 5: The Teenagers

This is more just an objective statement in regards to the characters – not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. The teenagers were just absolutely horrible human beings. I came to strongly dislike the characters in the show. I came to think how terrible teenagers can be. I teach high school students, and, while they have their mean moments, I do not want to think that they are capable of such things. I began to lose hope in teenagers, because they committed some of the worst and most vile acts in this show. They were heartless. Are teenagers actually like this? Should we be having shows that portray such terrible behavior? While you hope to never see such cruelty in people, you do not expect to see it in teenagers. If the intention was to get me to hate almost every character, mission accomplished. However, why would we create a show with so many hateable characters?

Reason 4: The Tapes

While the characters often callously discussed Hannah’s use of the tapes as a means of attention, let’s take a look at the tapes. When people commit suicide, they will often leave a note, in order to tell people (loved ones) their reasoning for leaving the world. Ultimately, they express suicide as their means of escaping terrible environments. The tapes were Hannah’s version of a note. However, they were not merely used to tell of her reason for leaving the world, though that was part of it. While we cannot know her full intentions, there seemed to be some malicious intent in her use of the tapes. This is another way in which the show makes light of suicide. Throughout her tapes, Hannah seeks to make her peers feel guilty and terrible for the parts they took in her suicide. Because of how much work and effort she put into making the tapes, we can know that she had plenty of chance to think about what she was doing. She was not making a decision based on how they made her feel. Rather, she was making a calculated decision to end her life. In her suicide, she sought to tell these people how terrible they were, continuing to take away from the seriousness of Hannah’s decision to take her own life.

Reason 3: The Case

Throughout the show, there is a side-plot of Hannah’s parents pressing charges against the school for not adequately preventing her suicide, because they should have been able to prevent it. This might be more of a judgment on the characters than the show, but it does not seem right that a group seeks to slander a girl who has recently killed herself. Maybe this is a judgment on our judicial system. I don’t know. However, why do we seek to arbitrarily defend our own side, while not even looking at the overall good truth? A lawyer would do what they could to win, no matter which side of the case they are assigned. Shouldn’t the judicial system be seeking the truth, no matter what side? It was painful to watch the school and their lawyer trying to cover up their obvious hand in (and indifference to) the events that led to Hannah’s suicide. My high school’s newspaper had a motto: If nothing else, value the truth. Shouldn’t we, as a society, seek the truth, rather than doing what we can to accomplish our agenda? We should all be seeking to prevent suicide, along with helping those who feel that suicide is their only option. Additionally, we need to accept the outcomes of our actions. If we act (or fail to act), there will be ramifications. We have wills (the ability to choose), and thus we have to recognize our hands in what happens. We might not always like it, but we have to learn to accept consequences.

Reason 2: The Rapes

Rape is never to be taken lightly. Obviously (hopefully). And it is definitely not brushed aside in the show, but I really think they were too graphic. No, we should not be sugar-coating the reality of rape. At the same time, exposure to certain things can make us numb to their realities. They are presented as terrible things, but we do not need to see and hear all of the terrible aspects of each of the rapes. Additionally, as I said, when we are exposed to such cruelty, while it might initially affect us, we can become numb to the harshness of that reality, especially when it is placed in the context of an entertaining television show. Yes, these rapes were terrible things, but the question is whether it was necessary for them to be presented as they were.

Reason 1: The Suicide

While the show as a whole is tough to watch, nothing is worse than the moment we see Hannah Baker slit her wrists and bleed out in her bathtub. Yes, we understand that suicide is a serious topic and should not be ignored. However, telling us that she killed herself and slit her wrists may be enough. There is no reason for us to see this teenage girl taken a razor to her wrists and writhe in pain as she takes those final actions in her life. The only reason why I think this scene could be considered necessary is to scare kids straight, or keep them from wanting to do the same. But there is something wrong about putting a suicide at the climax of a television show, which aims to entertain. It’s one thing to imply or reference the action, but showing the suicide was way too far. (The moments following it, when her parents found her, were some of the most heart-wrenching moments I had ever seen in a show, but that does not make the suicide scene necessary.)

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” seems to reflect society’s hatred of consequences. We want to make decisions (or fail to make decisions), but we do not want to accept the consequences of those decisions. Why can’t we seem to accept the natural results of our choices? I leave that to you for reflection. Despite the title of this post, not every ‘reason’ is a negative of the show. However, looking at the reasons as a whole, I do give the show a poor rating, but I do leave the decision to watch it or not in your hands.

If you know someone who may be suicidal, please do not just be a bystander. Be a friend to them. Help in any way you can. Tell an adult, or tell someone important to them. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or you do know someone, here are two important numbers:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741 (Website: http://www.crisistextline.org/)

“While there’s life,
there’s hope.”

-Cicero

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Duc In Altum

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