The Controversy Surrounding Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why
In 2017, the first season of a controversial, eye-opening, and binge-worthy show called 13 Reasons Why was released on Netflix, with the entire season being released all at once, as most Netflix Originals are. The first season of the series was loosely adapted from the novel Thirteen Reasons Why by author Jay Asher.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know this, however, I’m mainly writing this for parents, as this article was inspired by my mother’s own words after watching the show herself. This article will mostly touch on the first season of the show, as it was the original season that brought light to all of these topics in the first place. Additionally, I happen to have a very personal connection to the season that ultimately changed my life. If you happen to not know the main plot of the, series, I’ll take this opportunity to warn you that this article will have some graphic details, as Netflix itself states:
“This show is rated MA for mature audiences, it covers many issues including depression, sexual assault and suicide. If you are struggling, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.”
To sum it up as quickly and simply as possible: A high school student, Hannah Baker, commits suicide via self-mutilation in her bathtub in her parent’s home. Instead of leaving a suicide note, she leaves a set of thirteen cassette tapes. The show starts roughly two weeks after her death, with Clay Jensen finding the box of cassettes on his doorstep. Each cassette tape is about a different person and the role they played leading up to her death. The tapes are chronological, narrated by Hannah herself, are to be listened to by each person featured, and then passed along to the person in the cassette after their own respective tape.
Although the show immediately went viral, it came with mixed reviews. While critics praised the mystery and story aspect of the binge-worthy show, many weren’t pleased with the “revenge suicide” tone that the show displayed, as well as how graphic (or realistic, depending on your perspective) some of the scenes were.
The Evolution of Season One of 13 Reasons Why
The show centers around Hannah’s ‘kinda-sorta’ love interest and perhaps her closest friend, Clay. Each episode focuses on the next cassette, and we see the story unfold through Clay’s perspective, while he’s riding around town to the landmarks mentioned in the tapes along with the traumatic events that occurred there. It is unexplained at first why Clay becomes so obsessed, although the viewers and Clay all know that he is on the tapes somewhere.
There are a lot of other background circumstances happening simultaneously, like the fact that Clay’s mother is the attorney representing the high school in a major case involving Hannah’s parents versus the school administration, as the Bakers found the school to be negligent and could’ve prevented their daughter’s death. Hannah’s mother becomes a wreck and her life begins spiraling out of control. Her daughter’s death becomes herlife.
At the beginning of the show, Clay acts as though he and Hannah weren’t close, telling his attorney-mother (She is representing the school, not the Bakers; don’t forget!) that she was just an acquaintance. However, we find out over the course of the season that Clay actually cared deeply for Hannah, and becomes obsessed with her death, the tapes, everyone on them, and getting justice for Hannah.
While all of this is happening, Clay experiences episodes of displaced guilt, thinking he could’ve done something to stop it. This is a feeling that many of us who’ve been affected by suicide can, unfortunately, relate to until we work through the trauma and grief of the tragedy.
13 Reasons Why Makes Headlines
Many criticisms, from both accredited critics and user submissions, were turned off by this narrative. It didn’t sit right with a lot of people; many people spoke very negatively about her “first world problems” and solving them by “selfishly” killing herself. But the reality is, this stuff happens every day. Depression, anxiety, and every other mental illness is known to not discriminate based on social or economic class. In addition to all the recent wealthy, celebrity suicides, I personally know more people from the real world than I can count on one hand that have committed suicide or attempted it in the last two years.
In the final episodes of the first season, the story begins getting more intense and more graphic, depicting some terrible rape and sexual assault scenes and graphically portraying Hannah’s actual suicide. This is the part that stirred the pot to the point where the straw broke the camel’s back. Critics, parents, and even other teenagers started criticizing the show en masse; many saying that it “glorified suicide” and went so far to say that teens will get the idea that suicide is the only solution to bullying, rape, scandalous or embarrassing events, etc.
One of the show’s stars, Alisha Boe, who portrayed a character that was sexually assaulted on the show, said in an interview with Access Hollywood:
“…watching it for the first time, I couldn’t move… It was just so haunting and done so well… We didn’t add [anything], stopped the music, and it’s just as real as it can possibly get. And I went into [working on the show] knowing that, but watching it — my heart sank. This is not glamorizing suicide.”
Other cast members spoke on the topic, stating how in the novel that the show is based on, Hannah commits suicide by purposely overdosing on pills. However, the writers and producers,
including executive producer Selena Gomez, didn’t want suicide to look like an easy way out. It was purposely graphic, real, and disturbing to watch.
13 Reasons Why also has an equal amount of supporters. Teens, young adults, parents, and even older adults say that more awareness needs to be brought to this issue and we need to stop being afraid to talk about it. I happen to stand on this side of the line of the often-polarizing debate. My reasoning for this decision will be thoroughly explained in Part Two of this series.
If you are thinking about suicide or harming yourself now, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255.
Help is always within reach. Hope and recovery are not only possible but could right around the corner. Call Adolescent Growth for more information on treatment options for you or someone you care about at 1-888-948-9998.