Spurred by a friend’s recommendation, I chose to binge-watch the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” based on the popular young adult novel by Jay Asher. I never read the novel, though I have delved into many YA novels at my ripe old age and that is another post for another time.
“13 Reasons” is the story of Hannah Baker, a teen who has committed suicide. On her last day, she records 13 tapes (yes, cassette tapes) each one aimed at calling out a certain person who contributed to the mess that became her young life. It certainly does become a mess and the ones who are called out have either betrayed her, broken her heart, ditched her as a friend, slut-shamed her, and the biggie, raped her. The web of deceit, lies, betrayals, anger, and dysfunction grows with each episode and with each tape and even though you know that each of the people called out has done something to hurt Hannah, you can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for all of them, bearing shame, guilt, abuse, drugs, alcohol, parental abandonment, you name it. For example, Hannah’s former best friend is raped by a “friend” while passed out. Another friend lives with his druggie mother and her drug dealing boyfriend while attempting to maintain his outward appearance of “big man on campus.” The tapes are passed around, from person to person, each person who is named on the tapes must listen and then pass the tapes to the next in line.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s parents are trying to figure out why their daughter did this. The protagonist, Clay, is a nice guy who is a former friend and potential love interest for Hannah, but he betrays her as well by not trying hard enough. It is through Clay listening to the tapes that the viewer finds out about each of the people named on the tapes.
So, you get the picture. I had a huge problem with the premise of this show. Obviously, the friends of Hannah had horrible things going on in their own lives and all of the interactions between these friends are connected in a huge horrible web which supposedly led Hannah to take her own life and her friends who let her down are now left with the tapes, which pretty much blame them for her suicide. The culture of bullying at Hannah’s high school seems like a good subject to tackle, but I’m just not sure the end result of the discussion should have been the suicide of a young girl. The suicide scene is a very graphic depiction and certainly not for the faint of heart. The idea of the tapes is an interesting concept.
This brings me to my teenage years. (a long time ago) Has our society really gotten that much meaner and more viciously cruel? I knew MANY people who were bullied. I was bullied. My brother and I were victims for years. I solved the problem by physically fighting back. What has made kids today so fragile? Is bullying so much worse due to social media? What is it? I was the victim of a sexual assault at age 12. I knew many girls who were. I had friends betray me and I knew friends who lived through much, much worse without resorting to checking out permanently. When you’re 15 or 16 and your life is in the shitter, it does seem that things will never get better. Kids these days have resources that we never did. So many formerly taboo subjects are now discussed openly: sexuality, transgender people, drugs, alcohol, etc.
I would not recommend this program for any young person. I believe there are better ways of talking with your children about bullying, rape, drugs, alcohol, abuse, sexuality, etc. than this show. Romanticizing and normalizing suicide as an option is not an option.