…this show is so bad.
I don’t know if I have thirteen reasons, actually, so I’m not going to enumerate them, but I do have very strong feelings about this show. Here goes.
As a woman who was bullied in high school; who was diagnosed with and then treated for severe depression when she was 15 (after being hospitalized for a few days); whose younger sister lived with numerous mental health diagnoses; whose younger sister died by suicide just four years ago; and who has been raped, I recognize that I have very strong biases. Those biases may be preventing me from being objective.
All that said, I’m still pretty good at acknowledging when I have strong biases and then trying to see past them, so here goes….
I watched 13 Reasons Why, because I learned that my 11yo son was watching the show and I am not naïve enough to think that my telling him just not to watch it is going to solve anything. So, in order to have an informed discussion with him about the show and what he was seeing, I watched it myself. Little did I know that in addition to talking to him about suicide, I would get to have a *cough* bonus *cough* conversation with him about rape. Fun times.
I understand the show has a TV-MA rating. It’s also listed (under Genres) as a Teen TV Show. I cannot imagine this is a show that 13-, 14-, or 15-year-olds should be watching without knowing there is someone they can trust with whom they can discuss it.
The premise of the show is that Hannah is bullied at her new school and this results in her taking her own life. She has left behind 13 tapes to tell each of the people who bullied her what their part was in her death. It comes off as a sort of revenge. And the show attempts to depict the collateral damage, as it were, of people’s lives after Hannah’s death. That said, you get the impression that, other than her parents and Clay, no one would have been very impacted (most of the characters come off as uncaring and selfish) had it not been for these tapes.
My biggest problem with the show is that it gives the idea that bullying alone can lead to suicide. That’s simply not accurate. At no time, does the show address that Hannah may have suffered from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. It leads the viewer (many of them young viewers) to believe that her suicide is a direct result of bullying and bullying alone.
Now, I am well aware of the effects of bullying. Bullying can and does lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. These are very real problems. The issue is that the show does not address any of that.
Another enormous problem with the show is how very graphic it is. Both rapes are very graphic and the suicide is extremely graphic. The show’s producers and directors talk about not wanting to shy away from depicting those things, but I really believe it goes too far. It’s extremely upsetting to watch the episodes with the rapes and the one with her suicide. They show her slitting her wrists in the bathtub, for instance.
My fear (and the concern of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the American Psychological Association) is that it glorifies or glamourizes suicide. Further, in an episode called Beyond the Reasons, the suicide is discussed not in terms of what drove Hannah to that result (possible mental health issues), but the impact it has on everyone else.
I get that.
I get that a tool, sometimes the only tool, we have to discourage or prevent someone from taking their own life is to try to get them to think about the impact it will have on everyone else.
I can also tell you that when someone has reached the point where they are considering suicide, they are in so much pain that they are incapable of considering the hurt it will do to others; most, in fact, are convinced that everyone’s life will just be easier if they aren’t in it.
And the rapes.
Again, the directors and producers of this show, along with some of the cast members said they didn’t want to shy away from it. “Stay on Hannah’s face longer than is comfortable.” Then, in discussing it in that Beyond the Reasons episode, they almost completely shy away from it. When they name it, if they name it at all, they refer to it only as sexual assault.
I’ve seen lots of movies and television shows where you know a character is being raped. And I can tell you that every single one of them is difficult to watch. I can also tell you that you don’t need to be super graphic in depicting a rape to get your point across.
With all of the things we are desensitized to due to media exposure, maybe we don’t need to add rape to the list. I don’t know if a child or teenager can actually process the damage being done in such a depiction, so I worry that it serves only to desensitize them to it instead.
There is an argument to be made, I understand, that the show opens up a dialogue between kids/teens and parents and educators. My fear is that most educators are not equipped to have these conversations. Ironically, the show demonstrates that as well, and I don’t know how many parents are. And what about the kids who are watching it who don’t have someone to whom they can turn?
I just think there are far more dangers to watching this show than there are benefits.
I will leave you with this. If you suspect that your child or any child is being bullied at school, do everything you can to ensure they know they can talk to you. If you suspect they will not open up to you, then do everything you can to ensure they know to whom they can reach out.