Odds are, many of you have already seen Seasons One and Two of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. If you haven’t, I’m going to skip the part where I spoil everything for you and instead just settle on an already widely known fact- they’re controversial. So controversial, in fact, that uproar after Season One led producers to create a trigger warning intro for the show that includes the cast discussing the topics and nature of the show, and additional resources for support. This was followed by a “Beyond the Reasons” after-show in which the cast discusses mental health and the show’s tough topics. Yet, despite their efforts (substantial or insignificant… you decide), Season Two remained one big trigger, filled with one shocking, distressful scene after another with little room for anything even remotely uplifting or conciliatory.
According to 13 Reasons Why creator Brian Yorkey, the topics depicted in the show “deserved the most honesty, in order to make something that teens would look at and recognize in this show their lives, themselves, people that know they and things they are going through”. However, in this writer’s opinion, what 13 Reasons Why actually did was present all of the problems, with none of the solutions. Read on for 13 reasons why I have a problem with this show.
I’m not saying that 13 Reasons Why (TRW) needs to propose a solution for every issue they present but… wait, yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The Netflix show certainly depicts many current social topics such as mental health, sexual assault, and gun violence, but rather than discussing them in an informative, solution-oriented manner, the show instead depicts each topic in the most horrifying way possible, focusing on severe consequences with little to no focus on prevention or resolution. We know that, as teen girls, you are forced to tackle these subjects on a near daily basis in today’s society. The truth is, you don’t need more imagery and reminders of the painful consequences of mental illness or otherwise, you need real, actionable steps for conciliation and prevention.
When asking why Hannah Baker committed suicide, sure, we are presented with 13 Reasons Why it happened. When Tyler Down nearly commits a shooting at his high school, we reflect upon the brutal (and extremely disconcerting) sexual assault scene to explain why he may have been pushed to this point. However, where two questions may have been answered, we are left with hundreds more. How does one heal and move forward after tragedy? How can one recognize the signs of depression, and intervene before it is too late? What should you do when you recognize potentially dangerous signs in a peer? Where are the answers to these important questions?
Many concerns surrounding Season 1 surrounded the vivid depiction of Hannah Baker’s suicide in the final episode, as viewers (and their parents) felt that the suicide became a method of retribution for all those who had wronged her. This was further exacerbated in Season 2, where Hannah Baker comes back as a ghost that haunts Clay. This seemingly gives the impression that those who commit suicide are able to return to watch the reactions of those who are left behind, a haunting and entirely unrealistic prospect. Once again in Season 2, following a horrific sexual assault on Tyler Down, he returns to the school with a gun, ready to murder those who had wronged him—further retribution. 13 Reasons Why jumps from causes to severe consequences as if they are the only possible outcomes with no room for intervention or prevention.
As I personally struggle with mental health challenges such as an anxiety disorder, and mental health disorders like Depression are prominent within my family, I have a serious issue with the way that mental health is portrayed within TRW. Allow me to first clarify that I understand the point of the show is to draw attention to mental health and warning signs in an explicit and dramatic manner. However, TRW blows the subject of mental health way out of proportions as it draws a near “If this, then that” correlation throughout the plot line. TRW paints a neat picture of “if you have a mental health disorder, then serious, life-threatening consequences are sure to follow”. If you have depression, then suicide will follow. If you are the victim of a sexual assault, then you will commit violence towards others”. This is an atrocious over-simplification that does absolutely no justice to the complex topic of mental health and instead strips it down to its most dramatic and stereotypical form. TRW claims to draw attention to this important subject matter in a poignant and thoughtful manner, yet in reality it perpetuates the very mental health stigmas I, Zenzy, and many others are trying to abolish.
Alright, you caught me, this is effectively an extension of point four, but I am so passionate about this topic that I must go on. Mental illnesses are located across a very large spectrum that includes not only types of disorders but also degrees of severity- yet this is not the case in 13 Reasons Why. In fact, mental health illnesses are shown at their most extreme, their most destructive, with no depiction of the spectrum and no room for intervention. The truth of the matter is that mental health illnesses take form in many different shapes and sizes, and the majority of the time there is time, space and room for the proper care and treatment to help individuals regain control and ideally be restored to health. By ignoring this fact and presenting no insight into the aid that can be given to help those with mental health illnesses, 13 Reasons Why creates problems, without delivering any solutions.
I’ll keep this short and to the point. Inserting ‘trigger warnings’ does not make the following graphic imagery thereby acceptable. Instead of creating trigger warnings, why not focus on making the content less triggering?
In this writer’s opinion, TRW cleverly inserted trigger warnings in the form of a video prior to the Season not to truly help viewers digest the content in a safer, more thoughtful manner, but rather to act as a scapegoat for the controversy they surely knew was to follow. Instead of taking responsibility for the content matter of the show, the conversations it starts, and the impact it has on young impressionable minds, they point to this quick advisory video and the superficial “mental health conversation” that followed Season 2 as an evasive manner of escaping blame.
Barring those of Mother Nature, disasters can be prevented. Suicide can be prevented, school shootings can be prevented, rape can be prevented. It is a matter of education, widespread awareness, and a conscious effort on the part of society to address and discuss these topics. This is what 13 Reasons Why claims to do, yet it shows none of the prevention. In fact, where the potential school shooting is concerned, the show makes no effort to address gun law reform, gun education, open dialogue and conversation in schools, or the many other very real ways that gun violence can be addressed. Instead, it depicts an absolutely absurd scene where Clay confronts the would-be shooter and convinces him not to follow through. All in all, this is an irresponsible and superficial manner of depicting prevention, and TRW owes more to its viewers if it chooses to focus on topics of this nature.
A website with links does not dialogue make. Within the show, no one is having the conversations they should be having in reality. Peers are not talking to each other, they don’t share with their parents, nor do they consult school professionals when necessary. Once again, TRW evades this responsibility by posting a website titled “Talk to someone” with a few crisis hotlines that one could reach out to. The “Beyond the Reasons” discussion was yet another futile attempt at covering their bases, but ultimately missed the mark as it was too little, too late.
The Director of the Parents Television Council, Melissa Henson, said it best when she wrote “you’ll never walk away from the series feeling any better. And if you’re not feeling that way, the series will make you feel hopeless and depressed”. TRW presents us with *a* perceived reality of mental health illness, and then leaves us to struggle with a solution. The dramatic show provides no ways for those struggling with these feelings to overcome them, and leaves everyone else feeling worse off as well.
The subject of gun violence, and school shootings in particular, are dealt with in such an irresponsible and reckless manner that it is baffling, particularly in the wake of the tragedies that have occurred in the U.S in recent months. If this topic is to be broached, it should be done so in an overly thoughtful way, providing the correct tools to identify, prevent, and ultimately put a stop to gun violence. TRW achieves none of the above as the students opt to deal with it by themselves, convinced that they alone can make a difference, escape injury or far worse consequences, and thereby “save” the school. Let us be clear—the correct action is always to get help. You are not alone and you should never behave as such. This applies to any threatening situation you might experience—reach out to a trusted adult, whether this be a parent, teacher, officer, or other, and work together to find a stable solution.
In response to the show, Twitter user lovesickpalaces published this Trigger Warning Guide to help those who may be deeply distraught by certain scenes within the show. The reality is that, had TRW dedicated the proper time and energy required to following up these distressful scenes with thought-provoking, conciliatory and healing conversations, a trigger warning likely would not be necessary, and this show might not have received the controversial uproar it has.
If you our someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, speak to your parents or a trusted adult, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, speak to your parents or a trusted adult, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
If you are not experiencing a distressful conflict as described above, but would like to learn more about mental health illnesses, sexual assault or PTSD, you can do so here, here, and here. Finally, please feel free to reach out to Zenzy on Instagram or in the comments below, or to me (Aleksija) personally on my Instagram.
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