By: Megan Graves, Columnist
I waste so much of my time streaming TV shows. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, if I’m compelled enough, I can devour an entire series in under a week. I’m not proud, but since I’m always finishing a show, I’m always looking for new content to drown in.
Last week, I submerged myself into “13 Reasons Why,” a Netflix series based off a 2007 novel by Jay Asher. Let me just warn you right now that if you haven’t seen this series, I am about to spoil the shit out of it.
Since I am so very clever, I will offer you all a list that I shall call, “13 (meh, nine) Reasons Why I Am Not Super Okay With ‘13 Reasons Why.’” Things are about to get spoiled.
1. I’m not the only person talking about this right now, but this show gives a certain level of power to suicide, and I find that to be dangerous. It gives off a message of, “If you kill yourself, then everyone who hurt you will be hurt worse by your death,” like it’s the ultimate payback. It’s a harmful message to give, particularly to an audience of people who could be struggling in their own way. No matter how strongly someone is able to hurt or cause a reaction in others by taking their own life, the fact remains that they have lost their life.
It’s not a winning situation.
2. The bruise/cut that Clay gets in the beginning of the show so that we can make the distinction between current Clay and flashback Clay doesn’t even kind of look real, and no one seems to be talking about it.
3. The idea that love is enough to prevent suicide is wishful thinking at its best, and it’s highly damaging at its worst. Yes, it’s important to try and not be a jerk to people. Yes, it’s important to look out for your friends. But a lot of the time when someone commits suicide, even the people who loved and knew them best never saw it coming. It doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t getting enough love and support in their life.
It means that mental health and suicidal tendencies are complex, and there’s no easy fix or universal answer.
4. Did we really need two rape scenes? My biggest complaint with how sexual violence is depicted in film and TV is that it’s overwhelmingly depicted as a struggle. This leads to things such as laws that require a survivor to physically resist the act in order for it to be deemed rape. (The Maryland legislature recently passed a bill that will change this definition in our state).
Our concept of reality is based off of what we see. I’m not saying that sexual violence involving a struggle doesn’t occur. It does. But our society seems to still have a hard time coping with the idea that just because a person didn’t actively or physically say no, it doesn’t change the fact that they were raped.
That’s why I could swallow the first scene, where we saw Jess passed out while Bryce raped her. It’s a reminder that rape doesn’t require a fight in order for it to be rape. But apparently that wasn’t entertaining enough, because we go back to the cinematic trope of the struggle in the second scene where Bryce rapes Hannah. We need to talk about sexual violence. We need to be aware that it takes so many different forms. But maybe we don’t need to see two graphic rape scenes over the course of 13 episodes to make that happen.
5. Tony’s hair seems to get larger and larger in each episode? What’s that about?
6. I’m not an expert, but I think that maybe fully showing a suicide is incredibly damaging and not really all that necessary. For me, at least, it didn’t give more weight to the fact that Hannah killed herself. It just added shock value.
7. The whole scene in which Clay listens to his tape was a bad time.
In it, she’s telling him that when she yelled at him to leave the night they almost hooked up at that party, she actually wanted him to stay. This is so, so dangerous. That falls into the idea that women don’t mean what they’re saying — so when we say “no” or “leave,” we mean “yes” and “stay.” This show adds the idea that if you do leave when we say to leave, we could end up committing suicide. I don’t yell at my TV screen often, but let me tell you, I was yelling when I heard this.
8. Why did it take Clay so long to listen to all of the tapes in the first place? Yeah, yeah, there wouldn’t be much of a show if he just absorbed all of them in one sitting. But, come on. Who would take that long?
9. The concept of someone leaving behind 13 tapes describing exactly why they chose to commit suicide is unrealistic to the point of being unfathomable. There’s rarely any form of explanation. It’s a question that those who are left with the gaping void that suicide causes spend their entire lives trying to answer. It’d be nice to have tragedies and life-scarring events explained to us in thorough detail, and it made for a compelling TV show, but it’s not how the world works.
I was going to be so clever, as I said before, and write 13 reasons why this show didn’t sit right with me, and I certainly could, but this is already turning out to be the longest piece I’ve written for my column so far. So here are my final thoughts.
The show was compelling. I wanted to know what happened next, and I was intrigued enough to watch all of it pretty quickly. But it is deeply problematic. I would even go so far as to warn that it could be harmful to people battling suicidal thoughts, depression and the healing process that comes after trauma.
Let’s keep talking about mental health, bullying and sexual violence, because that’s how we gain understanding and change how our world operates. And every time we talk about it, let’s do a better job than the time before. Let this show be the rocky foundation we use to build bigger and better things, and let’s keep trying.