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The Big “Why” of 13 Reasons

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Christina McLaughlin, Managing Editor

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If you were like me, you sat down on your couch and binge watched 13 Reasons Why when it’s first season was released on Netflix on March 31. This adaptation of the book of the same name written by Jay Asher was, to say the least, a slightly bitter taste of reality that not many viewers were prepared for. 13 Reasons brought up many issues that many teens are facing in modern day high school’s across the nation, and provided a somber glance of the realities of teenage emotions and how to, or frankly, how not to, deal with these issues.

The specific direction the show creators took definitely stirred up conversation and raised many concerns in the general public. While some people praised this as a positive form of PSA, others saw it as a glorification of suicide and self harm tendencies. Both sides of this debate clearly have a basis for their opinions but as a fellow Netflix watcher, I’m here to provide some truth to this touchy subject.

* SPOILERS AHEAD*

To dive right in, let’s discuss the representation of teenagers in this high school. They have received some criticism for their actions and general dialogue between the other students in the series. Critics have commented that it sounded more mature than it should for their respective ages, inaccurately represented drinking and other illegal activities, and purposefully deranged their moral compass. Personally, I feel 13 Reasons is entirely accurate in the way of nonchalantly displaying alcohol and drugs, as well as the conservations they have. Most teenagers nowadays do use curse words, and may even get themselves in more adult situations to make them feel more mature. It doesn’t mean they are “bad kids.” Sometimes, it just means that they are trying to find themselves and I feel that is carefully shown.

It’s important to remember that 13 Reasons is originally a work of literature, specifically fiction, so these characters don’t necessarily have to be realistic, but they mainly adhere to that principle. The moral compass of teenagers is considered a scientific phenomenon of study as more scientists understand that the adolescent mind isn’t fully developed until their late twenties. Yes, there are many teenagers with a strong moral compass and make great daily decisions, but there are others that stray off the beaten path and need to eventually find their way back. I think this show was unique in that respect, in the sense that its main protagonist/narrator wasn’t “cookie cutter amazing” and perfect in her actions.

This show is far from shying away from the truth, especially when it comes to the hard-hitting subjects like suicide and rape, as they are illustrated in this series. Many critics felt that Netflix made a bad decision by allowing these behaviors to be represented with such a daring disregard to possible victims. Once Netflix started to receive all of this backlash, a representative from the company responded with a statement, saying, “While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories. Currently the episodes that carry graphic content are identified as such and the series overall carries a TV-MA rating. Moving forward, we will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution.”

According to Thirteen Reasons Why: Beyond The Reasons, the 30-minute recap special at the end of the series, a lot of the graphic content and “trigger-warning” scenes, as they are so called, are shown not as something to be glorified or seen as something enjoyable to watch. It’s a warning, a strong one at that, to prevent these things from happening to other people. By showing the horrible nature of Hannah and Jessica’s rapes and a villainous view of their rapist, it displayed what it is truly like for the victim, the bystander, and the oppressor. Seeing these characters in a new light has enabled the audience see the wickedness of these acts.

The largest issue people have with this series is the pivotal scenes that have been talked about and questions that were raised, starting with episode one. How did Hannah kill herself? When did she commit her suicide? In an incredibly graphic scene, we as the audience watch Hannah’s suicide as a fly on the wall. We see it in all of it’s shockingly disturbing and unpleasant nature. The show specifically zooms in on Hannah’s face and gives you a harsh look of this act. They did this as a proclamation of good faith, that this should never be the answer and that taking your own life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

So maybe, the show at times pushed the envelope and took it a bit far in ways of showing all of the striking images of these actions. However, this is done to make a statement and send a clear, concise message. They want to make people see that suicide should never be the answer, that rape is not okay, and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and help for those who need it. Who knows, you may have a Clay in your life, and you are missing an opportunity if you let the actions of others negatively affect your personal view of yourself. I feel that the “Clay” of the show wasn’t necessarily just a love interest of Hannah, but a representation of what you leave behind when you commit suicide and how it affects those around you as well.

On a final note, the critics do have a right to be bothered by the representations of these pressing issues in this show. But one thing is clear: this show definitely opened up the borders of discussion when it comes to these topics and made sure that people talked about them. That, to me, is the clear takeaway from 13 Reasons Why. These topics are sensitive, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Sometimes, you need a show like this to get the ball rolling in order to make some change in society.

13 Reasons Why is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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The Big “Why” of 13 Reasons