I think I made myself very clear, but no one is coming forward to stop me.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ve probably noticed a brand new controversy in the world of TV shows. The hit new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted on March 31st. Based on the novel of the same name, the show follows the unfortunate suicide of a teen girl. Tormented by her school mates, Hannah Baker creates a series of tapes that illustrate and describe the very reasons she took her own life. Of course, following the shows premiere, many people spoke out about the shows themes and perspectives. The shows reviews were quite polarized. Either people loved it, or they hated it. Many viewers quite enjoyed how much awareness the show shed onto topics such as bullying, mental illness, and suicide (just to name a few). However, other critics were disappointed with the way the show presented many of its “controversial” topics. Displaying graphic content with no warning was seen as “triggering.” Some critics even discussed the possibility of a potential contagion effect in which a televised suicide leads to an increase in suicides or suicidal behaviour. Each person can interpret the show the way they wish and this article is only one interpretation of the show. Specifically, mine.
Some of you care, none of you cared enough.
The show revolved around a set of tapes recorded by Hannah Baker. Each tape reflects an event that occurred between Hannah and a classmate that impacted her life for the worst. 13 reasons translated into 13 tapes, but it doesn’t end there. After Hannah records the final tape, and moments before she takes her own life, she drops the tapes off with a friend with special instructions: Listen to the tapes and then pass them onto the next on the list. Simple right? As expected, it wasn’t. With each tape came a secret that neither Hannah nor the subject of the tape could live with. With the tapes circulating progressively through the 10 subjects, tensions rose as dark secrets came to light. You may be asking yourself why this is controversial and if you haven’t noticed yet, then perhaps this is just some silly idea created by “hypersensitive teens.” However you should consider that suicide is unfortunately an everyday occurrence, and one cannot begin to understand what follows unless you have been personally affected by it. That being said, it seems insensitive to portray teen suicide as vengeance seeking. For someones last dying wish to be to bring misery and guilt to others only illustrates a lack of understanding towards a topic so heavy like that of suicide and bullying. The theme of vengeance overpowers the creators efforts to illustrate the impact people make on one another. People who struggle with suicidal ideations may feel helpless in their situation without the added negative stigma of a mood disorder like depression (which is most commonly associated with suicide). In other words, painting a picture of suicide as revenge may do more damage than good to those who are currently facing suicidal thoughts and wish to seek help. The way the tapes were “recorded” could have been handled in a more appropriate manner.
You want to believe there are good guys in this world. I knew there were. I believed it.
Towards the end of the show, the content got quite serious and therefore much more graphic. Depictions of rape, self-harm, and suicide were a prominent topic in the remaining few episodes. These episodes were met with strong opinions. Many viewers thought it was necessary to display these events to show that rape happens and bullying leads to suicide. Perhaps this show is an educational TV series that brings awareness to such important topics. To teach kids that forcing yourself onto a girl, even if they don’t say no, is rape. To teach kids that bullying isn’t just calling someone names, but also indirect actions. Perhaps, that is too unrealistic to expect. We couldn’t possibly be aware of our indirect actions that may bring harm to someone. What if what we think what we are doing is not a big deal, but to someone else is life ruining? What if when we try to ask for help, we are dismissed because of the repercussions it poses for another person? Rape happens. Suicide happens. It’s important that young people are aware of the repercussions of such actions and the aid available. However there are more appropriate ways to show these heavy topics. My mother and I just finished watching the show last night. My mother is a doctor. She witnesses all kinds of clients: clients suffering from diseases, car accident victims, drug addicts, subjects of suicidal attempts, the list could go on. It really sank in just how shocking Hannah’s suicide scene was when even my mother, a medical professional, could not bear to watch. Yet, this show is available to the public on Netflix. My eleven year old neighbour is watching this show. Perhaps the creators of the show should have taken into consideration the target audience when debuting their show.
I couldn’t take knowing I’d make it worse. And I couldn’t take knowing it would never get any better.
There is one particular tape that is not like the rest. Tape 11. The tape that corresponded to Clay Jensen. He didn’t belong on the tapes because he didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t hurt Hannah they way the others did. He simply needed to be on the tapes for her to tell her story. I have a particular problem with this episode and maybe I’m the only one. Lets cover what happened in that episode. Clay attends the party of Jessica Davis, where he runs into his school crush Hannah. With many interruptions throughout the night, Clay takes Hannah upstairs to Jessica’s bedroom to talk in a more quiet environment. One thing leads to another and before they know it, they’re getting intimate. All of a sudden, Hannah becomes overwhelmed by memories of the past and associates all wrong doings to Clay Jensen instead of the respective bullies. Hannah, panicked, yells at Clay to leave the room and her alone. However in her tapes she makes it clear to the listeners that she was wrong. She didn’t want Clay to leave. She said go, but she meant stay. She said no, but she meant yes. I may be over thinking this, but that seems like the opposite of what we should be advocating. Teens should know by now that assault of any kind is inappropriate because they’ve been taught it growing up. But unfortunately, teens are not the only viewers of this show and young people, including my 11-year-old neighbour, will understand that in some cases, no means yes. Younger people haven’t been conditioned for long enough to know that a certain behaviour is wrong. Younger children are not even exposed to sex until they reach a certain level of maturity that a parent deems appropriate. When one of their earliest exposures to sex or intimacy is “no in some cases means yes,” we’re painting a horrible picture of what our society deems as acceptable behaviour. Even in the show, Hannah attempts to get help and the first questions they ask is “did you say no?” It was clear that what happened to Hannah was non-consensual and yet it was so easily dismissed by a school counselor. We shouldn’t act until people say no, we should wait until people say yes.
When does no mean yes? Never.