Trigger warning: This article contains a graphic description of suicide, as well as spoilers from the series.
I think we can all agree that Netflix is the greatest thing that has ever happened to TV show bingers since F.R.I.E.N.D.S released their series box set, but recently the buzz surrounding the streaming app has been a bit heavy.
The Novel-turned-Netflix-original, 13 Reasons Why, has been a hot topic of discussion as of lately-- and whether it be in the classroom, or behind a computer screen, it seems as though the sensitive natured program has viewers feeling torn.
Just like the 2007 Jay Asher novel (a book I read, and enjoyed as a teenager), the Selena Gomez produced series depicts the intense events leading up to one teenage girl's suicide, while simultaneously outlining each characters large-- or sometimes, minuscule, contribution to her demise, with thirteen pre-recorded cassette tapes.
When I was finished with the book, way back in '09, it left me feeling unsettled, yet intrigued. The storyline was sensitive, and heavy, but also unrealistic to me. The events in the book, though heart-wrenching and detailed, was merely a work of fiction that I could store away once I started feeling anxious. When I found out that the story was getting a Netflix reboot, I'll admit, I was a little nervous to start watching. My good friend, Nicole, had even warned me about the graphic content.
"I felt rather disturbed, maybe even somewhat triggered by the episode when Hannah commits suicide. It was hard to watch." Nicole told me. "I think any kind of viewer would feel the same way. Death, especially suicide, is hard to comprehend, and watching it firsthand, although it wasn't real, was extremely hard for me to watch."
The scene Nicole was referring to is in the final episode, when the main character takes her own life. Instead of sticking with the book's approach, where Hannah swallows a hand full of pills, the Netflix original decided to crank the carnage up a couple notches. As the main character Clay scolds the school guidance counsellor for "not doing enough", he describes Hannah's suicide in graphic detail. As the viewer, we see Hannah run a bath, hop in fully clothed, drag a sharp razor down the arteries on her wrists as she gasps for air and slowly bleeds out. The traumatic scene is then followed by the heartbreaking moment when Hannah's mother discovers her lifeless body in the running bathtub, which struck a chord with a lot of parents.
"This series glorifies and simplifies suicide, which shakes me to the core, as a mother." Said one Elementary school teacher who heard about the series, via social media. "Social workers and counsellors are not put in a positive light in the series. Teens experiencing suicidal thoughts may think twice about asking for help and that is a frightening thought."
This is undoubtably portrayed In the final episode, as Hannah reaches out to her guidance counsellor, letting the direction of the conversation determine the final fate of her suicide mission, which begins to feel more like a vengeance project. This is especially concerning, as she uncomfortabley discloses a rape to an authority figure to only be let down. What makes this different from any Law and Order: SVU episode in which the victim's claims are questioned? In Law and Order, there is always someone who stands up for the victim. And as Clay vividly outlines the death to the seemingly disturbed counsellor, the suicide acts more as a "fuck you" to those who didn't step up.
Maarya, a local high school student, and a fan of the series, shed some light on the perspective from someone Hannah's age, "After watching, I must say I have mixed feelings. The whole purpose of the series was to show viewers what a person really goes through in situations like Hannah’s, without glossing over the painful details. For that, I commend it. When watching, I found that I had to be prepared to feel exhausted by the end of each episode. It was emotionally taxing. I made the decision to take a break from watching, and only skimmed through the last few episodes. "
"The school board wants to minimize discussion about the show, which I find absolutely ridiculous. Our parents have received an email about the series as well. It explains that the show portrays adults and counsellors in a negative light, which I understand." She goes on to say, "My experience of high school in the real world differs greatly. Our counsellors are equipped to deal with these exact situations. I know that if I were in Hannah’s place, I wouldn't have had such a hard time talking to someone. Teenagers also have a lot of outlets in today’s world. From anonymous blogs to the kids help phone, asking a teacher isn’t the only method anymore. But I also know that these options still don’t work out for everyone and that is where the show does a great job at turning heads and making conversation."
But not all teachers agree that the conversation should be kept to a minimum. A local Grade 7/8 teacher weighed in on the controversial topic.
"It was (only) when I finished the show (and was in a very dark place because of it) that I realized how much it had an effect on me at age 25. I realized this was much bigger than just a Netflix series."
"I decided to go to my principal and asked if we could talk about this because it all directly relates to the curriculum, how to go about it, and how to notify parents. From there, we began talking about it as a class and related it to our Health curriculum. It is crazy because they are constantly making connections to the show, asking me if this or that is an example of an abusive relationship, crossing boundaries, etc. For some of these kids who have not yet experienced these things, or may never, the show really gives them a tangible example, something to grasp because it's played out for them and so real-life. We have even talked about the legal implications of things such as sending out pictures that may be private or sexual."
Personally, I dont believe there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to what the producers chose to show. And frankly, I dont think the world will ever come to an agreement; But here is what we do know.
Does this program promote suicide? No, but to young minds, or those who are easily triggered, it might magnify suicide being the only option.
Are the scenes triggering? Yes. If you have experienced suicide in the past, whether it has been you, or someone around you, the themes in this show are incredibly disturbing.
Should teenagers be watching this? Teenagers are going to watch it regardless.
Should schools be discussing the topic of mental illness and suicide? Absolutely.
Could there have been a better way to enlighten the audience on life after suicide? 100 percent.
If we break it down in simple terms, we have a teenage girl who has killed herself, leaving behind her family with no explanation, and blaming 13 individuals for the reason why she ended her life. She lists a rapist and a stalker alongside a kid who simply had a crush on her but didn't let her know as the reason she killed herself. As if that wont mess up that boy's romantic life forever.
My main concern is that this will soon generate copy-cats, mimicking Hannah's method as a way to get back at people who may (or may not) deserve it. I hope that whatever you take from the series, that you are aware of reality. When you kill yourself, you don't have a second chance. You don't come back as an edgy, mysterious character who is noted as a hero. You will not teach everyone a lesson about bullying and respect. You will be leaving behind your loved ones who will blame themselves.
While Netflix does provide warnings before the episodes with disturbing content, some viewers feel like it is not enough. If you, or any one you know, is feeling suicidal, please seek help. Like Executive producer Selena Gomez stated at the end of "Beyond the Reasons," there's "absolutely nothing wrong with saying that you need help."
What are your thoughts on the controversial series? Please let me know in the comments below.