Released on March 31, the Netflix television series 13 Reasons Why begins just after the suicide of a high school girl, Hannah Baker. The show depicts why she killed herself, what caused the events prior, and what happens following the incident. The show has garnered much acclaim from fans of its acting and its storytelling techniques as well as much criticism from high school counselors and those in the suicide awareness and survivor communities.
At BB&N, friend circles in all grades have been talking about the show’s gripping content and the ethics of both its characters and creators. In April, school counselors on all three campuses sent a joint letter to school families to alert them of the graphic and possibly triggering or traumatic episodes and to provide resources for any at-home discussions that take place.
Below The Vanguard offers readers a brief look at the controversy surrounding the series along with a variety of community perspectives on the show.
Other reasons why not
When I first began 13 Reasons Why—the “it” Netflix series—in bed at midnight with a bag of Cheetos, I was addicted. The protagonist, Clay Jenson, is hopelessly in love with Hannah Baker, a 16-year-old who has left behind a series of audiotapes that she says name the 13 people whose actions led her to commit suicide. Through intriguing flashbacks, each episode explores one of the reasons.
Before watching this show, I had not been confronted with suicide. I don’t know of anybody who has taken his or her life, have watched very little television about suicide, and have not read books about the topic, so this show was a very new experience for me.
I ignored the dismal premise and was hooked after the first episode. I fell in love with the show’s cliffhangers, mysteries, and cute boys in their varsity-letter jackets. I also loved Clay, who receives the tapes at the beginning of the show, and felt such pity for him as he listens to them and recalls the time he spent with Hannah.
The first few episodes mainly involved sending inappropriate photos around and friends fighting with each other, but as I kept watching, the drama escalated fast. After Hannah arrives at her new school, she falls for Justin Foley, the charming basketball star who starts a humiliating rumor about Hannah. Shortly after, Hannah gets into a fight with her best friend, Jessica, which causes her to lose her only friends. As a result of Justin’s rumor, the high school’s boys are cruel to Hannah and lead her to feel insecure and lonely. Two female characters (one being Hannah) ultimately face issues involving sexual harassment, consent, and of course, self-harm. The show provides little explanation about what is going on in Hannah’s head, and with minimal trigger warnings, I ended up watching scenes of graphic rape and bloody suicide.
Basically, the show aims to display how people’s actions affect others, which is a great message. However, the show’s delivery of this message can be misleading. Some viewers may come to believe that because Jessica fights with Hannah, Jessica causes Hannah’s suicide. This is not true. Hannah was seriously ill. Jessica is not the reason that Hannah killed herself, and neither are the other people on the tapes. Did they break Hannah down and push her to a dark place? Yes, for sure. But the show neglects to highlight the psychological disorder that Hannah experiences and instead solely focuses on her view that others are to blame. Bullying and other external problems do not alone cause Hannah’s suicide. And no, Hannah is not just being dramatic or “crazy,” as I’ve heard some classmates say. Hannah is mentally ill and suffers from depression—a point the show does not sufficiently emphasize.
Maybe the largest flaw in the show is how little it stresses the finality of suicide. The audience is led to believe that Hannah is still living through her tapes, but in fact Hannah is gone forever. Rather than establishing that suicide is not an option, the show portrays suicide as a way to get back at people who have done you wrong. I think this is horrifying.
The show has done one thing right—it has started a discussion. People are now talking about suicide, bullying, sexual harassment, and consent, among other issues. Personally, I know people are not always kind to others at BB&N, and this show made me realize how this lack of kindness can affect people. This is good, but only when people are properly informed. How are middle school kids—like my brother and cousins, who are watching the suicide and the harassment on the show—processing these serious topics? I know my middle school self would not understand what is going on in Hannah’s head and why she does what she does, and 13 Reasons Why does not properly portray her or fully contextualize the situation.
I feel guilty as I think more about the show. When I first watched it, I was numb to the deeper mental health issues. I talked to my friends about how cute Justin was and how crazy Hannah was for not giving him a second chance. Now that I have analyzed the show more and realized its implications, I have discovered that 13 Reasons Why is triggering and misleading, romanticizing suicide for entertainment without thoroughly educating viewers about its subject. The show, and its message, is not good for anybody.