I wanted to title this article “13 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Sucked” and list out thirteen reasons why the show was a flop, but I couldn’t actually think of that many.
I started watching this show because my friends continuously badgered me to do so, and because countless memes kept filling up my Instagram and Twitter feeds. Enough was enough, so when spring break started, so did my binge-watch of the American drama series 13 Reasons Why. Based on the book by Jay Asher, the plot of the show revolves around the suicide of a girl named Hannah Baker. Before you ask yourself why I just spoiled the show, you’ll actually find out about this within the first ten minutes of the plot. When Hannah commits suicide, she leaves a box of thirteen cassette tapes behind. Each tape contains a recording of her explaining one reason that she killed herself, and each tape is about one specific person. Each episode of the season is one tape, hence the title of the show.
The idea is creative, to say the least, and is one that has never been seen before in American television. The show was an immediate success, which can be partly attributed to the fact that celebrity Selena Gomez was one of its executive producers. In fact, it was the most tweeted-about show in 2017. However, despite its large reception, I believe it to be a carelessly made show due to its major negative implications.
13 Reasons Why can be seen as an offensive and poorly constructed show because it sensationalizes the idea of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers, and is a topic that is taken very seriously in our society. In the show, Hannah Baker leaves the tapes behind as an act of revenge. She purposely records these tapes and delivers them to the so-called culprits, leaving them to live with the heavy burden of guilt. Hannah ends her life, blaming her suicide on 13 people. The manner in which suicide is depicted, as a mysterious game or maze, can no doubt be seen as offensive to those who take the matter seriously, and dangerous to those who are ignorant on the topic.
Additionally, the show plays out in a way that labels suicide as the only option in response to bullying and mental health issues. Throughout the show, no mention was made to the other solutions to Hannah’s problems. This is a problem for viewers, as it conveys the idea that suicide is the only way out. In the last episode of the show, Hannah seeks help from her guidance counselor for her suicidal and depressed thoughts, but the counselor rejects her pleas and tells her to move on. This scene is quite damaging and potentially dangerous to viewers, as it undermines the credibility of and trust in school student services when, in fact, they play an immensely important role in helping students suffering from depression and other mental health problems. If someone were to view this scene of Hannah confiding in her guidance counselor and getting turned away and even humiliated, this could affect their own actions and beliefs about their school system.
Multiple episodes throughout the season contained graphic scenes of violence, rape, self-harm, and bullying. The vivid shots have sparked controversy pertaining to the psychological effects that this show could have on vulnerable teenagers. The plot of this television series could also cause viewers to identify with Hannah and unconsciously mold their thinking towards the option of suicide. Furthermore, to the younger range of viewers, the holistic aspect of Hannah’s suicide could also be misinterpreted. In other words, Hannah’s suicide was a result of the combination of many things, not just one single reason; however, one could watch an episode of the series, and realize that they relate to a certain issue, and compare their own circumstances with Hannah’s. This is in contrast to the far more healthy alternative of stepping back and seeing the episode from a broader perspective within the series.
13 Reasons Why was created with the intention of raising awareness for suicide, but it appears that it has done more harm than good. With a new season coming out soon, I hope that this time, the plotline and filming will be crafted with fewer recklessly inaccurate depictions of mental illness and with more responsibility and consideration for the show’s viewership.