13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series based on the YA book of the same name by Jay Asher, is getting quite a bit of attention since it debuted last month. The 13-episode series takes a deep dive into a high school girl’s clinically depressed mind which leads her to suicide. Hannah Baker left behind cassette tapes for her classmates to listen to after she took her own life; with each tape revealing secrets about specific people and how they treated Hannah.
When Clay Jenson (who is rather naïve) receives the tapes; he takes on the heavy emotional burden of exacting revenge on each person who hurt Hannah as he unravels the mystery of her suicide. If you’ve seen the rest of the series, then you already know what happens.
While 13 Reasons Why is both a riveting and emotional roller coaster ride, it is not as shocking as many viewers and even critics think it is. The series (which I admit can sometimes be a spectacle) takes you to uncomfortable places with cringe-worthy scenes that may cause you to cover your eyes or fast-forward. If you think about it, this isn’t necessarily anything new considering many films and television shows have showcased extremely graphic scenes of sexual assault and suicide for years. In fact I can name more than a few off the top of my head - Girl, Interrupted.
What makes 13 Reasons Why so different is that these specific scenes involve kids – which some find utterly shocking and unnecessary.
Somewhere out there, parents are making a big to do about having the series pulled from Netflix immediately stating that the graphic rape scenes are too much for young teens to handle or that the series is romanticizing suicide. But what if these teens have already read the book? And anyone who saw Hannah’s grief-stricken parents sobbing over their child’s bloodied, lifeless body KNOWS that the suicide scene is FAR from romantic.
To all the parents or anyone else questioning this series – I, a 34 year old woman, have something to tell you:
13 Reasons Why is not shocking because it is REAL LIFE. It may be shocking to those who are so far removed from their own children that they are unaware of the horrors of growing up in a digital age. That right there, is the exact reason why this series HAD TO HAPPEN – because everything that goes on in the series, happens in real life too. There is nothing more shocking than when a television series tells it exactly like it is and hits too close to home.
I personally did not have a hard time watching this – mainly because I am a female who went to high school and experienced some of the same things that Hannah did. The idea of bullying, sexual harassment, physical and mental abuse, depression and anxiety is NOT a shocking foreign concept. Every day, in every school, teenagers are dealing with the exact same horrible garbage as the characters in 13 Reasons Why. And, if you think about it, this is a "pretty" version of suicide.
As far as the mental health aspect, Hannah clearly needed help – she even exhibited all the warning signs, but sadly her parents or friends didn’t catch on and she didn’t reach out for help. We must remind ourselves that the narrative is coming from the underdeveloped mind of a teenager. Hannah, Clay, and the rest of the characters are still growing and learning, meaning their brains cannot scientifically comprehend what is happening as well as a fully-developed adult brain can. So while at times Hannah seems annoying, naïve, and selfish – it’s because she is. We are in the mind of a teenager who doesn’t understand what mental illness is and might not have known to get help.
Again, this is just another reason why this series had to happen exactly the way it did, head-on cinematography and all. Anyone who is angry or disgusted by 13 Reasons Why should take a moment and be thankful for what they have learned – mental illness is very real and very different for teens. If you think for a second that someone may be having a hard time, you now know to ask the right way.
13 Reasons Why was not created for our entertainment; it was put on the screen to send a very clear message and educate those who might not know that this is what being a teenager in 2017 looks like. Concepts like slut-shaming, body-shaming, cyber-bullying, and sexual assault against teenage girls and even older women like myself is…REAL LIFE.
So, thank you Selena Gomez and everyone else involved for bringing awareness to those who seriously have no clue what it’s really like out there in the big bad world of high school. It’s not easy for a lot of kids. If this series managed to reach out and help a struggling teen who is feeling the same way Hannah was, then it succeeded in its efforts.
Breaking open the pandemic of teen suicide and mental illness, bringing uncomfortable truths to light, and forcing much-needed conversation between parents and kids is exactly what this series set out to accomplish. So, instead of labeling the series as shocking, let's call it IMPORTANT instead.
For those of you who are still “SHOCKED” – this show is for you. GET KNOWLEDGE.