Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. This article contains plot details and spoilers to Netflix’s show “13 Reasons Why”
When “13 Reasons Why“ aired on Netflix, it was all the buzz on social media. The show was based on the book, “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and was produced by Selena Gomez. Since its release, it has been praised and criticized for its realistic and accurate depictions of suicide and rape, and for increasing awareness and prevention of youth suicide.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. teens aged 15 to 19. The show found a serious issue to highlight, but outside of its entertainment value, “13 Reasons Why” does more harm than good.
“13 Reasons Why“ glamorizes suicide. It does very little to combat and help those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. It does not address mental health and does little to apply to those actually dealing with these issues.
The whole story is overall sadistic and petty in nature. The creation of the tapes and the reasoning behind why the female protagonist, Hannah Baker, is compelled to create them, paints her character’s motivation as vengeful. Hannah kills herself to prove a point.
All over social media, I have seen posts praising Hannah’s character– viewing her in a heroic way, as an idol. This character is not meant to be a positive example. She is selfish and hypocritical, and while she is shown to be a bold and assertive girl, she does nothing to stand up for herself.
The audience is made to pity Hannah Baker, but also remember she is as much at fault as the other characters. She has a hand in many of the actions leading to her own death. Her tapes caused more harm than good. She was there in person and witnessed a rape of a friend and does nothing about it. She is as guilty as the other characters she blames. She intentionally hurts others with these tapes, and orchestrates as much pain as she endured instead of rising above. This is not a character we should be praising.
This show exploits the heavy topic of suicide and portrays it through a weak character that displays no signs of mental illness, but instead a reoccurring Princess Complex. The character Hannah expects Clay, as well as other characters, to save her. Then when he is unable to help her because of her own actions, she punishes him by adding him to the tapes, knowing he will suffer.
The characters suffer through some traumatic experiences. The show does a great job of highlighting rape culture and bullying as well as revealing sad truths behind schools and their poor mental health support systems. This show is depicting realistic suffering and depression. While I believe one of the main reasons Hannah killed herself was to prove a point and hurt people, it was also to escape this suffering. It does not provide any other option for this character, though, there are many. The other options other than suicide go largely unmentioned. This is the most dangerous aspect of the show.
The series’ creators insist their intent was to help reduce dangerous behavior. According to the National Association of School Psychologists’ discussion of the show, “Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.” The show is a trigger for those who may be battling depression and suicidal urges. We need to shift the focus from praising this show, to using it as a warning and message.
I partially agree with McWilliams’, the intentions of this show may have been genuine and the portrayals of bullying and sexual assault are done well, but this show should not be praised. We should not be encouraging people to watch this show with the expectations it will help diminish any thoughts of suicide. Instead we should use this show as a tool to open conversations about suicide and mental health.
Jayla Hodge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Jaylahodge