Just like the students of Liberty High couldn't stop talking about Hannah Baker's death, the world at large is currently fixated on the Netflix adaptation of her demise, debating whether the depiction of teen suicide in 13 Reasons Why is harmful to people at risk of hurting themselves.
However, what's gone largely unnoticed is how Jay Asher's book was originally publicized online, controversially using the same kind of marketing approach employed by The Blair Witch Project.
That's right, guys. The team tasked with promoting the 13 Reasons Why book originally tried to pretend that there were actual tapes recorded by a real-life Hannah Baker who had killed herself. And you thought the show was controversial...
According to the New York Times, the publishing firm Razorbill employed an advertising agency to develop a YouTube campaign promoting 13 Reasons Why. For reasons unknown to the rest of us, the agency released videos featuring the voice of actress Olivia Thirlby (Juno, Dredd) reading out the tapes as if Hannah Baker was a real person.
At no point does the description underneath reveal that this is in fact a promotional campaign or that Hannah Baker didn't really kill herself:
"The last time anyone heard this voice was when Hannah Baker was alive. I wont divulge my reasons for posting these tapes and letting Hannahs story be heard by the whole world...yet. But those of you who are on her list can probably guess why Im doing this and thats all that matters. For those of you who havent had your tape posted yet...stay tuned."
Known only as "Hannahsfriend13," the YouTube channel contains a number of "tapes," and links to a blog with posts dating back to 2008, a year after Jay Asher's book was originally published. The blog is written by a "friend of Hannah's," and continues to be used on the official 13 Reasons Why web site for promotional purposes.
Admittedly, this is a rather clever and immersive strategy, but there's also a huge problem with this form of promotion, which ties into the controversy that's plagued 13 Reasons Why ever since it first appeared on Netflix. By promoting the story in this manner, the plight of those who genuinely suffer from suicidal thoughts is trivialized, to the point where Hannah is depicted as a vengeful teen rather than someone suffering from real emotional problems. Let's not even get started on how this could trigger people who have encountered these issues in their lives, and then come across the campaign accidentally.
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Fortunately, the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why never stooped to such exploitative means to promote the show. However, there are still some issues that the team behind 13 Reasons Why should consider moving forward, especially if we explore the idea of school shootings in Season 2 — assuming of course if the show even returns for a second season.
If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit their website.
Do you think the book's original promotional campaign should have made it clear that the tapes weren't real?
(Source: NY Times. Poll Image Credit: Netflix)