(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for 13 Reasons Why, so if you haven't watched the entirety of the show, click away now!)
March 31st brought about the release of the hot new #youngadult Netflix show: 13 Reasons Why. The new series really took over, and was (and still is) greatly talked about on social media. Like many people, I obsessively binge watched the series. I felt the show was unique, and successfully dealt with sensitive topics such as rape and suicide.
However, a much debated question is whether #13ReasonsWhy romanticizes suicide. This is something I will explore and pose arguments both for and against in this article.
What Is '13 Reasons Why' About?
13 Reasons Why, based on the best-selling books by Jay Asher, follows teenager Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside, he discovers a group of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), his classmate and crush, who unexpectedly committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah unfolds an emotional audio diary, detailing the 13 reasons why she decided to end her life. These 13 reasons are directly related to the bullying she received at high school. Through these, we meet and explore the lives of those associated with — and the shocking events that led or contributed to — Hannah's suicide. Hannah's truth — and Clay's exploration of it — forms a visually stylistic and compelling #TV series.
Does '13 Reasons Why' Romanticize Suicide?
So, does the #Netflix series romanticize suicide? And if so how? I think 13 Reasons Why both does and doesn't romanticize suicide. Here are my reasons:
Yes, 13 Reasons Why does romanticize suicide:
The whole concept of Hannah's tapes almost makes her suicide the hot topic of conversation throughout the school. Her decision to share her story through this medium brings back the Walkman and cassette tapes, making them trendy again. I guarantee as you watched the show, you liked the '90s touch and perhaps thought about digging out your own Walkman again.
With this in mind, the concept of passing the tapes on to the next person makes Hannah's suicide more of mystery and a "guess who" game. Most of the characters become occupied with who is on the tapes, hearing their own tapes, and hiding the tapes from the rest of the school, their teachers, and their parents — especially Hannah's.
Clay spends the entirety of the series following Hannah's clues and the places where she recorded her 13 reasons why. When we lose someone we love, we cling to every part of them we have left. For Clay, this was Hannah's voice. Hannah takes Clay on a journey of discovery and as he listens to Hannah's version of events, he rectifies them. An example of this can be seen at the high school prom.
In his imagination, Clay confidently asks Hannah to dance and they kiss. In reality, Clay awkwardly asks Hannah to dance, but as they do, they are rudely interrupted by Courtney's rumor about Hannah and Justin. This sequence of events leads to Hannah leaving the dance early out of anger and embarrassment. This is not the only time Clay rectifies events, the same happens at Jess' party.
The reality of Hannah's suicide doesn't hit us until the final episode. It's in the final episode that we see Hannah reach her breaking point, organize the tapes, and witness the act of her killing herself. I think that without this reality being introduced to us early on, we do not take into account the act of the suicide itself. Throughout Episodes 1–12 Hannah is known as "the dead girl." We're more occupied with who's on the tapes and what led to her death than her actual death itself. For me, it's Episode 13 that argues against 13 Reasons Why romanticizing suicide.
No, 13 Reasons Why does not romanticize suicide:
It's in the final episode that the audience really witness Hannah's struggle to keep her own life going. We see Hannah give life one more shot and talk to the school counsellor. With this having failed, her mind is made up: Hannah was going to kill herself.
Since the release of 13 Reasons Why, Hannah's suicide has been a hot topic of conversation. Many people have discussed the graphic nature of the scene and whether it was necessary. I think it was necessary.
Most films that deal with suicide or death tend not to show the act in so much detail. We often see the character prepare their death and then the aftermath. It's unusual we see the act itself. This is what un-romanticizes Hannah's choice to end her life. We see Hannah's pain as she takes the razor blade — that she stole from her parent's shop earlier that day — to her wrists. With struggle and pain she drags the blade up her arm, and crimson red blood gushes out, turning the clear water a deep ruby red.
The writer of the series, Nic Sheff, defends the scene and its graphic content:
"From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible. I even argued for it — relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers [...] It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like — to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens. It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all."
I agree with Sheff. Hannah's battle with dragging the razor blade across her arm shows the reality of suicide. Like Sheff states, it dispels the myth of the quiet drifting off to the next world, an idealistic better world.
What are your thoughts? Do you think 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide?