Based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey for Netflix, 13 Reasons Why tells the tragic story of Hannah Baker. The plot revolves around the series of unfortunate events that culminate in Hannah taking her own life. She leaves tapes behind in which she records the 13 reasons why she decided to kill herself, and on these tapes are stories that incriminate her "friends" as well as reflect the negligence of her high school and even her own parents.
The show was released on March 31st and has since been a huge topic of conversation in life and online. Aside from the staggering success the program has enjoyed, there is still much controversy around the show and its handling of teen suicide. Words such as "glamorizing" and "trivializing" have been used to describe the show's treatment of the heavy subject matter.
Experts say that the depiction of suicide in 13 Reasons Why is problematic because they fear it may cause a suicide contagion effect. To clarify what this means, it is defined as a situation where a publicized suicide triggers copycat behavior in others who are susceptible. This is usually observed with high-profile suicides such as that of a celebrity or in close-knit communities like schools.
The National Association of School Psychologists released a statement saying:
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 youths struggling with metal health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.
I strongly think that the objections to the show are unfair because it was clearly made with the opposite intent to these accusations of encouraging suicide. If anything, the program functions as a deterrent.
'13 Reasons Why' Goes Beyond Suicide
I also think that the program does a great job of illuminating the other many problems teens are facing in today's society. In the debates around the show, few have acknowledged its other topics such as: slut shaming, cyber bullying and sexual assault. The discussion has been eclipsed by the graphic nature of Hannah’s suicide scene, which undoubtedly is a big issue, but the scope of the show is so much wider than this.
In the show's original inception as a film adaptation, Selena Gomez was due to play the role of Hannah Baker. However, in its transition as a TV show on Netflix, she took the role of Executive Producer instead and the part went to Aussie talent Katherine Langford. In an interview to the Associated Press, Selena stated:
“We stayed true to the book…we wanted to do it justice and yeah [the backlash] is gonna come no matter what. It's not an easy topic to talk about.”
The events that transpired throughout the course of the series — such as Bryce’s sexual assault on Hannah, Tyler’s invasions of her privacy and the school labelling her a slut — all took a toll on Hannah, eventually pushing her over the edge. The show displays a very crucial tool that caused a lot of problems for Hannah (and young people in general): the mobile phone.
Phones And Technology As Bullying Tools
The program draws attention to the use of technology as a bullying tool. We live in a technological age where there is high pressure from social media and information can be spread within seconds. When used wrongly it can be detrimental, and the show is very didactic in getting this important message across.
13 Reasons Why teaches us that when there are difficult issues in life we can’t just bury our heads in the sand. It's better to confront these hard topics head on and start a conversation about them. Through the creation of this program there has undoubtedly been an increased awareness of mental health issues affecting young people, and the cast of the show have proven to be good examples in furthering this conversation.
On Instagram, Selena Gomez and cast members Alisha Boe and Tommy Dorfman got matching tattoos to promote Project Semicolon, a mental health and suicide prevention organization.
If you need more convincing about the positive effects of 13 Reasons Why, I strongly suggest you watch 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons. It's a 30-minute documentary where cast members and experts talk about the issues surrounding teen suicide and their intentions for making the program an emblem of hope. Within the show, Justin Prentice (who plays Bryce), aptly said:
“As a society we tend to shy away from these hard topics and I think this [show] is great because it says no, this is a problem and it needs to be addressed.”
I couldn't agree more with this statement. 13 Reasons Why is a show that has raised awareness and prompted a discussion about a very important topic, and for that I think it is a brilliant show, despite the controversy.
What are your thoughts on the intentions and effects of 13 Reasons Why?