The moment Netflix's highly successful TV drama "13 Reasons Why" hit its website, controversy exploded throughout the internet. The show's highly adult and real topics ranging anything from drug abuse, to rape and suicide, set off alarms in both parents and children viewers all around the world.
Following the narration of fictional, and deceased, "Hannah Baker," the show retells the 13 events that led up to her death, each the fault of her peers and classmates for letting her down or hurting her. For some, it's an emotional rollercoaster, and for others, it's too real for the entertainment industry. Most fears are brought to light due to the show's audience being composed of mainly teens, who are seen to be more likely affected by such violent content.
However, most fail to see the importance of watching the show, behind the gore and violence, that can be taught and learned from by not only teens but also adults and others who are struggling with mental health issues.
1. Hannah: the girl who takes her life
She's portrayed to be a slut, ugly and an object by her peers that led her to form such a negative mindset about both herself and the life she lives in. It's her peers who influence her to party, hang out with the wrong crowd and eventually get herself into problematic situations that escalates faster than she can keep up with.
For this, the most important aspect that we learn from her is how big of an impression and influence we can leave on someone. Hannah reminds us that our actions and words mean nothing in the long run, rather what stays in memory is the feeling you left on the person, whether it be happiness, jealously or betrayal. Hannah's friends each played a part in 13 grievances against her, and the feelings left by their actions are what accelerated her spiral.
Through Hannah, we learn that we never know what issues someone may be going through; thus, treating them how we would want someone else to treat us is not a mantra to take lightly.
2. Clay: Hannah's invisible lover
Clay is more than the knight in shining armor; Clay is evidence that suicide is never the answer. Throughout the show, his narration plays a crucial role in the development of the plot, allowing listeners and watchers to hear both sides of the story, one living and one dead.
Hannah's story is filled with hurting, one may take deeply, but it's Clay who balances the spectrum. As he listens to Hannah's tapes, he takes her hurting to a deeper level than any other previous person. He is evidence that although it may seem nobody is there, that nobody cares, there exist people who love you more than you know and reaching out is all it takes.
He loved Hannah for who she was, despite all the pain and self deprecation she went through in the last days of her life; a simple action that teaches us that no matter how we see ourselves, even in our worst moments, we're beautiful.
3. Courtney: the gossiper, the liar
In a character story-arc climax, it was brought to light that after Courtney lied about Hannah and the photos of her kissing another girl; it was her she was kissing. Courtney came out of the closet and announced she was a lesbian in front of the court and to her school, an action that is seen as fearsome to teens today who struggle with the same identity issues.
What we take out as audience members shouldn't be that Courtney lied about herself and Hannah but rather the response to her finally coming out to her peers. Both her dads were supportive, even going as far as trying to host a movie night in the midst of all the drama to help their daughter feel as comfortable as she could, which is the total opposite to the negative backlash seen today to the LGBTQ+ community from everything through excommunication and physical violence.
Through Courtney, we learn the importance of acceptance, and instead of parents yelling and being angry at their children, they should celebrate how they just made one of the biggest steps in their life. They found out who they are.
4. Alex: the objectifier and ex-best friend
Alex's role in Hannah's suicide has been questioned about whether or not Hannah interpreted his actions wrong, and whether or not Alex's role was taken out of proportion. This belief is drenched in accusations on both Hannah's and Alex's part, without realizing that perhaps the blame lies in both parties.
Alex got on Hannah's tapes by writing her name down on a list that was passed throughout their school — a list that objectified the girls of their high school. This list intensified the belief of Hannah being "easy," leading her to be victim of humiliation and accused of trickery to make boys "like" her. Not only this, but Alex would later date Hannah's best friend, Jessica, inadvertently taking away their friendship and the bond she relied on.
Alex's role is seen by some as mostly accidental as he was unaware of the consequences it would have on Hannah, unlike Courtney's blatant gossip. We learn that sometimes our actions have unfathomable consequences to others, no matter how hilarious they may seem in the moment. Degrading others for your benefit is wrong, and should be seen as wrong because though Alex and his friends were able to laugh it off, for Hannah, it only fueled her depression.
5. Tyler: the town's "Peeping Tom"
Known to be the "Peeping-Tom," who took away Hannah's feeling of safety in her home, Hannah's accusations was largely based off of assumption, as she never found out his identity until the night she and Courtney decided to catch him in the act. Accusing him of taking photos of her and circulating the tapes inspired her classmates to take revenge on him by smashing the window of his room with rocks for him to feel exposed and unsafe as Hannah did.
Is this right?
The audience both learns how grand our actions can be on others and how taking revenge can not rewrite the past.
In fact, it begins Tyler's own spiral into hanging with the wrong crowd and being victim to bullying. Due to Hannah's accusations, Tyler lost his credibility and self. His actions were wrong, but revenge is not always the answer. His apologies are now forever unheard, and despite attempts to make a right instead of a wrong, he is now in Hannah's spot for the rest of his high school days —suffering.
6. Marcus: the corrupt leader
How important friends are, our status and power above others.
Despite being student body president and future Harvard student, Marcus is an example to how the faults of man do not escape the intelligent as he rides behind Bryce, Hannah's rapist, and his crew that rules the school in order to maintain his status. He tricked Hannah into going on a date because Bryce had dared him to sleep with her, only to publicly grope her and humiliate her after pushing him away.
His demeaning stature against Hannah is highlighted in this scene, as he let a dare drive him to abuse Hannah emotionally and sexually. Although his intelligence would tell him otherwise, he was infatuated with himself and his friendship with Bryce and was willing to keep and improve such relationships within any possible means, even if it meant emotionally scarring Hannah.
In all, it highlights the question as to whether or not we value friendship and power or our morals when it comes to difficult situations. More importantly, it highlights how even the brightest can become the corrupt; remembering to get off our high horse every once and a while to put others before ourselves is not merely a life lesson but a mantra to live by.
7. Mr. Porter: the counselor who couldn't
Arguably the final nail that drove Hannah's decision to take her life: Mr. Porter was the last tape in Hannah's collection. She sadly told the story of her encounter with Bryce raping her to Mr. Porter, who responded through telling her to, in short, get over it. As the audience, we're shocked by his response, but fail to realize that alike responses have been told to girls about their rapists, unable to receive justice due to being silenced in fear or trauma.
Mr. Porter was Hannah's attempt to follow the depression rule book step-by-step: seek a professional to talk to. His betrayal showed Hannah that her world was almost a lie; the one person meant to help her couldn't.
After Mr. Porter had heard her tape about him, we see in season two a new face, actively tracking down kids he's concerned about and making house calls to voice his worries.
Mr. Porter only realized his mistake after he made it, in that he didn't take the time to care and understand Hannah's emotional battle in the way she desperately wanted him to hear. It's his change that made all the difference in the way he sees the world and the mindset of children. It shouldn't take a mistake for adults to realize their role in a child's life, a crucial message that blares from Mr. Porter's actions in dealing with Hannah.
In a symbolistic way, Mr. Porter carries a warning to the adults and parents watching the show in realizing their role in their child's life. Are they close to their children? Do they talk? Do they know the degree to their children's own emotional and mental health?
As an audience, we take away how important forming connections with our children truly is; how important it is to help them through life's hardships rather than leave them to figure it out or ignore their signs for help. We learn to listen, understand and help.
Hannah's story teaches us the importance of realizing one's actions against another person, seeing the world through another's glasses, in order to realize our impact. Although we may be small, we can create big storms and move mountains. It's this power that makes or breaks who we are as people — as society. Whether or not we choose to be "a reason" or to be a helping hand makes all the difference.
From Hannah, we learn the answer lies in the latter.