Let’s discuss the hottest topic on the internet right now; 13 Reasons Why. A Netflix TV show based off a book, has somehow became the cornerstone to decipher good people from bad people. If you like it, you’re good because you don’t want to be a bully. If you hate it, you’re good because you disagree with how suicide is portrayed. You’re bad if you like it because you romanticize suicide. You’re bad if you hate it because you aren’t respectful of this suicide story. How about we consider this; everyone sees things through different lenses.
I myself watched the whole entire series. It was what I expected. It was a teen drama with average acting and writing. It kept my attention but it wasn’t revolutionary. Although I will say the main actor Dylan Minnette does an excellent job; so good I wouldn’t be surprised if a nomination came his way. Otherwise, I would call it completely average.
If you are not familiar with the story, first off spoiler alert. A teenage girl named Hannah Baker commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes for 13 different people explaining why they are the cause of her suicide. The truth is, these people are necessarily the cause of her suicide, rather she tells her story through them. She is often very forgiving of them, and truly only puts the blame on one or two people. It seems this description is just a tag line to grab attention. The main character we follow is Clay, who was Hannah’s best friend, as he is driven into a spiral of madness listening to these tapes.
This is where the controversy comes in. First off, how it portrays suicide. The main issue many people have with this show is how is romanticizes suicide. People who are seriously thinking about suicide don’t make tapes and create a detailed narratives to share their life. However, we see at the end that these tapes weren’t necessarily the plan, as after she makes them, she feels like she doesn’t have to commit suicide anymore. Her actual suicide ends up being a snap decision that is shown as anything but romantic. It’s brutal, hard to watch, and void of dramatic TV tropes.
The other part of this issue comes when Clay, Hannah’s one good friend, claims you can love someone back to life. This line hit a lot of people the wrong way, myself included.
You need therapy and medication to treat suicide, not love. However, after re-watching the scene, it doesn’t necessarily mean “Love conquers all,”. Clay is trying to express that just being there for someone is the first step to getting help. He makes a point that any one of the 13 could’ve intervened and guided Hannah towards help, but they didn’t. It’s not about love in the romantic sense, it’s about empathy and reaching out towards others. Plus, this line is really more a character study into Clay’s mindset and shouldn’t be taken as fact.
Another controversy is how Hannah seems to blame her psychological issues on others. First off, the marketing team for this show really tried hard to sell it this way, as a revenge story. It’s not at all. Rather she uses each person to show a step towards her feeling of worthlessness. She often doesn’t demonize any of these people. Only one she truly blames, for good reason. The tapes are just a way the story is told.
Overall, the biggest issue people have with this show is that it turns suicide and depression into a narrative story. I understand the immediate issues. My first reaction was backlash. It’s insensitive to trivialize suicide and have cliff-hangers like it’s a soap opera. To me, it doesn’t portray suicide and depression 100% accurately. At first it made me want to get up on my soap box, but something stopped me. Someone told me they liked the show because it felt honest to that person’s struggle with depression.
Here’s the important thing to remember, each person’s struggle with depression and suicide are different. No experiences will match up because we are different people. I personally am always craving to see mental illness portrayed in narratives, but then get upset when it doesn’t live up to what I think it is supposed to be. However, one person’s truth is not another’s. Hannah’s story might be realistic and true to some people who have suffered through those experiences. But it might not be that way for everyone. Before we can judge how stories are told we must consider that not every story is going to resinate with you. People with depression or suicide survivors say this show isn’t realistic to their experience, and that’s valid. They’re stories should be told. But this story may be relevant to someone else suffering from depression. It’s dangerous to claim this show as “unrealistic” if someone feels like this experience is like theirs. Imagine if you saw this and finally didn’t feel alone,
and then you were met by a wall of people who said the show was offensive. Wouldn’t that invalidate that person’s experience with depression or suicide? We are all different people who experience the same things differently. Take it from the show, Hannah and Clay deal with grief and depression very differently. If you are truly curious about how depression is portrayed on the show, focus on the other side characters and see how they go through it. It’s widens the lens even more. Also, I personally don’t see it as romanticizing suicide. I have seen so many movies and TV shows where they show a suicide with slow, sad music in the background, flashbacks of other characters, and editing to avoid the trauma. It’s very corny and takes away the severity of the situation;. Hannah has a snap decision, and it shows her suicide in full view, no fluff, nothing romantic. I respected that, but again, this is just how I view it through my lens.
The fact of the matter is, not everyone is going to agree on this show, and that is completely fine. It’s okay to say this show isn’t valid with your experience of depression, but it’s just as harmful to shame how it’s portrayed because someone might truly feel that way. The key thing to remember is that this is a story, a TV show. It has to be presented and sold that way to get eyes on the screen. People attempt to take harsh subjects, war, poverty, violence and show it on TV because it matters to people. It mirrors our experiences. It’s impossible that every TV show is going to mirror our experience exactly. Just remember that people relate to topics in different ways and recognizing that one mental illness is different from another is the first step to creating true, authentic narratives about mental illness. As well as gets us closer to empathizing with each other.