Two years ago, the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why took the internet by storm.
Inspired by Jay Asher’s 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why, it tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl, Hannah Baker, who took her own life after facing enormous amounts of bullying and receiving little help from her peers and teachers.
Before committing the act, Hannah tapes thirteen recordings attributing blame to everyone who has somehow contributed to her untimely end, to assure that it doesn’t happen again. The tapes end up in the hands of Clay Jensen, one of Hannah’s friends, who is determined to find out the part he played in this tragedy and wants to avenge her.
The audience’s opinions on the show were rather divided as it received equal amounts of praise and criticism. Just last week the streaming platform announced it was pulling the plug on the show after four reasons – again sparking a mix reaction.
While on the one hand, 13 Reasons Why serves to shed light on teenage life, sexual assault and suicide, some argue that it was done in a rather poor manner.
Eighteen-year-old Jaclyn Grimm who wrote for USA Today stated: “The show romanticises the aftermath of suicide [and] it also blames everyone in Hannah’s life. One character even states: ‘Well, we ALL killed Hannah Baker’.”
Furthermore, the show has been heavily criticised for its graphic scenes, such as showing how Hannah takes her life and when she is sexually assaulted by classmate Bryce Walker. These scenes have been said to be ‘triggering’ and used for shock value.
However, we must not forget that despite using such graphic images in the show, at the beginning of every episode Netflix includes a short clip of the actors informing the viewers of the potentially harmful content in the show. At the end they also include the number of a helpline regarding the topic of whatever was shown in the episode.
Netflix even created a website, 13ReasonsWhy.info, to provide resources and crisis hotlines, and made a PSA after the show called Beyond the Reasons.
Moreover after citing advice from mental health experts, the show decided to edit out and remove the explicit scene of Hannah taking her life.
For this they have been commended by Samaritans, a charity which aims to help those in emotional distress of at risk of suicide.
Lorna Fraser, executive lead of Samaritans’ Media Advisory Service, said: “(…) we raised our concerns over the content and have been working with the Netflix team here in the UK to provide advice on the safe portrayal of suicide, including viewer support and signposting to helplines such as Samaritans.”
In addition to such mixed reactions from the public, 13 Reasons Why has also been accused of glorifying suicide.
This is due to the fact that rather than discussing themes of mental health, which has a major link to suicide, the show focuses on the act by itself which makes it seem insincere.
Instead of depicting how mental health – notably depression – can lead to suicide, the series places the blame on everything that has happened to Hannah and, consequently, her classmates.
“The tendency to imagine you can kill yourself as a way to get back at people feels like an adolescent fantasy,” Dr. Phil Schwartz, medical director of the JED Foundation, said.
He added: “It underlies so much of the narrative arch of the story.”
There have been many concerns about copycat behaviour regarding 13 Reasons Why.
A statement about the matter was released by The National Association of School Psychologists. It read: “Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide (…) can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
Unfortunately this has been proven as a 23-year-old girl in Peru took her own life, leaving behind tapes which are said to have been inspired by 13 Reasons Why. Additionally, the rates of teen suicide in the US alone rose by 28.7% in April 2017, only a month after the release of the series.
Despite receiving copious amounts of critique, the show released a second season in May 2018 which brought them even more criticism.
It again showed a disturbing scene of sexual assault and tried to introduce a school shooter plotline which was very ineptly done as it showed one of the characters, Clay Jensen, stopping Tyler Down from causing mass violence at a school dance.
This was very poorly received by the public as it was said that Clay’s way of talking Tyler down was incredibly unsafe and the police should have been contacted as Tyler was heavily armed.
13 Reasons Why was also accused of glorifying and dramatising school shootings, which was very insensitive in the wake of the Parkland shooting which had taken place only a couple of months prior to the episodes.