13 Reasons Why: This May Be Uncomfortable

It’s been trending everywhere- my twitter feed is filled with discussions about it, several bloggers have made posts about it- you can say that it’s taken the online world by storm. It’s not surprising if you think about it. 13 Reasons Why covers a lot of uncomfortable things all in one series, so of course it would rub a lot of people the wrong way. It’s been a week or two since I’ve finished watching it and I think I can finally write about it on my blog now too.

“Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker, don’t adjust your, whatever device you’re hearing this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore and this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. Because I’m about to tell you the story of my life, more specifically, why my life ended.”

 In case you don’t know about the premise of 13 Reasons Why, I’ll try to sum it as well as I can. It basically follows the main character, Clay Jensen, as he finds and goes through 13 tapes that Hannah Baker has recorded and had circulated like a chain email around to the specific people on her list of reasons why she had committed suicide. The tapes, one by one, unravels Hannah’s life as she moved in to the town and started going to school there.

I’m going to admit, the first episode put me off a lot, mostly because I found it extremely uncomfortable. Whenever I watch a show and there is a conflict of some sort, I pause to think about what I would do if I was in a similar position. Clay Jensen was a quiet boy who mostly kept to himself- he wasn’t popular, but he was liked since he had been in the school since the beginning. Since he was quiet, he was mostly the kind of person who would simply watch, rather than do anything. Even if he wanted to do something, he would often have to be pushed into doing it by another person. That’s something I can relate to.

What I found uncomfortable was Hannah Baker straight off declaring that whoever did her harm was responsible for her suicide, and whoever stood by and watched was also responsible (I’m paraphrasing). Woah, hold up. I paused to put myself in that situation and thought about it and I was horrified. This is an extremely unfair accusation.

To blame a bystander who has no idea what you’re going through for your own outcome and your own personal decision is extremely unfair. The show seems to take a stance that sticking up suicide awareness posters and having seminars are not what will prevent suicide, but that taking interest in the people around you and being “nice” is what will do the trick.
I don’t know why, but this is all really irking me out. People with suicidal tendencies or depression don’t have a neon sign up to tell everyone how they’re feeling. Yes, people should be nice to each other and give each other chances and be forgiving, but to say that despite doing all of these things and also being unaware of someone’s condition, you’re still blame-worthy for a conscious decision that someone takes when they commit suicide.
This theme continues with Clay Jensen. He is often a bystander, a person in the crowd, seeing a small fraction of Hannah’s story, and finally gets the entire picture from her recorded tapes. Now that he’s done listening and knows exactly what happened, he’s beating himself up over it and thinking about all the things that he could’ve done to prevent Hannah from committing suicide. I just felt that this was unfair for a wall-flower ish character like Clay Jensen. Yes, it turns out that he loved her, but somehow I feel like it is the tapes and the self guilt that made him realize this.

Which is why some people are of the opinion that 13 Reasons Why is glorifying suicide by showing how much attention a dead person gets and the strong psychological effects it has on everyone. I can understand how this season can be said to hypothetically trigger someone to commit “revenge” suicide, in an attempt to leave the kind of legacy that Hannah Baker left behind, to make people who have wronged them feel bad and scarred for life.

Along the same lines, I just want to add that it was extremely heartbreaking to see what Hannah’s parents had to go through, especially when Hannah had been their only daughter. Hannah’s parents were stressed, yes, but they loved Hannah very much and always supported her. I don’t think I would ever want to put my family through something like that- ever.

Which leads to the next point- was Hannah an attention seeker? I think that Hannah wasn’t seeking attention, but that she was very gullible. Her parents had been high school sweethearts and Hannah had high hopes that the same thing would happen to her, which caused her to do a lot of things which, in the butterfly effect, lead to more and more things happening. Did I expect it to snowball into what the 12th tape was? No, no I didn’t and I’m sure Hannah didn’t either.

What was admirable about Hannah was how she kept picking herself up and tried to strike up new relationships with other people despite everything that had happened to her at the school and all the rumors that floated around. This could also be attributed to her gullible-ness, but again, I wouldn’t call it attention seeking- although the tapes she makes later can definitely be called attention seeking since the purpose of the tapes is to call out everyone on their behavior and make them feel accountable for her decision…

I stuck to watching the show till the end though. Although I don’t know if you could call that an “end”. I couldn’t believe that it was the last episode and ended up googling it a few times before finally believing it. 13 Reasons Why definitely needs a second season to wrap up the entire story.

A few other things that I found problematic was the school counselor’s attitude (his whole “tell me the name, else we can’t do anything and you’re going to live without being able to do anything about it”, that’s not the right way to trying to get an assault victim to talk??? even I know that!) as well as the fact that there was also no definite way shown for suicidal teenagers to get help.

So to sum up, I feel that while 13 Reasons Why is definitely not the greatest show for people who are already suicidal or for people who had to experience someone near them commit suicide, because it honestly makes you feel like maybe taking Hannah’s way out could be worth it, or make you feel really upset and horrible the way Clay felt throughout the series.

It is, however, informative for people who do not have suicidal tendencies (or for people like me who are strictly indoctrinated with the fact that committing suicide is a sin and means going straight to hell…) and for people who have no prior interaction with teenage suicide. It outlines a lot of things that can possibly drive someone to commit suicide- social pressure, financial pressure, a feeling of constantly doing wrong and thinking that things could be better without you there to aggravate everything.

If I had to rate 13 Reasons Why, I would give it a 3.5/5 overall. Its very well directed and I like how it covers several points of view. There are multiple characters but it doesn’t get overwhelming. The shift between past and present is also something I really liked. There are explicit and uncomfortable scenes, after all, the show covers subjects like bullying, harassment and rape, but these are very real problems (however, I still stand to my previous point that the show does not discuss solutions to the problems it presents). Also, these heavy subjects get thrown as heavy punches in the last few episodes- before that, it’s very relaxed and you keep thinking “Hannah, what? You committed suicide cause of this??” until the bad things happen. And they happen fast. So I would give an age rating of 16+.

What did you think of 13 Reasons Why? Would you watch it? If you’ve already watch it, would you recommend it? 

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4 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why: This May Be Uncomfortable

  1. I'm not the biggest fan of 13 Reasons Why, mostly because of some of the reasons that you mentioned. I don't like how it glorifies and sensationalizes suicide, and I also don't think it's acceptable to just blame people for your own suicide. Anyways, great review~

  2. This is such a great review of the show and really sums up my thoughts well. I thought the show was powerful and had a great cast. Some of the content was heavy and upsetting, but I like that it was raw and emotional. I also found that the show got more intense towards the end – some of the episodes in the middle were a bit slow. The final episode was absolutely devastating and made me tear up for sure.

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