Oh, 13 Reasons Why, what a load of trouble you get yourself into.
Before I get into this, I want to make it clear I am a fan of the show. I appreciate not everyone is. It is a show which divides opinions and there will be people who passionately oppose what I have to say. I would like to ask you respect my opinions, even if you disagree with them.
As is the nature of the show, I will be discussing sensitive topics of suicide and sexual assault. If you expect you will find this triggering, please do not continue reading.
Another season, another chorus of people demanding 13 Reasons Why is cancelled.
Having just finished season 2, I am feeling shocked, uncomfortable and amazed. If you’ve seen the season finale, you will, I imagine, have a very clear understanding why I feel the first two emotions. The amazed part may leave you a little confused.
I’m going to be blunt: I think the creators of 13 Reasons Why have balls of steel to approach such controversial issues in the way they do. I respected them for this in the first season and that hasn’t wavered in season 2. In a world where we are constantly censoring ourselves for fear of backlash, I find it refreshing that they hold nothing back. Does it make me uncomfortable? Absolutely. And so it should.
Now, do I think the show should have done more to protect those who are struggling with these issues themselves? In season 1, definitely. Do I think 13 Reasons Why have done a better job with this second time around? Certainly. They have taken the feedback on board and tried to put plenty of warnings in place.
Having read several articles about why Hannah Baker’s suicide scene was so heavily criticised, I do understand.
To portray it on the screen like that runs the risk of people copying her actions. It’s not that I don’t care about this side of things, but I believe it’s not a reason to not show it. It was shocking, it was heartbreaking and it was raw.
Despite the efforts to do better, 13 Reasons Why is still facing criticism. Once again, we have found ourselves in a situation where people are calling for the show to be axed (may contain spoilers) Do we, as a society, just want to live in denial about these subjects and not have them shown at all? Is that the appropriate way to deal with them? What are 13 Reasons Why expected to do to get it right?
It seems the big issue in season 2 is the season finale which features a horrifying scene. I’m trying to do this spoiler-free so I’m going to keep it vague. This has set people off, again, on a crusade to end the show. It was difficult to watch. It left my heart racing and I felt short of breath. I’m having trouble getting it out of my head. To evoke that reaction in someone means 13 Reasons Why have created something powerful.
Did it need to be as graphic as it was? I hate to say it, but yes. To suggest otherwise would surely come from a place of fear. Living in a bubble is easy. Having creators pop the bubble is challenging. We are right to be scared, but we are wrong to hide from it. We need things to shock us into action.
Let me ask you this: if you think these scenes are uncomfortable to watch, how do you think it feels to experience it?
Because people do. Just because it’s not widely discussed or portrayed doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Personally, I think the discussion of sexual assault is crucial. 13 Reasons Why does a great job of demonstrating the culture which can sometimes surround it.
It’s not that I think people are too sensitive, but I think we are used to being protected. For some of us, there’s a good reason for this. For others, we just don’t want to face these issues head-on. This is why I think it shocks us so much when someone comes along and plays out events in a real and devastating way.
Without giving too much away, 13 Reasons Why teeters on the edge of a new discussion about gun control in season 2. It is one which has been prevalent in the media, particularly within the past year. I imagine others might think it’s too soon, or that it’s not the right time, but it is exactly the right time for this to be shown. Should the show be renewed, I hope they continue their tenacious approach into season 3 and this particular subject gets more attention.
There are people complaining that the second season didn’t end the way they wanted it to. I get that, but did it end in a realistic way? I’d say yes. We’re used to people sugar-coating things and giving them a positive twist, but that’s not real life.
That inevitably sparks the next criticism which is that, I feel, people are looking to Hannah to represent them and think the show fails to do so. There’s nothing wrong with that. If anything, it’s a fair expectation to have of a show which is trying to demonstrate they’re not alone. On the other hand, mental health and sexual assault are complex issues. Everyone’s experiences are different. It would have been impossible for 13 Reasons Why to represent everyone.
Then, of course, there’s the question of whether or not Hannah even has a mental health illness.
And you know what? It’s this one that irritates me the most. It is damaging and inappropriate to say there was nothing wrong with her and she killed herself for attention. I’d argue this response does more to harm the cause than 13 Reasons Why. I find it frustrating when we are supposedly trying to encourage people to discuss their mental health openly that this is the response to a depiction of suicide.
Hannah is unwell. She might not make it obvious to everyone but that’s the whole point. A lot of people who are struggling with their mental health are hiding it. The unfortunate truth is that we don’t always learn about what they’re going through until it’s too late. There’s also the issue that the handful of signs she did display were seemingly disregarded. This is a common problem when we live in a world where mental health is secondary to physical health.
I feel some of the show is simply misinterpreted. I’ve seen a lot of people suggest Hannah uses her suicide as a means of revenge, yet I never got that impression. Perhaps the tapes were revenge, but the act itself was an act of desperation when everything got too much. From what I understood, she wanted to get away from the abuse, the pain and the memories which were haunting her. I didn’t believe she had done it to punish anyone.
Hannah’s death leaves people feeling guilty, yes, but this is what a lot of people find themselves feeling in the aftermath of losing someone to suicide. If Hannah had just killed herself without any indication as to why, those same people would still be wondering if they could have done more.
If there’s one thing I don’t think the show receives enough credit for, it’s demonstrating the impact of suicide on loved ones.
The way the people who loved Hannah unravel throughout the course of the show is poignant. It teaches us to treasure those we have because everything can change in an instant. It demonstrates how we do not necessarily see how cared for we are until it’s too late. There is a reminder there that, for the reasons we feel like giving up, there are many more to keep fighting.
Finally, I feel that the show does a wonderful job of showing how we all need to do more. We need to keep talking about mental health. We need to be kinder to each other. There’s no way of knowing what others are going through. There are secrets we all keep locked inside ourselves. We need to know it’s okay to reach out when we need help, and we need to be there for others when they come to us.
Even if you strongly disagree with how 13 Reasons Why went about certain things, it’s all the more reason to keep the conversation going.
Not as a means to tear down the show but to educate people. This is why I don’t particularly mind when people express their opinions about it because the only way to get better representation is to discuss it.
That said, I stand by my point that 13 Reasons Why shouldn’t be punished for having the courage to confront people with the sad realities of the world we are living in. I think some of the outrage at 13 Reasons Why is genuine. It is hard to come to terms with the fact these things happen and I think, rather than channelling their energy into getting the show axed, they should be asking what they can do to make the situation better.
However, I also feel like we are living in a culture where people want to be offended. You can’t say or do things without people finding a way to twist it. I feel like this situation would have occurred in any case – maybe not to the extremes it has, but to some extent.
I wholeheartedly believe 13 Reasons Why was created with the best of intentions. They may have fallen short of those sometimes, but 13 Reasons Why had the goal of opening up a conversation and, whether you like the show or not, you can’t deny they have achieved that.