WARNING: Spoilers, mentions of suicide, sexual assault, and rape.
Whether or not you love to binge-watch TV series, you have probably heard about ’13 Reasons Why’. Based on the book, the 13 episode Netflix series depicts the reasons behind the main character, Hannah Baker’s, suicide.
Since it’s release, the show has received harsh criticisms – namely for it’s graphic scenes of rape and suicide. And yes, it is indeed controversial. Especially for those already struggling with mental heath issues, it might be doing more harm than good.
Widely advertised, both online and in physical form, the show has gained massive amounts of attention. Of concern, especially for younger viewers, there is no indication at the beginning of the series of the graphic scenes that follow in the later episodes.
In fact, the first few episodes are rated M, with the MA15 rating only appearing half-way through the series. For obvious reasons, this has become a cause for concern as few, if any would suddenly halt their binge-watching due to a change in ratings.
Even for those who have read the book, the changed method of suicide and it’s accompanying visual depiction makes for a much more chilling scene.
However, the concern arises beyond the graphic scenes. While the intent of raising awareness without shying away from the ‘ugliness’ of the topic is noble, the execution falls short for a number of reasons.
As a matter of fact, the extended portrayal of suicide and it’s affect on people, romanticises the whole idea. It gives merit to self-harm and suicide as effective ways of getting attention. The tapes might reveal a lot, but we still aren’t provided with in-depth reasons.
’13 Reasons Why’ aims to teach a lesson about kindness and the effects of bullying. This message is clear, but while it might shed light on what the ‘bully’ can do, it lacks in offering any options for people struggling with their mental health. In fact, in the brief scene between Skye and Clay, the show may suggest that self-harm is a reasonable coping mechanism.
It does, through the character of Alex show how depressive and suicidal tendencies can easily go unnoticed by family and friends. However, it does not demonstrate how to look out for these behaviours or even suggest that we should. On the contrary, the scenes regarding mental health awareness are often overlooked in favour of Hannah’s voice overs.
On the note of Hannah’s voice overs, the series simplifies the reasons for her suicide down to a blame game.
Although the show has received praise for the detailed depiction, by not properly exploring the complex reasons behind suicide, it implies that death is the only way to ensure others notice.
And while the other characters do finally take notice of all the struggles Hannah faced, we see no upshot. There isn’t even much character development.
The consequences of poor decisions aren’t adequately represented throughout the series. A number of characters including Justin, Tyler, and Clay send around photos without permission and yet they are not reprimanded. We also don’t see Clay facing the consequences for things like like keying Zach’s car in attempt to right the wrongs.
We see Bryce rape not one, but two girls. While the final episode suggests that he will face repercussions, we do not see it. So much for not shying away from the ugliness of the truth.
’13 Reasons Why’ may fulfil its intent by starting the conversation surrounding traditionally taboo topics. And that is important. But on a number of fronts it certainly falls short of effectively facing and portraying mental health issues.
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