This week I have read 13 Reasons Why and watched the entire Netflix series. I have also read a ton of others blog posts raving about the series.
Now that I have finished both, I want to talk…
Let’s start with the book. I honestly liked it. And that is me looking at it from a purely story oriented point of view. The story follows Clay Jensen, the main character and do-gooder as he journeys through a series of tapes left behind by a teenage girl named Hannah Baker, who unfortunately decided to commit suicide.
Left behind? I suppose that’s one way to put it. It felt like Hannah recorded the tapes to show people that actions have consequences. As Clay makes his way through the tapes, he discovers that Hannah, someone he didn’t realized he loved was being bullied, stalked, and had even witnessed a rape.
Hannah was unable to handle the things that happened to her and, in the end, made the choice. A choice that was completely hers to make. To kill herself. Hannah overdosed on pills and died. I get it. I do. Life isn’t fair. Life sucks. Especially for kids, whose brains have not fully developed and every bit of tragedy and pain can feel like it will last forever. And it felt like the author Jay Asher got that as well.
Asher handled the subject of teen suicide tactfully, gently, and with a certain amount of dignity. Even people who struggle with depression and suicidal ideations can appreciate the story. There was no glorification about teenage suicide. Because for fuck sake, there is nothing glorious or dutiful about it.
Suicide is a painful, shitty thing. It is something that hurts people. It is the tragic end of a life lost in sorrow and misery. The best part about the actual suicide in the book is that, Asher chose not to show it or describe it in detail. He briefly described the event because, it needed to be there.
So, I encourage you to read it. Have your children read it. Talk about it. Talk to your kids about it. Have the difficult conversation.
And that is where that ends.
Enter the 13 Reasons Why Netflix series.
There are things I really loved about this show. They took a reletively short book and stretched it into thirteen compelling hours of t.v. and that is no easy feat. The casting job was incredible! They found an amazing group of talented, attractive young actors and actresses, who poured their heart into the job. It was clear that their hearts were really in the right place.
But--I am not going to be gentle here...
The series takes a tactfully written book about teenage suicide and shits all over it. Again, you find the main character, Clay Jensen, the recipient of Hannah Baker’s suicide cassette tapes. As Clay makes his way through the tapes, it becomes painfully clear that this series will glorify teenage suicide, bullying, teenage drinking, and teenage sex. They would even add additional sex scenes not included in the book.
I really want to discuss the way the series portrayed the reason Hannah left the tapes. Rather than using the taped to let people know how hurtful they were, she used the tapes as a ploy for revenge. Hannah made it clear that a pile of fucked up shit happened to her and people around her.
Let’s face it, that’s life. I’m good with that. But each time Clay struggles through a tape, he takes the focus from Hannah and starts to seek revenge of his own. All in the name of revenge for Hannah… ish.
The focus should be on why this poor teenage girl killed herself. While the things she went through were a part of it, maybe even a large part, they were not the reasons she chose to take her life. She surely didn’t do it for revenge. But that is the feel that the series gave off.
The writers chose to make it look like Hannah was a weak, revenge seeking bitch who killed herself because kids are mean. Kids are mean. Kids hurt other kids. But suicide reaches deeper than that. Hannah killed herself because she was struggling with depression, a legitimate mental health issue.
The shit those kids did to her absolutely made it worse but, these were not the 13 reasons why Hannah took her own life. They were simply 13 attributing factors. No one has the power to make you kill yourself and telling kids otherwise and making it look glorious to do it is both negligent and dangerous.
For fuck sake. This series is going to make kids kill themselves. It portrays suicide as the ultimate revenge. The ultimate, you made me to this, you killed me, fuck you, from the grave.
What they don't show is that those very kids that did awful things to Hannah get to go on living. They get to live and move on past these events. Hannah gets to be dead. Rotting away. They really miss showing the point that death is, if nothing else, final! It's not an opportunity to get revenge but rather one to stop your pain, your life, your everything.
Secondly, I have a huge problem with the series changing the way Hannah killed herself. I have a problem with them showing her killing herself. They changed it from Hannah taking pills to slitting her wrists. Why?
What purpose did that have? They show Hannah several times throughout the show lying dead, or dancing with Clay, bleeding from her slit wrists. What the fuck? Why? It is unnecessary. Disgusting. Even worse is they showed the actual suicide. Hannah, in a bathtub, cutting and bleeding out from her slit wrists. The scene felt more like a how to for teenage suicide.
What was wrong with her taking the pills to commit suicide? The answer is all too simple. It isn’t glorious. It isn’t bloody. It isn’t cool. It’s just a sad girl, dying. And no one wants to watch that. Death has to be vengeful, gory, and full of angst to be entertaining.
Let’s step away from the suicide for a minute. They changed and added a lot of stuff. I don't mind as long as it is reasonable and shows a point. They changed too much in a few areas though.
They changed a lot about Clay's character. The book portrays Clay as shy, gentle teen, in love with a girl he was afraid to let into his life. Good. That's real. The series portrays Clay as an awkward stalker, infatuated with a dead girl he "li. It focuses more on revenge and less on love. Revenge is not a valid replacement for love.
Lawsuit: There was no lawsuit between Hannah's parents and the school district in the book. Why add one in the series? Because this is America. We are not happy unless we place blame. Someone has to take the fall. It simply couldn’t be a sad girl, succumbing to her demons, unfortunate as it is.
Rape: Yep. There was a rape in both and its a super tough subject. Well explained and rationalized in the book. But in the show, for some reason, they not only had Hannah witness a rape, but had her get raped as well. It again, stole the focus off of Hannah and her mental health issue. If you are going to show something graphic like a rape, you better put it in context easily understood by the audience and it better make sense.
I’m disgusted at the lack of responsibility the producers took when they made the series. They chose to glorify suicide, sex, and revenge. They chose to take a sensitive subject and twist it into a pile of meaningless garbage. They made it reasonable to assume people kill themselves because of the actions of others. They don't. Hannah didn't. She killed herself because she had a mental health issue!
Mental health issues are serious. The series is reckless in its portrayal. Please, don’t watch this show. Please don’t let your kids watch it. Suicide is not glorious. This show missed the point.
It would be negligent of me not to post places that can help if you are struggling with mental health issues of your own. If you are, please, talk to someone!
Suicide Prevention Hotline:
The Trevor Project