Columns / Discourse / April 19, 2017

“13 Reasons Why” pushes limits

Each time I log onto social media, I am bombarded with images and think pieces and memes of the new Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why”. It’s an addicting show. I have been using my free time to watch the show, probably watching around three or four episodes a day. The show is essentially about a highschool girl who commits suicide. But before she kills herself, she records tapes in which she recounts all the times her peers have wronged her.

I want to know what happened at Jessica’s party. I want to know how Hannah’s mother’s lawsuit against the school will play out. I want to see what Hannah has to say in Clay’s tape. Given that Netflix, arguably, is the preeminent form of media of the 21st century, the show is wildly popular among millennials. It worries me.

So many young people, teenagers and young adults are watching this show and taking in the inaccurate and messed up narratives the show presents. I could give you 13 reasons why “13 Reasons Why” is a terrible show, but I’ve already seen three articles having that exact title, so I’ll just give you a brief but poignant one: The show sensationalizes suicide. Numerous studies have shown that media is highly influential in their representations of issues like suicide and mental health. ReportingOnSuicide.com has a list of rules for which authors and journalists should follow in order to debunk suicide myths and decrease suicide rates.

Some of those rules are: “Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one.” “Don’t describe the suicide method.” “Don’t speculate why the person may have done it.” 13 Reasons Why breaks all those rules and every single other rule on that list.

Hannah Baker essentially blames external factors as to why she committed suicide, like bullying and sexual assault, when suicide should be approached with more nuance. Many of the characters on the show, especially the main character Clay Jensen, blame themselves for the suicide of Hannah Baker. Hannah basically blames the people who wronged her for her suicide. This is a dangerous sentiment. No one is responsible for a suicide except for the person who committed suicide. It is not a way to gain revenge or make others feel bad. Teenagers watching this show will internalize these messages in their subconscious, believe them to be true and thus perpetuate harmful ideas about suicide and mental health. Please, if you have younger people in your life that look up to you that watch this show, please tell them how problematic and harmful it is, and that it should be watched with a grain of salt.

Francesca Downs

Tags:  13 reasons why column discourse media mental health self-harm suicide television

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