I spent much of May/June laid up recovering from foot surgery so what better way to while away the hours than by getting hooked on a Netflix series. 13 Reasons Why had been on ‘my list’ to get through for a while; intrigued by the subject matter and the associated controversy surrounding it.
Much of the controversy centres round whether or not the American show based on the 2007 Jay Asher novel encourages, or in some way glamourises, suicide, or is it in fact a useful educational tool for teens who too quickly judge and victimise their peers?
The story is told through a series of cassette tapes pre-recorded by Hannah Baker who prior to episode one has taken her own life. Each episode is one side of a cassette focussing on a significant event which lead to the tragedy, and as the story unravels more and more characters are implicated as having responsibility for Hannah’s tragic death.
As a TV show it is an interesting enough format to entice viewers in and unfortunately the issues are all too relevant in today’s society where a shocking 50% of young people in school say they have been bullied at some point, 19% of this number are bullied every day and 33% of those being bullied have suicidal thoughts. So does 13 Reasons Why teach us anything?
I was bullied at at high school. It was relentless and led me down a terrifying path of depression, hopelessness and feeling worthless at the hands of my peers. At the time I hated these people who stole from me much of my childhood happiness but in hindsight I truly believe most (if not all) of them had no idea what they were doing. The smirks, the laughs, the name calling, the paper thrown on the school bus – all of it was just “banter” to them, only the joke is only funny if everyone laughs, and I never laughed. I cried myself to sleep every night, my school attendance dropped to little more than 30% and I wanted to be anyone but me. In this respect I believe 13 Reasons Why is vital.
People need to know that when you do not consider the consequences of your actions, your actions can have terrible consequences. All teenagers will be able to see something of themselves in at least one of the cast of characters in this acclaimed production and that might be uncomfortable for many as they relive the moments they may have made someone’s life miserable for very little personal gain, but they need to know. If schools are to have any hope of tackling bullying once and for all bullies must be confronted with the uncomfortable facts.
That said there are scenes of graphic detail which would deem the series inappropriate for school pupils, hence the 18 certificate. But the messages are important – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
“…it’s impossible to know everything else going on in that person’s life, and how we might be adding to his or her pain. People do have an impact on the lives of others; that’s undeniable.” (Jay Asher)