I watched 13 Reasons Why because it’s summer break, I needed meaningless background noise to accompany my own little hobbies, and I’m in the practice of watching things purely to criticize them knowledgeably (the practice informally known as “hatewatching”).
It was interesting enough when considering its contribution to the suspense and realistic fiction genres, from a cinematic viewpoint–basically, I wanted to know what happened after watching the first episode.
For those of you who don’t know, 13 Reasons Why is a new series on Netflix based on the young adult novel of the same name, which chronicles the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide.
The biggest takeaway, however, is that this show is the least insightful, most neurotypical-oriented bullshit (“neurotypical” meaning someone without a mental illness or developmental disorder) thing I’ve ever seen extended into 13 meaningless episodes.
It takes an edgy hypothetical–”what if a girl died by suicide and left tapes detailing why she did it, in the form of blaming people?”–that’s meant to entertain people who haven’t experienced the issues the show deals with directly.
As a mentally ill person, watching the show felt voyeuristic, like it was intended for neurotypicals who regard mentally ill people “fascinating” rather than viewing the mentally ill as people. It was similar to overhearing classmates in my psychology elective talk about mental illness as if it’s a distant idea, existing only in psychiatric hospitals and not in the classroom sitting next to them.
To the writers’ credit, 13 Reasons Why makes a few good comments on the nature of rape culture and is somewhat accurate in their portrayal of symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Amazingly, this is all done without mentioning a single mental illness.
The characters talk about “getting help,” feeling hopeless, nervous, sad; being affected by bullying, rape, and mental illnesses; yet, they never mention a disorder by name. As far as I remember, they don’t even say the word “therapy.” Shock tactics involving graphic displays of rape and suicide could, at the very least, urge any kids in similar situations to seek help.
Instead, it puts harmful ideologies into the heads of people already vulnerable to hurting themselves. It reduces the tragedies surrounding abuse and bullying to “torture porn,” or violence depicted on screen purely for shock value. Such images of rape and suicide are explicitly dangerous to viewers, yet the writers of 13 Reasons Why demonstrably valued the money that gory scenes bring in over the welfare of their audience.
There’s been a lot of criticism about the danger that media like this poses to people at risk of suicide, especially teens struggling with depression. It encourages harmful behavior and exposes young people to toxic ideas.
For example, characters were blamed for “killing” Hannah Baker, the young victim of suicide on which the whole show revolves around.
This is exactly the wrong thing to say about instances of suicide. Having someone in your life die by suicide is traumatic and often leaves victims’ loved ones feeling guilty, as if they did something wrong.
But unless you specifically bait or abuse someone to the point of suicide, you are not responsible. The writers to do nothing to contrast the harmful ideas perpetuated by characters in the show.
In another scene, a character admits to having self-harmed, saying “it’s what you do when you feel like killing yourself” (in contrast to the idea that people who attempt suicide are “weak” for doing so). This puts the blame on suicidal teens, who are already, presumably, in a lot of emotional pain.
Most of all, it’s undeniably messy, and oftentimes even impossible, to assign blame to any one (or thirteen) reason(s) as to why someone would take their own life.
13 Reasons Why is a shallow portrayal of adolescent mental illness, offering no real or profound insight. To improve upon media like this, call mental illness– anxiety, depression, PTSD and so on — by its true name. People affected by mental illness should be accurately represented in the media, and be able to relate to others both on and off the screen.
The creators of 13 Reasons Why may claim to be helping mentally ill kids by spreading “suicide awareness.” But if a show doesn’t even mention mentally ill kids’ identities, then who is it really for?