Thirteen Reasons Why

Parents are up in arms. Schools are banning discussion of it on the playground. So naturally I had to see for myself what all the fuss was.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a Netflix television series that came out about a month ago and has now been renewed for a second season. To describe it as controversial is an understatement.  Many people claim it glorifies suicide and will push vulnerable teens over the edge.

I’m not convinced of that, though‎ I am only about halfway through the season. I wanted to finish it before posting, but there never seems to be enough time for television these days. However, I figured I have seen enough to comment somewhat intelligently about the show, and I understand why people react to it the way they do.

A quick synopsis: A teenage girls commits suicide, but not before leaving a series of cassette tapes to be listened to by her acquaintances (she had no friends), each tape focusing on how a different person drove her to take her life. It is a compelling drama.

The series is mildly flawed. Though the characters seem younger than their counterparts in Riverdale (who all seem like 30-year-olds pretending to be in high school), the behaviour is at times much too adult to be credible to me. The proliferation of tattoos also seemed out of place, but maybe the US doesn’t have the age restrictions we do in Canada. That is just quibbling though. I was also surprised at the lack of hijabs in the high school. I guess the cultural makeup of my community is vastly different from the US.

On a more serious note, I doubt that the teenager, “Hannah” would have all those things happen to her. But then again, she is meant to be an archetype. She represents all teens who have been bullied, harassed, mistreated and misunderstood. Each incident by itself is credible, it is just the sheer accumulation of events that seems unlikely.

Nor does it seem likely that her elaborate little revenge plot, the tapes passed from teen to teen, would ever actually take place. If you are in the emotional state where you are willing to take your own life, you are unlikely to leave a 13-hour suicide note for your friends. Once again though, I am quibbling, and the tapes do make for compelling television, as we flash between the events they describe and the present-day teens trying to live their lives and make sense of what has happened, including their role in the events.

Does the show glorify suicide? I don’t get that impression. Though admittedly I have a few more episodes to get through. I did find a few things disturbing though.

These teens, and their parents, are hopeless. To me the question is not why did Hannah commit suicide, but why more of the show’s characters don’t. Their lives are meaningless. They are going through the motions, but have no purpose. One day follows another and all is vanity.

What I am saying is, God does not put in an appearance in this show or in the lives of its characters. No wonder they are lost and rootless; they have no reason to live. The parents are just like the children/

Can you live a fulfilling life without God? There are those among my friends who would argue that you can. Thirteen Reasons Why, on the other hand makes a pretty powerful statement that you cannot.

The parents in this show are clueless. Their children are dealing with heavy issues and the parents know they need to be there for them, but seem to be completely ineffectual. Yes, that is necessary for the storyline – but I hope that isn’t a reflection of reality. Are today’s teens so internalized into their own culture that they are effectively divorced from their parents? I pray that isn’t so, but am afraid it might be. Still, I do find it bizarre that none of those featured on the tapes are willing to turn to their parents for help in dealing with the situation they have found themselves in. It hasn’t been that many years since I was parenting teenagers. I always gave them lots of space, but I think I usually knew what was bothering them – and they were always able to talk with me.

Does Thirteen Reasons Why encourage suicide? I don’t think so. Does it paint a realistic picture of the bullying that van be found in high schools? Yes. Should teens watch it? They are going to anyway, or so everyone says. I’d recommend therefore that they be encouraged to watch it, with their parents, and that each episode be discussed afterwards.

Suicide is too important a topic to be left to a television show.

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