According to the rules of socially responsible writing I should be putting up a warning about everything and anything in this post that might upset someone, and I’m not. My warning is this READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
On 31 March 2017 Netflix released Season 1 of 13 Reasons Why, to both rave reviews and extreme criticism. The series was based on the book of the same name (13 Reasons Why) by Jay Asher, which in the world of young adult fiction had already become a best seller as well as getting a fare amount of criticism for almost identical reasons the Netflix series copped them.
The plot line of both the book and the Netflix series is relatively simplistic but incredible dramatic. Hannah Baker a 16 year old girl commits suicide one day after school and at the time it is thought she left no notes, no messages and supposedly there was no indication she was even feeling depressed let alone suicidal. The Baker family moved to the town about 18 months before hand and as far as anyone can seem to remember Hannah was fine, she’d made friends, went to parties, had an after school job and was settling in well.
However exactly 2 weeks to the day Hannah Baker was found dead Clay Jensen comes home to find a package on his doorstep with no return address. The package has a map and 7 old fashions cassette tapes. Each side of the tapes has a number going from Tape 1 Side A = 1 to Tape 7 Side A = 13. When Clay starts listening to the tapes he discovers that the 13 tapes contain 13 stories narrated by none other than Hannah Baker and these tapes are her suicide note.
Each story is about an individual person and how what they did at the moment in time their story is about added to the every growing emotional meltdown Hannah Baker was having until she hit the wall and decided to commit suicide. Right at the start Hannah instructs her recipients to listen to the tapes all the way through from 1 to 13, to be helpful she’s even marked off the locations of each event on the provided map and then the listener must pass the tapes on to the persons who story is introduced on the tape after the current listener. She leaves no instructions for what listener number 13 is supposed to do with them once they finish the tapes. As Hannah says “I really don’t care what person 13 does after they’ve listened I’ve done what I needed to do”. She does however tell the listeners should they not listen to the tapes or attempt to destroy them before all 13 recipients have listened to them the second set of identical tapes left with someone she trusts will very publicly be released to everyone.
I’ve read the book and it’s more simplistic than the Netflix series but leaves you with a lot more questions. In the book Clay Jensen spends one night listening start to finish to the tapes and then sends them on so you never really get to know how the tapes effect everyone else mentioned on them. The Netflix series adds more drama and you get to see the full impact of the tapes on the people they are meant for as well as other things like how Hannah’s family is effected by her suicide.
From the start of the story you like Clay Jensen are wondering is there really a second set of tapes? Did the events that Hannah describes on each tape really happen the way she say’s it happened? Could a dead girl be lying? Why did she make these tapes? What did she hope to achieve by telling 13 stories, which supposedly only the 13 recipients will ever hear?
Most of all you’re left wondering why is Clay Jensen on these tapes? What could such a nice, sweet, socially inept guy who from all appearances really liked Hannah and is genuinely grieving for the girl he was just starting to fall in love with have possibly done to add to the emotional hell which pushed Hannah to commit suicide?
I have no intentions of answering any of those questions either go read the book or watch the Netflix series if you want to know. What I am going to talk about is why both book & Netflix are staring up so much discussion.
Glorification of Suicided – the do-gooders out there are jumping up and down and having a total tanti about the fact that they think the central theme of the book and Netflix series is SUICIDE. The Netflix adaptation in particular is really upsetting them because it very graphically show’s step by step Hannah Baker slicing her wrists open and slowly and painfully bleeding to death. The do-gooder view is that by OMG showing her slicing her wrists open you are giving people a “how-to” manual. The do-gooders have this stupid idea that books, movies, songs or social media should never mentioning or show suicide incase you trigger someone to do it. If you google “Slit Wrist” you will get 100s of pages on the topic including very detailed instructions on how to slit your wrist to just harm compared to how to slit them to die. There are manuals with step by step instructions that have vivid hand drawn graphics on how to correctly slice your wrists open if you wish to end your own life, with helpful hints on how to bleed out faster (no I’m not kidding I’ve read them). The do-gooders should be applauding Netflix because it does what all the online stuff doesn’t, it graphically shows that slicing your wrists open hurts like hell, that no you don’t then peacefully drift off to sleep and die, you are conscious and hurting and panicking and if that little spark of “Oh Shit I don’t want to die” kicks in there is nothing you can do because you’re now to weak and you can’t seem to move and you know you’re dieing all alone and scared and you can’t even cry because your body is shutting down. From my view point if you want to prevent suicide stop fucking mystifying by not showing what it’s like or talking about what it’s really like. Let people see that it is not a peaceful way to go, it hurts and it’s violent and it’s messy and it is not quick and your brain doesn’t shut up it torments you to the very last. The more real it is the less like you are to try it.
What is Bullying? This is a central theme more in the Netflix series than the book but it does bring to the forefront an issue that effects everyone from primary school kids to adults in the workforce. How do you define bullying? Is gossip a form of bullying? Is deciding you aren’t really that close to someone so you de-freind them on social media like FaceBook bullying? What makes some people a target of bullies and other people totally immune to it? Where does bullying stop and criminal activity like harassment or assault start? The answer to all of this really depends on the situation and the people involved. A snide remark or nasty comment might devastate one person but said to someone else might just be shrugged off as typical coming from the person who said it.
How much do adults really know or want to know about their children and what their children are really like or what they really get up when not being watched by adults? For that matter how much does anyone really know about someone else? Even if you live with someone or spend 8 hours a day with them at work or school do you really know what is going on in their life, how they really feel, what they really think? The answer is no you really don’t know anyone as well as you think you do and you never will. The Cat Steven song Father & Son has the lyrics “All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside. It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it. If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them they know not me“, sounds a little cystic right, wrong. What it clearly says is that people see the character traits of the label you are given for the group you are associated with e.g.: Dumb Jock – not really bright but incredibly good a sports & drinks a lot at parties, Cheerleader – always happy and bouncy and fit and a bit of a good time girl, Spock – the brightest of them all who’s a bit of a nurd and socially inept and so on. Even as adults we do it to ourselves and to others, you hear Autistic and get a mental image of socially inept, incredibly smart, prissy/odd dress sense, control freak and doesn’t like skin to skin contact. God forbid you don’t fit the character traits that go with our label, because EVERYONE knows that’s what you are like so just be like that!
Sexual Objectification: Is creating a list (written or verbal) with your friends of the sexiest person at school/work dehumanising? Could that list or the thought planted in someones mind from that list lead to inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment or assault? Could kissing someone while you were a tad drunk at a party ruin your reputation and get you labeled as a SLUT? 13 Reasons Why brings this front and centre as a topic and it seems to be making people uncomfortable. Why the discomfort? It happens every day in schools, universities, train stations, gyms, work or social events someone eye’s someone else off and thinks “geez they’re sexy wouldn’t mind banging that” or something similar, it might even be said out loud. The problem isn’t finding someone attractive that is how humans find other humans to breed with. The problem is that society has all these stupid taboos and hang ups about sex so we are not taught how to process theses desires correctly and it suddenly become a huge ISSUE that can have really nasty repercussions for the object of desire. What should happen is you have the thought, you ask the (girl or guy) if they are single and maybe you date or maybe you don’t either way end of issue. What does happen is that group dynamics means the person who is the object of the lust get’s a new label which shifts and possibly threatens the groups dynamics so they must be dehumanised and cast out even if they themselves are totally unaware of why. The shift from being part of group to outcast could be the object of desire didn’t respond correctly so the admirer feels rejected and lashes out, could be the admirer had or has a partner in the group who now feels threatened or a thousand other dumb reasons. The point is that society needs to stop making sex and anything to do with sex or desire such a secret, shameful or never to be talked about thing. Yes malicious gossip would still happen but girls should feel more comfortable in their own skin and be able to go “I have boobs get over it” and not be made to feel ashamed and should be able to stand up and say – know that rumour going around that I slept with the entire football team at the party it’s total bull shit – and be believed.
13 Reasons Why (book and Netflix Series) leaves you wondering what was Hannah Baker trying to do with her 13 Stories? Did these people make her feel like a victim so now she’s turning the tables and reversing the victimising? Why not tell everyone if your point is to try and change how society deals with all the issues covered?
For those who think the main theme of this book and Netflix series is about suicide you totally missed the point. 13 Reasons Why is the embodiment of the Law of Cause & Effect, and a warning that you never really know how what you say and do or don’t say or don’t do can effect someone else life in ways you may never have even imagined.