Suicide is a sensitive topic. We can’t really talk about it without being sensationalist or reductive, but somehow 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s original teen drama, manages to fall in both the categories at the same time.
“Everyone is just so nice until they drive you to kill yourself” claims Clay Jensen, the 17-year-old protagonist. Jay Asher’s 2007 novel 13 Reasons Why, follows a group of 12 high school students, as they place together with the story of cassette tapes piece by piece left for them by Hannah Baker (their classmate), who died by suicide.
On these 13 tapes left by her, she recalls instances of Slut-shaming, sexual harassment, rumors, misunderstandings between friends and rape that she alleges, ultimately caused her to take her life. There was a tape left behind for each one of them, attributing to one of the incidents that lead her to take such a horrifying step.
Earlier, as a young teen I had read Jay Asher’s novel, I remember being struck by it and it’s much relating portrayal of teenage insecurity and hostile school environment. It was basically somewhat like reading my own journal. I was literally so excited when I heard that it was being adapted for Netflix. Netflix had almost everything but an intelligent sophisticated teen show, and Jay’s novel was a perfect starting point. Disappointingly, writer Brian Yorkey’s adaptions fall far behind my expectations and short of its ambitions.
Before I actually start pointing out reasons to why 13 Reasons Why is overrated, I would want you guys to know that I am not being a heartless girl with no feelings for Hannah Baker or a spoiled brat who doesn’t really care about others’ feelings, I am just being a little practical over here and that’s it. And yes, I might be a little biased towards the book, because of the book lover person I have always been.
Firstly and most obviously, the show has been stretched way too long. The 288 pages have been stretched into 13 hours of television. The difference between a book and a TV series is that a TV series falls short of encouraging the same empathy and understanding. The cruel irony is the fact that all 13 episodes were released at once, leaving us all with one choice – either be Clay and slowly work our way through each episode or be like the rest of the peers and binge on all 13 episodes in one night. Although the creators’ did make a wise decision to widen the novel’s physiological focus be keeping the dual narrative between Hannah and Clay, but it had been stretched so long that it ended up becoming flimsy and too transparent.
The show depicted Hannah’s suicide as a means of exposing the actions of her peers and making them feel guilty, instead of exploring the nuances of mental and emotional illness. Of course, bullying can be a contributing factor towards suicidal thoughts and behavior; I am in no way denying that fact, but it is wrong to portray it as a direct cause- an unforgivable lazy simplification of the complex nature of the teenage illness that we all go through in high school. The Netflix’s Original attempts to take on suicide without so much as a token mention of the word “depression”.
The closing suicide scene itself is unbearable to watch. To credit this, foremost it contains no understated photo montages or even sad indie ballads, instead, the scene feels uncomfortably close to how-to-guide to suicide, and to support my statement there have been reports of teenagers committing suicide and leaving behind tapes rolling all over the internet. It staggers dangerously on the edge of emotional torture, a ground which is already seized by the very teenagers that the show is desperate to help. It was meant to try to provide teenagers with a lesson in emotional stability and compassion, but watching Hannah Baker cut her wrists in a High definition isn’t exactly doing anything for youth suicide prevention.
I may sound a little insensitive, but this show is what we all go through in high school. I am not saying that bullying in any way is acceptable, but somehow we all go through it one way or the other. High school is not all flowers and chocolates for anyone. Yes, Bryce Walker did force himself on her and his actions had to be stood up to and Mr. Porter should have taken actions right away but she didn’t really help him a lot, did she? All she had to give was one name and all of this could be stopped. All she had to do was to go up to Clay and tell him how she needs him and I am pretty sure he would have hugged her tight enough to join all her broken pieces. It is sad that she took her life, but she did have a way out of it. She could choose a different path had she just tried a little.
We need to know that suicide is not an option, never was and never will be. No matter how bad things may seem to you, there is always something better waiting for you; all you need to do is hold on a little longer.
For all faults in structure and execution, 13 Reasons Why does provide an insight into the psyche and adolescent tensions of the 21st-century teens. It is almost a shame that this has been trivialized by its irresponsible mishandling of the primary concern.