*Note: This is pretty spoiler-ish. The show deals with triggers such as rape, bullying and suicide. And this blog may sound all over the place because that’s how I feel about this show.
Teenage angst. I just love it. And I love shows and movies full of it despite my not having been a teenager for decades (ouch! I just made myself sound really old.) But this post isn’t about what it’s like to be a teenager, it’s about being that teenager; the one who seems to attract all the drama and somehow doesn’t know a way out. And why SHE chose that way out.
Some argue that bullying can cause mental illness. Some argue it doesn’t. Some argue that bullying doesn’t lead to suicide but rather unleashes the underlying cause of mental illness. While others argue bullying can absolutely be at fault. I’m sticking to the show’s narrative; that it leads to suicide. By the way, this blog is in 3 sections – the technical, the emotional and the end.
Part I – This show is editing dream
13 Reasons Why seemlessly weaves the past and present time, so much so, that it takes a few episodes to get used to when they are (yes, WHEN they are.) That said, it gets the shallowness of high school; lies, rumors, cliques, outsiders, and social events. I use the word shallow because until you’re out of it, you don’t realize how insignificant it really is. This is not to undermine its importance to teens. Obviously, if you’re a teen high school is important to your life. That said, I wish the writing was a bit deeper. I know it was based on the Young Adult novel of the same name, but the dialogue can be a bit superficial. Sort of like high school. Oh I see…duh!
On one hand you have Clay, the awkward, sweet protagonist who we watch descend into his own mental and emotional breakdown as the episodes progress. On the other hand you have Hannah, the Natalie Portman-esque pseudo-protagonist who takes her life before the start of the show but whose story we see in flashbacks and via the narration of the 13 reasons why she took her life. They are surrounded by your stereotypical good-girl, class president, jocks, yearbook nerds (shout out to yearbook editors – I was one,) and goths. Each episode is a different cassette tape side (google it) as Hannah details how each individual affected her life.
What bothers me about the premise is that these tapes are passed around to each person who hurt Hannah and NONE OF THEM SEEM TO CARE. They are only worried about getting in trouble and having someone find out. It’s as if her life didn’t matter all the while, they try and keep Clay from telling the school or the authorities. Some of their actions are legitimate crimes, but most are mean-spirited and hurtful.
Part II – The mental impact on Hannah.
Now as an advocate, this is where I find things to be a little bit sticky. I don’t know if it was the writing, but I never saw Hannah in a place where she would want to end her life. She seemed so strong to me; she’s independent, deeper than most of the other kids, and comes across with incredible resilience. I wanted to see her mental space breakdown episode by episode. Which got me thinking…
Most people, by the time they have thoughts of suicide are distraught. They don’t sit around making revenge mix-tapes complete with old school map coordinates. It’s “traditionally” around 2 hours that they go from the thought to the attempt to the hospitalization or worse, completion. How or why Hannah does this is a mystery from an emotional standpoint. I’ve even heard fellow advocates cry foul as it portrays suicidal individuals as manipulative. I see it differently; as sharing how others can hurt or impact your life and not ever no it. People always want to know why someone dies by suicide and here we have the opportunity to see one person’s, albeit fictional, story.
Part III – THAT SCENE
If you are reading and haven’t seen the end, STOP READING NOW. GO! LOOK AWAY! NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
Admittedly, I struggled watching Hannah’s rape scene. We saw the death in her eyes while she was still alive. Eerie to say the least. Hannah’s suicide scene…I barely watched. The blood. The tub. Her parents finding her lifeless body. I covered my eyes and occasionally peaked through my fingers. It was too much. Too emotional for me. My heart hurt for Hannah and her parents. And for Clay. I didn’t want for her to be gone while all those vile, self-centered classmates remain.
So what are the takeaways from this show. I have read that it brings the discussion of suicide to the spotlight. I’ve also read that it perpetuates negativity around those who are struggling, as if they are all about drama. My take is that yes, bullying can make a person feel completely isolated. It can make school, which is supposed to be a safe space, feel like the worst place of all. Hannah’s suicide wasn’t about how any one person treated her, but how they made her feel and how she chose to cope with it. Hannah felt trapped. She felt alone and the one person who made her feel at ease, she pushed aside out of a reaction to her past negative interactions.
In the end, Hannah was still a strong person. She was still human. Her path out of the melee that is high school life wasn’t the right one but it has sparked a dialogue across the country about how we can recognize people in pain and how to better treat people. We never think about how our behavior affects others, but maybe we should. Often we’re told that a person’s reaction is a reflection of them, not us but perhaps it’s the impact we should think about more.