13 Reasons Why tells the poignant tale of Hannah Baker; a 17-year-old girl whose suicide rocks her high school, leaving many of her classmates asking ‘why?’ In answer, Hannah leaves thirteen cassette tapes explaining the reasons she took her own life, dedicating each tape to one of her classmates.
The Netflix drama is based on the YA novel of the same name, by Jay Asher. Having read this book myself many years ago, I completely agree with the vast majority that the drama is indeed addictive, thrilling and devastating to watch – and most definitely does Asher’s novel justice. However, one thing that stood out to me as I watched was how potentially problematic this show could become, and this is why I’ve chosen to discuss it. As a Creative and Media Writing student, the works of novelists, poets and playwrights are extremely important to me. When viewing a book-to-movie adaptation of a novel I’ve loved, it takes a lot to win me over. Whilst the format of book-to-Netflix is much newer, the same concept applies. When reading the book, I hadn’t felt the same way about the potentially problematic issues. I’m still unsure whether this was down to subtle differences between the two, or because I’d simply been too young to pick up on the red flags years ago.
Few could have predicted the intense cult following that 13 Reasons Why has gleaned, yet the show appears to be sending a very warped message. The way Hannah punishes her classmates is beyond cruel and, in real life, would be endlessly damaging. Although individuals such as Bryce may deserve blame, does Sheri? How about Jessica? Or Clay, our protagonist? Over half of the students named and shamed on Hannah’s tapes made just one simple mistake – is it fair that they’re blamed for Hannah’s suicide?
As a teenager myself (just about), I believe that 13 Reasons Why does an excellent job of portraying life and it’s injustices from a teenage point of view. However, it also sends the message that it’s not okay to make mistakes. And as teenagers, making mistakes is what we do. Hannah’s suicide is also portrayed almost as a form of revenge, leaving her classmates devastated and considering the role they might have played, which is an endlessly irresponsible decision on the part of the producers. Although the thought of copycat suicides seems unlikely, it is a possibility and perhaps displaying Hannah’s suicide so openly was reckless. As someone who doesn’t suffer from mental health issues, I still found the brazen scene distressing. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to watch for those who do.
However, despite the controversy, the drama has done an excellent job of raising awareness for mental health issues, self-harm and suicide among teenagers. 13 Reasons Why has really driven home that we must be mindful of the way we treat others, as you can never fully understand what’s going on in someone else’s life. But should we really have needed a Netflix drama to make this clear?