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13 thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

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13 Reasons Why seems to be one of the most talked about shows at the moment, and after Umming & Ahhing I finally decided to do give it a watch. I finished it last week and after gathering all my thoughts together I thought; like the rest of the internet I would share my two pennies worth.

If you don't know what the series is about then have you been living under a rock? The premise is that Hannah Baker, a high school student commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes for the people who were involved or who impacted in a way that caused her to take her own life. The programme is mostly from the perspective of Hannah making the tapes and Clay, one of the people on the tapes who is trying to figure out what he has done, trying to come to terms with what others have done and trying to come up with a solution to what has happened.

Before beginning this series I had heard really mixed reviews, a lot of people praised it for tackling the issue of mental health, bullying and suicide in a way that young people can relate to and understand. Whilst others criticised it for romanticising mental health and being a run of the mill cliche teen drama. I'll admit I began watching it completely spoiler free, but kind of ready to hate it.

I'm still not 100% sure what I make of the programme but here are 13 thoughts - both positive & negative - that I had whilst watching.

1. Dialogue.

I appreciate that this series tackles a lot of sensitive issues and addresses them in different ways, the representation of rape and sexual assault, whilst being incredibly tough viewing, opens a dialogue about consent and what constitutes as rape, and how it isn't necessarily how we would perceive it to be from what we are normally presented from mainstream media.

2. Bullying.

What this programme does very well is capture the different forms of bullying that takes place in current society, be that through social media, physical or emotional. It demonstrates to those still in school what is not okay and what they might deem as harmless banter can actually be detrimental to destroying someones life. It is also an eye opener to adults just how real bullying in school can be and that it can be a lot more dangerous than we might naively see. It also offers social commentary about how as a society we have become a lot less empathetic as we view these characters who are told they caused a girl to commit suicide and their first concern is themselves and how it will affect them.

3.  Sexuality.

It is important for young adults and teens who may be questioning and exploring their definition of their sexuality to have LGBTQ characters visible to them in mainstream media. In 13 Reasons Why we witness a huge variety of relationships, openly gay characters and characters who are coming to terms with their sexuality. It is so important that programme's like this that are meant to be a representation of young people today talk about sexuality in a way that is relatable and supportive.

4. Graphic/triggering content.

Obviously a programme about suicide was never going to be sunshine and roses, but I think it is important that there is the appropriate trigger warnings. There were ones prior to the really graphic episodes but I think the series as a whole should point out more how upsetting some of the scenes can be. I applaud the creators for creating something so raw and upsetting, and in ways it is good that it's graphic because it doesn't dilute how difficult and serious these things are but I think it's incredibly important to make sure people know exactly what they are going to witness and ensure there are support systems available. I found some of the scenes incredibly difficult to watch for my own personal reasons, and I didn't quite realise just how graphic some of them would be.

5. Lack of discussion about Mental Health. 

I think this programme has missed a trick in the sense that it does not address the issue of Mental Health, not one bit. The programme focuses on what has happened to Hannah and how she has been bullied and skips straight to her suicide. It fails to address the glaringly obvious thing that stands in between those things; her own mental health. It baffles me that they did not use this platform to talk about how teens and young adults are affected by Mental Illness. So many young people suffer from Depression, Anxiety and many other mental illnesses but this programme doesn't talk about it. I think it's irresponsible to miss out a key thing that causes people to commit suicide.

6. Grief is multilayered.

We are presented with grief in two ways in this series; one is a deliberate death and one is accidental. Both are tragedies in different ways, and with that bring a lot of different responses. We see sadness, guilt, hysteria, shame and anger. I think it is important to see the different sides of grief, it is multilayered and there is no one right way to experience it. There is also no way to prepare yourself for it and it can bring about extreme reactions. I think the programme deals with the experience of grief well.

7. Parental Relationships.

Parental relationships are complicated things, we all know that, but we don't often seen it presented to us. Especially in American dramas where we are far too often shown cookie cutter families sitting around the dinner table eating far too extravagant meals for a Tuesday night. In 13 Reasons Why we are shown a huge variation of different types of parents and the relationships they have with their children. We witness physical abuse in Justin's home from his mums boyfriend and we see emotional abuse and neglect from his mum who allows this to happen and is more focused on drugs and drink than her child's well being. We see over involvement from Clay's mum and we see detachment in Alex's family where the use of 'sir' replaces any form of parental terminology. This shows how parental upbringing affects a child's development and ultimately affects their behaviour and how they handle relationships.

8. Unlikeable Characters.

One thing I really struggled with when watching was how unlikeable I found Hannah Baker and her parents. Obviously I felt sympathetic towards them but I found them incredibly irritating and didn't care all that much for them. I don't know if that makes me a terrible person, or if it was in a way intentional? I don't know. Did anyone else feel this way? or am I just a bitch?

9. Slutshaming.

Slutshaming is a thing. Most women have experienced it in one way or another. This programme broaches the idea of slutshaming and how it impacts young women, but it could have delved in so much more to demonstrate what a problem it has become in current society.

10. Technical/aesthetic elements.

I thought the show was well put together structurally. The use of flashbacks and merging of time was an effective method of storytelling whilst helping to keep the show fast paced, which was incredibly beneficial to a programme focused around storytelling and dialogue.

11. Teenage Stereotypes.

In a programme about American teenagers there was always going to be some American teen stereotypes: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the loners & the geeks. Whilst there is a cringing amount of that the show does well to push past the teenage cliche and address realistic teen behaviour and activities. It shows that being a teenager isn't all sunshine and roses. We are shown chaotic relationships, the dissolution of friendships, teens that swear, underage drinking, awkward underage sex and recreational drug use. Whilst obviously being dramatised for entertainment purposes it is refreshing to see a more gritty and realistic representation of being a teenager.

12. Unlikeable Characters 2: Character Development.

As I briefly touched upon before, most of the characters are or at least begin quite unlikeable, we are introduced to these characters as villains who are only out to cover their own backs. As the series continues we see an incredible amount of character development which I think is 100% important when tackling an issue like this to show humanity to these characters, because despite their actions none (well mostly) are inherently evil. They have made bad decisions which have snowballed.

13. Conversation Starter.

The main response that I came away from this programme with is that it is an important conversation starter. It creates the opportunity for young people to talk about the issues I have briefly mentioned and many others and for things to be addressed. But I don't think it should be used as an education tool to prevent suicide. I think it doesn't delve into the issue enough for it to be used in that way.

After watching 13 Reasons Why and mulling it over a bit, I'm still not 100%  how I feel. Which I think is an okay response. I found it entertaining and gripping as a programme. I found it in some ways refreshing as a social commentary and a conversation starter. But I'm not fully convinced by how they handled some of the issues. The series is obviously left on a few cliffhangers and since I finished watching a second series has been announced. I am intrigued to see in what direction they will take it and how they will develop these characters more.

Have you watched 13 Reasons Why?
What are your thoughts?
Do you have any new programme recommendations for me?

Speak Soon
Char xx 









1 comment

  1. I agree with much of what you wrote, I think it started a conversation that can sometimes be a bit difficult. I agree totally with the unlikable main character. What miffed me off the most was her blaming people in regards to her mental health, realistically the only person who caused it was Bryce and it made me uncomfortable her placing that responsibility on stupid reckless teenagers. Also, making Clay wait for so long was just cruel and heartless, especially as he did nothing wrong. I have many thoughts on this show haha xx

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