— 13 Reasons Why (@13ReasonsWhy) May 7, 2017
Netflix’s popular show 13 Reasons Why is prepping for a second season, but with the show’s highly-criticized portrayal of suicide that awareness groups have said might do more harm than good, how should be we reacting to the news?
13 Reasons Why became a huge hit when it came out, especially among younger viewers. The story is about a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who sends out 13 tapes explaining why she committed suicide, and it touches on a lot of very timely issues like online bullying, LGBTQ+ issues, and rape. While the show does approach a lot of these issues with sensitivity, it largely ignores mental illness and groups were voicing their fear that suicide rates, which are already alarmingly high for teens (especially adolescent girls), might even increase due to viewers over-identifying with Hannah in a show that doesn’t introduce any alternatives. Young audience members deserve media that takes them seriously and doesn’t talk down to them about real issues, but media should understands the responsibility that accompanies that platform.
There’s been a lot of controversy around 13 Reasons Why and its depictions of suicide and sexual assault, something they attempted to address by adding additional warnings to episodes. The popularity of the show is pretty much impossible to ignore, with schools addressing the show’s danger and parents opening a conversation with their children. Ijeoma Oluo’s article about watching the show with her 15-year-old son is a huge eye-opener and I very much recommend it.
For the most part, creators have responded to allegations of romanticizing suicide and ignoring mental health with a kind of mediated defense. Langford, who plays Hannah, said to the LA Times, “Everyone is going to relate and react to [the show] differently depending on their personal context.” Minnette who plays the protagonist, Clay, says “Nobody’s opinions or feelings about the show are invalid.” Producer Selena Gomez says the team wanted to do the source material, Jay Asher’s book of the same name, justice and “[the backlash is] going to come no matter what.” Showrunner Brian Yorkey says, “I always believe talking about things is better than silence.”
The streaming site says the new season “picks up in the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s death and the start of the characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery.” Yorkey says, “Hannah’s story is still very much not finished. She’s an integral part of whatever the next chapter of the story is, and she’s very much still at the center of it.” His comments suggest that the second season will deal more with sexual assault and how rape culture affects teenagers:
“Hannah’s story isn’t over—she has parents who still don’t have the complete story. There’s a rapist who hasn’t been brought to justice and there’s a living survivor of that rapist who is just beginning her journey of recovery.
“Part of the problem with our culture is that we say, ‘Oh, the story’s done.’ Rapes are treated, at best, as a multi-episode arc within a season, when anyone who’s experienced rape knows it’s a lifelong story. If we left these 13 episodes out in the world with [the rapist] not being brought to justice … It’d be incredibly dissatisfying to me.”
The show’s depiction of rape, slut-shaming, and rape culture have also been widely debated. The show’s decision to show explicit scenes of both rape and suicide have been criticized as highly triggering, while others have praised the way the show forces viewers to see the devastation of these events–a stance the creators stand behind. There have also been voices criticizing the show, but praising the way it has opened up a very necessary conversation.
All of this makes me incredibly skeptical about a season 2, and frightened that the show may continue a misrepresented and dangerous narrative. It’s undeniable 13 Reasons Why has made a lot of teenagers, especially teenage girls, feel heard or seen in a way that they haven’t before. That’s a platform with a lot of power, and we can only hope that season 2 will take into account the criticisms about suicide ideation and mental illness.
(via Geek Tyrant, Image: Netflix)
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