So this week I watched the series 'Thirteen Reasons Why' on Netflix and I was indeed as hooked as everyone had promised. However, it's not the leap forward in society and mental health the everyone seems to claim. In fact I find it's almost a step back in some cases. The series follows 17 year old suicide victim Hannah Baker who leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes each containing a story appertaining to a person who led to her suicide - the thirteen stories piece together to create a bigger picture. The tapes are left behind to be passed along the line of the thirteen and when they fall to number 11, Clay, things start to unravel. The series has caused a splash in good and bad ways so here is my list of thirteen reasons why the series has and hasn't hit the mark. If you haven't watched the series yet, maybe don't read this because either you won't have a single clue what I'm on about or you'll ruin it for yourself if you were actually planning to watch.
1. The characters are cliched.In my opinion, the characters are cliche. Typical of an American high school drama - excuse the bluntness here if you will - Clay, the socially anxious main character who draws comparisons to Charlie from Stephen Chbosky's 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' published in 1999, eight years before Asher's publication in 2007. Hannah, who I actually found myself disliking, is an oppressed new girl constantly finding her feet and losing them because people keep letting her down and mistreating her (Hello Peyton Sawyer from One Tree Hill). Yet still people seem drawn to her even with her image being bashed around? Jessica, the other new girl with whom Hannah bonds with over their newness but Jessica falls into more popular social circles and becomes the cheerleader with the captain of the basketball team boyfriend, Justin. I feel like I could go on and on, the gay unofficial school newspaper publisher, the deeply sensitive basketball player that puts on a front, the not so perfect valedictorian. Some of these characters are straight out of other American shows.
2.The characters aren't cliched.Bryce is a prime example here, usually the captain of the football team is an arrogant idiot but the stereotype character is never explored as a rapist. He puts the twist on the tale. He comes across as the rich big brother who cares for all his friends by helping them out but actually he's using this as leverage to basically use them all as his pawns. He rapes his best friend's girlfriend because 'what's mine is yours' and he rapes Hannah because she was after all at his party, in his hot tub, wearing only her underwear. He's a disgustingly brilliant character. I admit that each character actually has a twist that makes them not a cliche. Justin has serious struggles at home, relying on others to keep his high school reputation afloat when he is deeply in pain. Jessica has a drinking problem due to her vague memories of being raped by Bryce at her own party. Alex is dragged into the situation due to a desire for popularity and acceptance because of the pressures from his father, but he isn't a bad guy. These characters are stunningly individual - it's actually mainly just Hannah and Clay for me who fail to exhibit the individuality they deserve. The Panoptic describes it as a show that 'both embodies and defies teenage cliche'.
3. The scenes are graphic.Something I appreciate, so many programmes skate around actually events with blackouts or aversive camera work. This Netflix series faces it head on and makes no apologies which is something this society needed to see. We need harsh reality. Let's call guys out on rape, not girls. Let's tell guys not to rape, not tell girls to wear more clothing. This finally shows how girls DO NOT ASK FOR IT, no girl ever ever ASKS TO BE RAPED.
I just want to put that word out there. There are arguments for and against here in terms of whether the show truly is diverse. Is there gender diversity? Is there racial diversity? Is there diversity? I guess this again falls under the cliche barrier. Bustle claims that it defies 'the stereotypes typically found in high school-set TV shows', the article argues a very convincing case for the diversity of the show and I actually find myself here doubting whether I'm right about the lack of diversity.
5. Mental Health isn't really tackled and its portrayal is poor.
There is still a mental health stigma. We never hear the words 'depression','anxiety' or 'PTSD', is it assumed that they don't need to be named because we should all know what they are and where they appear in the show? Clay clearly struggles from social anxiety, Jessica struggles from PTSD and develops a drinking problem to try and cope, Hannah struggles from depression but her parents only claim she showed signs of mood swings. The worst bit for me of the whole series was Skye saying that Hannah was weak for killing herself, Skye is shown to be a self-harmer and says that 'it's what you do instead of killing yourself', how is that going to help self-harmers? What if that prompts suicidal thoughts? Hannah to me actually does come across attention seeking, and that can't only be for me. I think Hannah comes across as cruel, Clay is tortured in the belief he played a role in killing her when really he was one of the things keeping her alive. His social anxiety sky rockets and he gets bullied and pushed around by others, not exactly the thing you would leave behind to the boy you loved. What does that hold in terms of stigmatisation of people with depression or self-harm issues? It's confirming the idea that mental illness is attention seeking. It makes suicide a blame game and presents it as an option for when life is 'too much'. I hope people watching it understand - (Check number 10)
6. Using tapesI both love it and hate it. I love it because there really is no other way to do it, it would not be the same if they had been in a playlist or in a CD or any other recording form. The tapes are a material thing to be passed along, they are a material form of the blame that everyone is carrying and passing on. I hate it because it really does embody the typical millennial teenage angst, so we're back with stereotype issues.
7. The failures of the school system are highlighted.FINALLY. The guidance councillor who tries and fails to get it right. The headteacher who just wants to avoid law suits and doesn't really come across as caring for the welfare of his students - I don't know about you but the headteachers at my secondary school and at my college didn't even know my name. I get it, there are over 1000 students in most schools how can the head know all of them? How can the councillor know them all? So many fall under the radar. Events can be shrugged off if they're 'outside school grounds and jurisdiction'. Students are struggling because schools won't take responsibility for their own roles.
8. It's still written by an adult.The story tells about the pitfalls of adults when it comes to dealing with teenage problems, yet it is still a novel and series developed by adults which is why it still falls into the cliche category. They're working on stereotypes. Do you know what I really want to see? I want to see a screenplay written by teenagers, developed by teenagers and performed by teenagers. Obviously this is a really hard thing to put together - but can you imagine how good it would be. The follow up documentary contains an interview where Dr. Rona Hu highlights that adults don't understand cyberbullying and it's impacts because it didn't exist when they were 17.
9. It has opened up communication waves
We might actually be finally starting to talk to each other. The media and people talk about it at each other all the time, we hear about it these days and everyone always says to talk about it if they're struggling, but nobody actually does. Maybe this series is the start of open communication waves between friends and between families to talk about problems at school or work or home.
10. It highlights all the do nots, rather than highlighting all the dos.This is a worry for me. I would hope that people would realise this and therefore use the show as a template on what not to do. We need to reach out for help first rather than last. We need to be honest and not hurt others in order to protect our own interests - as all the characters in the tape protect themselves rather than helping everyone know the truth. We need to stop using words like 'whore', 'hoe', 'bitch' as pet names for each other because it makes it seem normal for guys to then call girls that. All the little things that we don't realise are hurting people, like hot or not lists, we need to tell each other that they are wrong.
11. It recognises that everyone has their own battles and demons.
As I mentioned earlier, nearly all the characters have something making them individual to their stereotype. They all have vulnerabilities, vulnerabilities that are exploited by each other. Snide comments, little actions, sneaky photographs all compile against each character. Examples of these vulnerabilities being pressure from parents, violence at home, sexuality struggles, alcoholism, peer pressure and so many more. People argue that it shouldn't take a Netflix series for you to realise that you need to be nice to everyone but actually it clearly has?
12. The show is wrapped up in the lawsuit
This was one problem that swayed me against the show. Hannah's parents aren't really shown to grieve because they are too swarmed in money problems and fighting for the truth. It actually feels like they are fighting more for the prosecution and the money settlement from the school than for the truth of Hannah's death and welfare of the other students. The headteacher just wants to avoid court and the councillor is avoidant due to the knowledge of his own involvement in Hannah's death. It creates a third dimension while also destroying it at the same time. The lawsuit is important but also limits room for character growth.
13. They left it open for series 2.THIS IS A BIG NO FOR ME. For once I want a series to end after a really good first series. I find recently that the best series are the ones made up of just 1 season. It's like adding a sequel to 'Shawshank Redemption', for once please let us just enjoy a series and then leave it behind. Why do we always feel the need to add that little bit extra, we don't need it. Yes I want to know if Bryce is convicted, yes I want to know if Hannah's parents get peace, I want to know if Alex survives and if the school goes under, but isn't that how a good book ends? On a cliffhanger that leaves you thinking for days?
What did you think of the series? Do you agree/disagree/want to absolutely destroy this post?
"Okay, so firstly all I can say is that the show made me extremely sad. It is such a depressing thought to realise that this is the society we live in today. Bullying, mental illness, rape and suicide are all problems that can't be ignored. I think the show draws attention to these issues in an amazing way. It really opened my eyes to these issues, as they are something I have never personally experienced before and hopefully it has with many people too. Hannah's suicide scene is very hard to watch, but i think so important to see, as it really makes you realise that your words do have an impact. I've heard a lot of, "oh that scene shouldn't be shown its too much" but why? This is our reality and to be exposed to these kind of scenes is extremely important. The characters were casted amazingly, Dylan Minette being my favourite. I absolutely love the show and am dying for another season!" - Darriyan