SPOILER WARNING IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE NEW NETFLIX ORIGINAL “13 REASONS WHY” YET.
13 Reasons Why is a great show—possibly one of the better shows I’ve watched this year. However, I couldn’t help but walk away from it without expressing a few criticisms of the way it handled its subject matter. So what might these criticisms be?
Criticism 1: Too often, it ignores Hannah’s mental health problems.
I do not personally believe that the writers glamorized suicide, but I can understand both arguments. On the one hand, the show did an exemplary job at illustrating the long-term ramifications that suicide has on our relationships. On the other, it deceived the audience into thinking that Hannah’s suicide was a revenge ploy, when in fact it was the result of her deep-seated psychological issues (e.g.: depression, bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorder, or PTSD) that went unabated.
Criticism 2: It makes it difficult to sympathize with Hannah.
It was difficult to feel sorry for Hannah when she wouldn’t speak up for herself. After being raped by Bryce, why didn’t she tell her parents, or anyone for that matter? If she had explained what happened to her, she could have gotten the help she needed and therefore turned Bryce in. Instead, she allowed her pain to consume her indefinitely, and that made it hard to root for her.
Criticism 3: It places undeserved blame on the other characters.
Clay and the guidance counselor did absolutely nothing wrong. Clay was punished because Hannah expected him to be a mind-reader, while the counselor was punished because he was unequipped to advise suicidal students. Both clearly overlooked obvious red flags that Hannah displayed, but that doesn’t make either of them responsible for her death. The same holds true for everyone else on the tapes, including Bryce.
Criticism 4: It overstates the unpleasantness of high school.
The fact that Hannah was unwilling to cope with petty interpersonal drama (something that we all put up with) means that she probably lacked the emotional resources to solve real problems. More importantly, the show implies that high school is the worst time in a person’s life when it isn’t. Life gets much harder after we’ve graduated high school, and thus in Season 2, the show needs to do a better job at depicting the challenges that we face beyond those relatively insignificant 4 years.
Criticism 5: It imposes unrealistic expectations upon its audience.
It seems that the main message of the show is to “be kind to everybody, because you never know what someone else is going through,” but you know what the fundamental flaw is with that logic? You can never be totally sure when you’re hurting someone else’s feelings. Sometimes, I treat people poorly when I don’t realize it, and the opposite is also true. I should not be expected to moderate my language at every moment of the day on the off chance that someone is going to commit suicide because of some stupid thing that I said.
EDIT: The way I wrote about Criticism 5 is a little harsh and insensitive. The point I was trying to make here was that simple misunderstandings can have detrimental impacts on our relationships with our friends, family members, and strangers. If a comment that you make to another person is taken out of context, uncalled for, or simply interpreted in the wrong way, you could really upset them. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to police every little thing we say when it would be otherwise mentally taxing for us.
If you know me well enough, you’ll find that I am very sarcastic, so much that I am probably not well-liked by many. That doesn’t mean that I am not conscious of other people’s feelings, it’s just that by default, my personality can project auroras of condescension and abrasiveness when that isn’t my intention at all. However, that’s not to say I should change who I fundamentally am, and that’s more or less what I was trying to convey in Criticism 5. I just didn’t elaborate on it enough.
Despite all of this negative feedback, I agree with the writers’ decision to ultimately display Hannah’s suicide on screen, because by not showing it, they would have downplayed its severity and taken away the whole point of the show.
Overall, I hope that 13 Reasons Why further encourages younger people to seek professional help by driving discussions on highly sensitive topics like suicide and sexual assault, and that Season 2 (if there is one) addresses the criticisms I’ve listed above.