By Hannah Ritner
Selena Gomez’s adaptation of Jay Asher’s Novel “13 Reasons Why” has received much laud for calling attention to issues of suicide and bullying. The show is focused on character Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves behind her thirteen tapes — each tape centered around a specific character. Although TV shows have the potential to encourage dialogue and bring awareness, the way in which Hannah Baker’s suicide is romanticized and dramatized ensures that any resulting discussion is founded on an inherently flawed basis for conversation.
First of all, although the show calls attention to bullying — which is certainly valuable and good — the fact that Hannah does this posthumously perpetuates an idea that one’s story is only made valuable in death. This is harmful because it makes it seem as though suicide was Hannah’s only option to have her voice heard.
In “13 Reasons Why,” Hannah is able to tell her story through audiotapes — yet this is an extremely unrealistic depiction. Netflix seems to have greatly sensationalized the portrayal of Hannah’s death in a way that is consumable to the media with the intention of increasing viewership.
Furthermore, the method of using tapes to tell one’s story by giving reasons for suicide creates an idea that there is a linear path to suicide. 90% of teen suicides occur due to mental illness — specifically depression — and not once does the show mention any of these matters. This seems like a missed opportunity to forefront meaningful dialogue about these important issues.
The show fails to convey a valuable alternative to suicide; considering that Hannah committed suicide because she felt as though she had no other option, one would think that the producers would want to provide some type of resource for its viewers. Throughout the entire series, Hannah only seeks out help once through her guidance counselor, who makes it seem as though her feelings are neither valid nor legitimate. This too sustains an attitude that help is unobtainable which is a dangerous notion to instill in viewers.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the show, and the aspect that is the cause of much discussion, is the portrayal of Hannah’s death. The scene is extremely and unnecessarily graphic. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) is an organization that has served as an advisory board with regard to media portrayal of suicide — they argue that media platforms should not make explicit reference to the method a person may have used to take their life.
There is truly no reason for this scene to be as graphic as it was. These depictions of suicide can increase its risks and bring about the contagion effect; although an honest telling, one does not need to see a suicide to understand its realities.
Although “13 Reasons Why” is valuable in that it calls attention to a difficult topic that is not often discussed, it ultimately misses an opportunity to discuss an important issue in a way that is more meaningful. Fundamentally one cannot produce meaningful dialogue about the realities of suicide from an intrinsically flawed platform — thus, the laud the show has obtained is undeserved.
Many outlets and resources exist on school campuses and the greater community — here on campus just a couple of weeks ago NAMI hosted Suicide Awareness Week. It is events such as these that exist to spread support and education to the student body; they also pose an opportunity to get involved.