Review: 13 Reasons Why Season 1
Since the release of Netflix’s first original show House of Cards in 2013, the website has consistently released hit series ranging from nostalgic comedies such as Fuller House to groundbreaking dramas like Orange is The New Black. On March 31st, Netflix plunged into the world of social activism and released 13 Reasons Why - a 13 episode drama aimed at raising awareness of teen suicide and bullying.
The series is narrated by high school sophomore, Hannah Baker. Before her rather gruesome suicide, Hannah recorded and left behind 13 tapes directed at the 13 individuals who she felt played a key role in driving her to commit suicide. Each tape was aimed at hurting her peers and making them feel guilty for their purported crimes, focusing on how she felt each of these people played a role in her ultimate decision to end her own life.
The show has, in the wake of it’s release, received a lot of negative criticism. Viewers, myself included, feel that the series misrepresents suicide as a plausible and appropriate measure to be taken in the quest of enacting revenge on those who have allegedly wronged you. The show also seems to place the onus on others; leaving the suicide victim looking like a hero. The narrative shows complete disregard for mental illness - the one component that both medical professionals and religious authorities contend is a requisite for a one to follow through with the decision to take their own life.
Netflix though, deserves more credit than it is being given. It has launched an extremely successful anti-bullying campaign. The show confronts issues such as rape and the effect that the constant sexualization of women has had on society as a whole, and more specifically on the self esteem of teenage girls. Netflix has effectively brought emotional fragility and people’s concealed struggles to the forefront of our awareness. Using graphic imagery it transformed painful topics from being abstract, distant ideas into concrete realities.
For Netflix to be able to give us a complete education on the harsh realities of mental illness, the repercussions of bullying, and to clearly convey the idea that no one is liable for a suicide victim’s death other than the suicide victim him/herself would be an impossible feat. For a 13 hour series which had to be tempered with enough humor to make it bearable, and just enough romantic undercurrents to to be a viable commercial product it did an impressive job.
Netflix has created a platform for open and honest conversation about topics which are ineffable and rather taboo in our society. Teachers and parents have expressed the sentiment that the show has sparked a revolution among young students. Adolescents have been more likely than ever to be willing to discuss things like date rape, suicide, and mental health with their parents and have begun initiating sensitive conversations at unprecedented rates.
The idea that Netflix should have given us a comprehensive education on a topic which spans years of research is indicative of a widespread flaw in millennial culture. We are a group of people who like fast learning, and are addicted to short term gratification. We have to remember that Netflix is not responsible for our education and we shouldn't be holding them the same standard to which we would hold an established educational resource. Netflix created an arena for debate. Anyone watching the discussions on social media or on public forums sparked by the show should understand that the conversations alone are reason enough for the show to exist. The true value of the show comes not from its content but from what has come in its aftermath
So while the very real concerns with having such a raw, sensitive, and graphic show in the public sphere might be warranted, the issues it addressed were very real before the release of the show and have been begging to be discussed. Netflix has created a catalyst for conversation. With Netflix’s confirmation that Season 2 is around the bend we can hope that it will elucidate the role of mental health in the story, but even if it doesn't we are certainly in store for some more uncomfortable but extremely necessary conversations.