Why the controversy over “13 Reasons Why?”

By RILEY FANNING

Staff Writer

Netflix’s newest original series “13 Reasons Why” has come under fire for its treatment of suicide. On social media, there have been major debates over the show and its potentially bad influence on people with depression or suicidal thoughts. The new show is not trying to glorify suicide, and is instead trying to send an important message.

The recently released series is based off of the 2007 young adult novel of the same name, written by Jay Asher. Pop star Selena Gomez is the executive producer on the project,

13-Reasons-Why

“13 Reasons Why” series  poster. Image from flickeringmyth.com

and the show has become remarkably popular since its release on March 31.

 

The show’s premise, like the novel, follows the past of a high school student named Hannah Baker, who has committed suicide. Before committing suicide, she left behind thirteen eerie cassette tapes that tell the story of why she did it. Each cassette discusses a specific character and how their actions contributed to Hannah’s death.

Many say the cassettes make it seem like suicide is a form of revenge, or that Hannah was justified in killing herself. Suicide prevention groups have also spoken out, saying that the graphic nature of the show, especially in regards to the suicide scene, is callous.

The Executive Director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education Dan Reidenberg told ABC News, “There is a great concern that I have…that young people are going to over-identify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series.”

The show does not shy away from graphic scenes, but that does not necessarily mean it is insensitive. Discussing suicide is extremely important, and the show makes a point to say that it is not enough to start the conversation after someone has already died.

“13 Reasons Why” sugarcoats nothing about Hannah’s suicide, and that is an important statement for a young adult show. “Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defense against losing another life,” said Nic Sheff, the writer of the show.

Though the show can be shocking at times, the painful moments reveal truth. As each episode progresses, the story becomes darker and more emotional. The scenes ask us to reflect on not only mental health, but specifically how the way we treat people can have dire consequences. “13 Reasons Why” is a lesson in empathy. The characters must face their own behavior and live with the choices they have made. This is not encouraging suicide, but rather urging societal attitudes to shift in order to prevent it.

Any time a show decides to touch on a sensitive subject such as suicide, rape or abuse, there will always be somewhat of a backlash. Nothing will ever be portrayed perfectly for everyone. Just because people may be offended does not mean that the subject matter should be silenced.

“13 Reasons Why” does not have perfect characters, and is not a wholly perfect show, but it is not irresponsible in its treatment of suicide. Tough subject matter should be explored because keeping silent will not spread awareness, which is what “13 Reasons Why” is combating.

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