The newest cult following on Netflix: 13 Reasons Why
A review. Warning: MAJOR Spoilers
I didn’t want to watch it. I knew the topic. Then I went to a book club and heard mixed reviews. It piqued my curiosity. Curiosity kills the cat.
As someone who has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, and has several friends who struggle too, I am pleased to know that there is finally a show getting people to talk about a “taboo” subject. However, the show erred in many ways. I’ll highlight some positives of the show and then go into the many flaws.
1.) People are finally speaking about suicide, depression, and mental illness. Society has often thinks we should silence such issues. In America, we strive for individuality and dependence on self. These topics jeopardize self-reliance and ‘success’ through hard work and determination.
2.) The show highlights how women’s bodies are still objectified.
Sadly, I was at a high school graduation party this weekend. I was in another room nursing my infant daughter. I could hear the teenage girls and boys discussing another student’s body. They were saying she was too skinny and it was repulsive. Repulsive?
In a society that has emphasized diet and exercise to get skinny, because skinny is too often equated with health, that we have girls struggling with the spectrum of eating disorders? Unfortunately, if a girl was fat, she’d be critiqued for that. We can’t win.
I know men are critiqued too: If you are too skinny, you are a wuss. What are you? Weak? Are you crying? Are you a pansy? A woman? Have you ever noticed that a critique of a man’s body usually compares his lack of muscle female inadequacy? If a guy doesn’t have muscle, he is told he is weak, womanly. Why is being a woman thought of as weak? You see, guys bodies are criticized, but the insults hurled at men comes back to belittling women. A muscular woman is sometimes called butch. However, while this is still an insult, strength is still a positive thing. In American society, physical weakness is very much a flaw. Feminism is needed when we are still objectifying and belittling women’s bodies.
3.) Rape is discussed. You see how silence on the topic of rape spirals out of control and damages the individual who was raped and others.
4.) You see how bullying leads to suicide.
5.) The show helped me dust off some past history that I had tucked away. I didn’t realize I needed to address it. It helped me uncover some roots to issues in my marriage. Hopefully I can now begin the necessary, albeit difficult, healing process that entails.
1.) The show blames others for the act of suicide. Yes, peers can influence a choice, but a person who commits suicide (or takes part in self-harm at all) is still the one at fault. It is not somebody else’s choice to slit your wrists. Murder is different than suicide.
Yes, bullying needs to be addressed. While bullying can be a catalyst to such a decision, the decision is still the fault of the individual who commits suicide. Our society often seeks to blame others for the choices we make. We must take responsibility for our choices. We can blame society, injustice, oppression, or a slew of other problems for our lot. However, what we do with our problems reveals our character. We can bemoan injustice and play the victim or we can have our struggles spur us towards victory, strength, and testimony.
God has placed us in a particular time and location. He still gave us free will on how we will optimize our talents, shortcomings, and perception of injustice this side of heaven. We can sit and discuss how society is wrong, how we have been abused or belittled, and wallow in pity. The other choice is to forgive offenses, practice gratitude for what we do have, and live life for the purposes of God. It is often in our struggles that God can shine. “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” (Gal. 6: 14 NLT)
Aside: Please understand I’m not saying that bullying, oppression, and inequality aren’t problems that need to be rectified. These problems definitely need to be talked about. We need to raise awareness and fight for people who sometimes don’t have a voice. We need to be advocates for orphans and widows, members of society who are often put out and forced into silence.
I’m not saying to stop being an advocate. I’m not saying to stop fighting for justice.
I am saying we need to stop playing the victim. Bad things happen to good people. It sucks. Rather than reliving what happened and wading (and eventually drowning) in bitterness, regret, and loathing, Forgive. Find freedom in taking responsibility for your part in situations and in releasing others from the chains of a grudge. The only person a grudge truly holds captive is the one holding it. We can harbor anger and eventually die in the futility of wrath. Instead, let us find fullness of life in the strength of forgiveness, an identity in Christ, not the constant shifting opinion of humanity.
As it pertains to the show, I think of Clay. Clay did nothing wrong to Hannah. In fact, she pushes him away without explaining why she shuts him out. She put him on the tapes. He asks if he kills Hannah Baker. He is told that in some way, they all did.
While we can influence people’s choices, an individual’s choice is still their choice. We are told to keep peace in so far as it depends upon us. We can’t control how others perceive a particular comment. If we didn’t mean offense, we shouldn’t have to apologize for how someone perceived offensively. I apologize too much because I’m always concerned I have offended someone. In the end, I wind up apologizing for my mere existence and suffer for it.
2.) Hannah stirs up drama. She tends to think every person’s decision comes back to her. A wise man once told me that people frequently think far less often about me as I think they do. People are really self-absorbed. Yes, self-absorption is a sin and we need to become more other-centered. As for me, who struggles with approval addiction, it helps knowing that other people aren’t thinking of me as much as I think they are. I probably have their approval when I think they don’t and the opposite probably holds true too.
Zach tells Hannah he likes her. She thinks it is because of the “hot ass” list and she is supposedly easy. He tells her it isn’t. She tells him that isn’t true. Eventually they say “F-you” to each other. Since he is popular, she can’t understand how he could have an interest in her. Her perception of his kindness is severely flawed and he is on the tapes too as having contributed to her death.
Alex put Hannah’s name on the list to make his girlfriend jealous because his girlfriend, whom he loved, wasn’t ready for sex with him. Rather than talking about it with him, Hannah kills herself and then does a tape about his offenses. He feels so guilty about how he made Hannah feel and keeps getting bullied himself that he shoots himself in the head.
3.) Hannah talks about how Justin was so wrong for allowing his girlfriend to be raped. However, Hannah was in the room, hiding, when it happened. Hannah herself was silent about the rape! How can she accuse Justin of such ill response when she is guilty herself? Hannah says she feels guilty for not saying anything, but places the main blame on Justin.
4.) Hannah goes to a party and is raped by Bryce, the same boy who raped her friend.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not misunderstand me here. Under no circumstances should a woman (or man, because men can be raped too) ever be sexually violated! A girl who is scantily clad is not asking for rape! A victim should not be blamed for the violent choices of another individual. Even if someone is completely naked in front of someone else, if they aren’t okay with being touched, they SHOULD NOT be touched.
That being said, we do have to take responsibility for our choices, especially if they can play a role in our injury. Hannah went to a party with a known rapist and stayed in the hot tub when everyone left and he was nearby. She was in a place even she said she shouldn’t have been in. If you know you shouldn’t be somewhere, listen and get out.
5.) Hannah leaves a crime scene to find a phone and report it. Rather than staying where the stop sign was hit, and this leads to a bigger accident: a friend of theirs is hit by an oncoming car after an alcohol run (he wasn’t drunk) when he “runs” the stop sign. He dies and everyone is left thinking he died due to drunk driving. She could have stayed and regulated the scene. Someone driving by could have a phone and it would have been safer.
Yes, this is a would-have-could have-should have situation. I guess this isn’t so much a con. Hindsight is hard.
6.) Why was Tony involved? You are told he was a friend of Hannah’s, the tapes were left with him, he ran to her house after listening to the first few seconds of the first tape, and subsequently, he witnessed the crime scene.
He blames himself for not having prevented the suicide after hearing the tapes. Tony was just a friend. He wasn’t even on the tapes. He comforts Hannah’s mom through the process.
You see a semicolon tattoo on his arm and that can allude to his own struggle with depression. You find out he is gay. You find out his ex, who he still talks to, was possessive. His ex is certainly bullied throughout the show. You are told that they can’t let Tony let out the secrets.
You can suppose that Tony was bullied for homosexuality too, but the show never highlights that. They highlight his ex being bullied.
Why Tony? Why?
This plot hole just simply drives me crazy.
7.) While the school counselor said some horrible things, Hannah leaves his office and then waits, expecting him to follow. Yes, I’ve had arguments with my husband, left a room, and waited to see if he’d follow, to see if he cared. This is extremely manipulative and vindictive behavior. I recognize this is a problem. In this situation, it is the person who waits that winds up at fault, not the person who doesn’t run after.
8.) How are the parents not involved more in their kids lives? Clay’s mom seems to be the only one who really intercedes. She is portrayed as an annoyance and helicopter than genuinely caring about what her son does.
Yes, I don’t have teenagers yet. My kids are still young. I was one once though. I know I kept secrets from my parents. However, I was told I had to be home at particular times, call if I was going to be late, grounded if my grades were poor, etc. The kids in the show seem like they are allowed to wander freely without repercussions. This is a problem in and of itself. Hormonal teens left to their own devices, without advice, discipline, and encouragement, will cause much destruction. I guess the show was accurate there…
9.) Hannah had very loving parents and she had a good relationship with them.
Most people who struggle with depression and suicide have estranged parental relationships to some degree. I’m not saying all, but the vast majority do. It is RARE to have depression, mental illness, or suicidal thoughts when you have compassionate and loving parents.
10.) Hannah leaves tapes as warnings to her friends but doesn’t leave any indication to her parents, who she had good report with, as to why she committed suicide.
11.) Home room has notes that are shared. An eerie anonymous question is asked about suicide in the note just before Hannah commits suicide. On the tapes, you are told that Zach keeps silent. He might have suspected Hannah’s depression spiraling to the worst, but how did none of the teachers, especially the one who received the note, not pick up on it?
Maybe I’m naive. I just don’t think everyone is this dense. This teacher was teaching how to prevent bullying, how to speak with others, etc. Wouldn’t she have recognized elusive behavior signs?
Hannah cut her hair and started dressing darker and no one is the wiser. I would think with such drastic changes someone would have noticed, especially an adult. As I said though, maybe I’m naive. I knew someone in high school that committed suicide, but I didn’t know him well. Usually though, there are indicative signs that cause people to question. Hannah’s parents were involved, unlike Justin’s mom, so you would think they would have suspected something when their daughter stopped confiding in them and became more reclusive.
I don’t know, maybe I’m more naive about this issue than I think I am. I have struggled, but I know each person’s struggle is different. I do know that when I’m quieter than normal, people ask why. Maybe I just have good involved friends.
Hannah had Clay and her parents though. Other people who would be seemingly more suspect to commit suicide in the show, don’t. Although I guess sometimes one person handles stress better than another. You never really know how people will be influenced in their choices.
12.) There aren’t really 13 reasons why she commits suicide. Justin has two tapes. The party is segmented, but the main reason is the rape. One reason, different viewpoints and characters. The title problem is a minor issue in my mind, but still a slight con.
13.) Bryce has no clue about the tapes. He isn’t given them. He finds out about them from Justin. Bryce has a tape at the very end, but they aren’t given to him. You don’t find out if Hannah wanted Bryce to find out about the tapes because she made one for him or not.
Again, plot hole that can drive you crazy because it is part of the overarching story line.
13 cons…yeah I stretched them admittedly
To write a critique this long must mean it was more influential than I give it credit for. You can feel invested in these characters because there is a lot of character development. I wanted to feel for Hannah. I did to some degree, but she seems whiner and dramatic than most depressed suicidal people I know. If Hannah had a mental disorder like borderline personality or bipolar disorder, the mood swings might make sense, but the show doesn’t seem to show this as the case. Instead, it seems that bullying seems to be the culprit and in that degree, Tyler, Tony, Justin, or many of the other characters seem more likely to commit suicide than Hannah. Who knows though, each person handles things differently.
This is why we must watch and care. To that extent, thank you Netflix. We know we have to look for the signs of weariness, the warning that someone feels death is easier than a life lived for the purposes of God.
(“A life lived for the purposes of God”- A reel I have on replay in my head currently based off a sermon I heard this weekend, but that is a post for another time, if I get around to it.)
Oh and I guess I should have made it a bullet point. It is a con though. Throughout the show, everyone keeps saying, “Hannah’s truth isn’t my truth.” This is a MASSIVE problem in our society. Truth is not relative. I hate to break it to you. Truth is objective, not subjective. Perceptions of truth can be subjective and relative, but truth itself is just that. Truth is a fact, not a variable that alters with emotion, maturity, time, or location. This might be why I love mathematics. Math just is.
Sadly, even in philosophical and theological spheres we have tried to adapt relative truth. The problem with relative truth is that it implodes. Monotheism and polytheism can’t co-exist. One is true and the other is false. Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life. He said no one can get to the father except through him. This means that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven and meet God (the father). Does this seem exclusive? Yes. However, in atheism, I cease to exist entirely. I am a mere composition of atoms and when I die, I rot, simply to be compost in a spinning world until the universe expands into oblivion. I can’t profess atheism and Christianity concurrently. If I do, I have a different dogma than Christianity.
Truth is exclusive. America is no longer under British rule. We gained independence in 1776. My perception of how it came to be or what rule looks like could be different, but truth is truth. A Declaration of Independence was drafted, can still be found, and that draft occurred in 1776.
Hannah might have correctly perceived or misinterpreted situations, but it isn’t her “truth”. Truth was the event that happened. Then truth is left to humanity’s perceptive devices. Be careful. Understanding word usage, language, and meaning is of dire importance. Perception can be deceptive.
Thanks for getting this far. Watch it if you want, but understand it is VERY graphic. (You will see the girls getting raped and Hannah cut herself.) It is hard. It is a somewhat inaccurate portrayal of mental illness, depression, and suicide. If it gets people conversing about these topics though, it has served its purpose. God can use all things for his glory, even a simple Netflix series.
So come, let’s have a conversation.