What is it about?
A Netflix series based on a book by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why (13RY) is a fictional story that is meant to be a cautionary tale. It tells the story of a 17-year-old high school student named Hannah Baker, who experiences a series of hurtful events caused mostly by her friends. Hannah chooses to kill herself, but before doing so, she makes a series of audio recordings explaining what each of these persons have done to hurt her. They are the 13 reasons (or people) why she decided to commit suicide. Each episode unravels the mystery of her tragic death through each one of the tapes.
The Positive Elements
I was pretty excited to watch 13RY after hearing all about it. After watching all 13 episodes, I found that this series really excites and engages. As the show toggled between the past and present scenarios, it kept me in suspense about the reasons for Hannah’s suicide. 13RY gives a good glimpse into what a typical teenager struggles with — issues like cyber-bullying, the deep need for friendship, loneliness, the desperate desire to fit in at school, gossiping, ostracising, name calling, labelling, the negative influence of social media, and the need to be affirmed. It also opens one up to see the many complex factors that influence suicide, which may help viewers not to trivialise the causes of suicide. Lastly, another positive element of this show is that it encourages viewers to be careful of what we do to others and how we can negatively affect or hurt others without knowing it.
The Negative Elements
With all the above mentioned good things about this series, 13RY does also bring a fair share of disturbing negative elements. First of all, a sense of hopelessness is evident throughout the series. Each episode shows how Hannah was terribly hurt, and as you feel her pain and inner struggle, it brings you to a dark place and simply leaves you there. 13RY lacks positive messaging, portraying suicide as the only way out of her pain. In addition, the explicit scenes of rape and suicide can be potentially damaging to viewers. Her method of suicide and graphic death were shown in full detail. These graphically depicted scenes are concerning and disturbing as they may encourage copycat behaviour. In fact, at least one copycat case in Peru has already been reported in the news. After each episode, one can’t help but feel indignant on behalf of Hannah, who took her own life, and be drawn into wanting to see justice served toward all those who harmed or hurt her. Suicide seems to be depicted as a weapon of revenge and thus becomes romanticised. This is dangerous as it could tempt viewers to do or think likewise.
13RY is indeed an eye-opener for anyone who wants to know more about the varied and complex factors influencing someone to attempt suicide. Though the series is set in America, it is not too far culturally from our Singapore school scene.
That said, research does show that exposure to other people’s suicide may tempt or trigger those who are suicidal to do likewise. In fact, this is such a concern that students of Oxford High School in the US even started a programme called ‘13 Reasons Why Not’, where they gathered 13 students to share about their feelings of depression and considerations of suicide, ending the sharing by revealing a name — not of someone who pushed them to suicide, but a person who talked them out of it.
If you have chosen to watch 13RY and feel distraught or depressed, do speak to a mature adult who can help. 13RY shows Hannah desperately trying to find a lifeline — something or someone to hang on to every time she is hurt or in pain — but ends up with nothing and no one. My dear sisters-in-Christ, please don’t deal with your pain alone. This hopelessness is toxic and there is ALWAYS HOPE in our Lord Jesus Christ alone.