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13 Reasons Why: harmful or helpful?

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13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original based on the book by Jay Asher of the same name. The show is about Hannah Baker, a high schooler who commits suicide after she records tapes that are then given to the 13 people she holds accountable for her death, telling them why she feels they are responsible.

The show has received praise for bringing taboo issues such as suicide and rape to the forefront of people’s minds.

“If you just brush over the suicide scene, the audience will think that it was easy. If you brush over the two rape scenes then the audience will think, ‘Why are these girls freaking out so much?’. We really have to show how ugly it is and how much it can affect a person’s life” Alisha Boe who plays Jessica, a sexual assault victim, defended the decision to include Hannah’s suicide to The Hollywood Reporter.

After the show was released, the Jed Foundation and Crisis Text Line reported increased numbers of callers to their suicide hotline.

Despite these results following the show’s premiere, many have issues with the graphic nature of Hannah’s suicide and feel that 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide.

Paris Jackson addressed how the show does a good job of “showing how impactful words and actions can be to other human beings,” she said in an Instagram post. She went on, though, to say that 13 Reasons Why “is at the same time an extremely triggering thing to watch.”

The National Association of School Psychologists, regarding the Netflix series, released a statement that “[the show’s] powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”

Students such as Cassie Hurley, sophomore, are among those who criticize the show. Though she supports increased recognition of mental illness and depression in the media, Hurley felt that 13 Reasons Why “completely threw out the element of mental illness.”

“It’s so important to have things out there and it can’t just be ignored. But [13 Reasons Why] went straight to ‘Oh God, I’m in a bad situation, [suicide] is my only option’ and I did not like that” shared Hurley.

Hurley, who struggles with depression, also held issue with the graphic nature of Hannah’s death.

“I don’t think it’s important to show suicide, I don’t think it’s important to showcase self harm because it totally romanticizes it and makes it seem like a good idea” Hurley said.

Hurley brings up another major issue: the risk that 13 Reasons Why will inspire an epidemic of copy cats. Teenagers who plan out a revenge, suicide-style deaths to make their bullies feel guilty.

“I think it gives a lot of teenagers the idea that if something happens to you or you make something happen to yourself, you get to see how people react and you get to feel good because you made other people feel bad” Hurley explained.

On the other side of the coin, supporters of the show, such as Katie Batten, junior, feel that 13 Reasons Why wasn’t meant for those who identify with Hannah Baker, but for those who are similar to the characters receiving the tapes.

“This show is more for people like the other people on the list, which is a little difficult because those are the people who are going to say that it’s frivolous and say ‘welcome to your tape.’ I think that the primary goal is to say that you need to be better as a person you need to recognize the implications of what you do and say to other people and try to be better” said Batten.

On whether 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide or not, Batten said that she “can kind of see it because [Hannah Baker] becomes kind of a martyr. After she dies, she gets everything that she wants and makes her look pretty much blameless in all of it.”

“I don’t think that that’s the story that it’s trying to tell,” said Batten. “It’s not saying kill yourself and you’ll get everything that you wanted, it’s saying you’re not alone as you think you are. If you open yourself up there are people who want you to be here.”

Both Batten and Hurley can agree that the central message of the show is not in favor of suicide at all. The message is, as Batten put it, ”you have to deal with what you do.”

Whether 13 Reasons Why is more harmful than helpful, or vice versa, is up to each individual viewer to decide.

Be warned, though: for those that suffer depression or have contemplated suicide, this can be a troubling show. There are two graphic rape scenes and, of course, Hannah’s death.

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The student news site of Summerville High School.
13 Reasons Why: harmful or helpful?