Social Justice

My Love/Hate Relationship With 13 Reasons Why

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

DISCLAIMER: You may not agree with the content(s) of this article, but I am entitled to my opinion and the fact that I have a particular entitlement or right is irrelevant to whether my assertions are true or false.

Note: This article is dedicated to Yameen Rasheed, a Maldivian human rights activist, blogger and editor-in-chief of The Daily Panic, who was brutally murdered on 23rd April 2017. The last conversation we had was regarding this article, just 8 hours before he was pronounced dead. Nine weeks later, I summed up the courage to finalise this article and publish it.

Is it too late to jump on the bandwagon? 3 months ago, I finished watching the mini series version of Jay Asher’s book, ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ and I have an inclination to state 13 reasons why I harbour mixed feelings towards the show.The story oscillates between the narrative Hannah Baker who left tapes on which she recalled instances of abandonment, bullying, manipulation, rape and rape culture, rumours, sexual harassment, slut shaming, stalking and more events that she alleges caused her to take her life, each attributable to one of the classmates that her tapes are delivered to AND and Clay Jensen who is on a quest to uncover the story behind the death of Hannah. It also depicts the impact her death had on her school community, including ensuing legal action by Hannah’s parents against the school.

What disturbed me the most is 1. How The Show Portrayed Hannah Baker: As a revenge seeking teen rather than a struggling young woman. She left 13 tapes depicting the reasons why the people in her life caused her to end her life, like it is a vindictive game, but did not leave her parents a note of closure. Moreover, she struggled to finalise the 13 people she should send a tape to, and I fail to understand where she got the strength and motive to record those tapes. More than suicidal, I found this psychotic. Also, the characters were compelled to listen to the tapes with the ultimatum that a second copy of the tapes would be ‘leaked’ if one fails to comply with her instructions. She may have been a victim, but she was also a bully.

With a cast full of dreamy teens and melodramatic content, ‘13 Reasons Why’ 2. Romanticised and Glamorised Suicide to some extent, mainly as the show reinforced suicide as a course of action that is debatable. The show failed to end the last episode with closure and for ones who are battling mental health issues, witnessing the end of a life as the show portrayed could desensitise them. Several mental health organisations have spoken out about the portrayal of suicide in the show and they fear that the scene may distress viewers. Unfortunately, real life imitated fiction when a 23 year old man in Peru committed suicide and left behind tapes. With Hannah Baker, it seems that her suicide was a ‘victory’ against those who treated her indecently.

3. Hannah Baker Expected People To Read Her Mind, and this ‘frees’ us from having to directly express our withheld needs and desires. This expectation can, as we usually find out the hard way, lead to difficult situations. Many of these are based upon culturally sanctioned myths, and “If you really loved me, I wouldn’t have to ask,” is one of them. So, do yourself a favour and engage in bona fide communication.

So, Hannah Baker liked Clay Jensen but chose to keep it to herself when she was alive. Yet, 4. Clay Jensen Was Left To Take The Blame of being “afraid” to love her. Fortunately, Clay made a move on Hannah by kissing her, which lead to a heavy and steamy make out session until Hannah recalled certain awful moments and shoved Clay out of her way, literally. Afterwards, Hannah did not answer the questions asked by a perplexed Clay, and said she wanted Clay out of her sight. Understandable. But what I failed to understand is that after making herself crystal clear to Clay and the viewers, why did she make it seem like it was Clay’s fault for leaving her when she told him to do so, with a dash of profanity? Moreover, Hannah did not explain herself to Clay later, and that proves that it was her who pushed away that one person whom she envisaged a future with, even if it was for a little while. Also, let’s not forget that Hannah’s ‘accusation’ drove Clay to the edge of killing himself. All that boy did was love Hannah, and putting him through something like that is downright harsh.

Mr. Porter’s approach to Hannah Baker was rushed as he jumped into conclusions, but isn’t that what Hannah did with him and the others, mostly? He should have been a better counsellor, but Hannah manifested vagueness whilst talking to him, too. Then, 5. Hannah Baker Exhibited Unrealistic Expectations Towards Mr. Porter, such as expecting Mr. Porter to GUARANTEE her that her rapist would go behind bars. He is a Counsellor, not a Prosecutor. Even after he assured her, “I will do everything in my power to keep you safe and protect you in this process,” followed by “If you cannot give me a name, if you do not want to press charges against this boy, if you are not even sure you can press charges…”, Hannah refused to mention her rapist’s name and walked out of the office.

6. Opting For Professional Help Was The Last Resort For Hannah Baker. If you are feeling down, seek help ASAP! Obtaining professional help should not be your last option/hope, rather, it should be your FIRST. Asking for help does not make you weak, but it means that you are strong enough to know that you need help and attempt to fight whatever you are going through! If you are concerned about your mental health, please consult a doctor who could recommend a consultation with a psychiatrist, should you require one. Click here for local (Maldivian) contacts and helplines.

Now, let’s have a look at the positive aspects I noticed.

7. The Little Things Do Matter in the grand scheme of life, as the ‘snowball effect starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver and more serious) and perhaps, potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle and a ‘spiral of decline’) though it might be beneficial instead (a virtuous circle.) Somewhere in your sphere of influence, someone is aching for a little encouragement. Remember, you hold the power to build people up or tear them down, and often, a small investment on your part can lead to an incredible payoff down the road.

8. The Importance Of Authentic Friendships is highlighted on the show when we noticed that Hannah felt better whenever a “friend” approached her, as friends have the power to affect one to a great extent, but sometimes, the affect might not be for the better. Thus, it is crucial to surround ourselves with people who are going to be there for us through every bump.

9. Watch Your Words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…” but we all know just how untrue that is, as hurtful words will pierce through ones’ heart and leave damage far deeper and for far longer than a physical bruise will. Victims may not always remember what is said or done to them, but they will remember how small they felt in those moments.

Remember when we were kids and considered or mistook our parents’ silence as consent and proceeded? 10. Silence Should Not Be Regarded As Consent, especially when it comes to forcing oneself or his/her power onto someone or their personal space. Just because someone does not go fifty shades of batshit crazy on you does not mean that he/she is “okay with it” or “enjoying” whatever you are serving out to him/her. Consent is simple, yet some fail to grasp the concept of consent. For us educated people, this one may seem quite self-explanatory. Moreover, there are various ways a person can imply consent, which every sane person would be able to distinguish between a “yes” and a “no” even if it is given off non-verbally. No, Bryce. Hannah nor Jessica did not want you to “fuck them” and they did not “enjoy being raped. Click here for a guide to understand consent. You need consent, otherwise, it constitutes to rape.

11. A Cry For Help Is Not Always As Bright As Daylight. I believe that people who require help should seek it at an early stage, but that is not how it works in real life work, usually. So, the best we could do is to walk in others’ shoes. Yet, it is not possible to analyse everyone around us, so that is why it is encouraged to give out our best treatment. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Click here to learn the warning signs of depression, and do not be hesitant to reach out to someone you think may be struggling, as it becomes your moral obligation to help that person. If you are not within the means of doing that, get help for that person. Never downplay their struggles, and let them know you are always available to listen.

12. The Truth Comes To Light, eventually. “Got a secret, can you keep it, swear this one you’ll save? Better lock it, in your pocket, taking this one to the grave…” Is it possible for one to take a secret to the grave? It certainly wasn’t, for the characters on the show. So, start digging your closet and make amends. Confess and Confront.

13. Suicide Affects Many People. Everyone was affected by Hannah’s death, and the entire school mourned her loss despite some students used her death as a popularity token. So, you are so much more than you realize, and this world may have seven billion people, but it needs you, as your struggles do not define you.

Overall, 13 Reasons Why is a powerful, if problematic, take on distress, and if it makes viewers embrace compassion, all the better.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the mental health awareness foundation page.

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