—SPOILERS AND VERY LONG READ AHEAD—
If you aren’t on Netflix yet, you may have not heard of this little show called ’13 Reasons Why’, which was released on 31 March. If you haven’t caught up yet, I suggest you do, then return to this article.
Based on the book of the same name, it sparked a global debate – well, at least amongst the Western folks. Mental health groups and schools are issuing warnings to parents with teens, the UK gave the series an 18 rating, and New Zealanders under 18 are not allowed to watch it without the supervision of their parents. Co-producer Selena Gomez who has herself struggled with depression and anxiety, said that “It’s going to come no matter what. It’s not an easy subject to talk about.”
While Dylan Minette who plays protagonist Clay Jensen said, “If everyone’s talking about it, we’ve reached our goal.”
Sometimes, good intentions can be misplaced. In response to the backlash, Netflix has added a viewer warning card. This is in addition to warnings on episodes containing scenes of sexual violence and the final and 13th episode of the series where the heroine, Hannah Baker, opens her wrists in the bathtub.
And I say ‘open her wrists’ not to avoid using gruesome words such as ‘slit’ or ‘cut’. But she really did open her wrists with a razor blade and bled to death – seemingly pretty quickly. That in itself is plenty gruesome.
I felt very conflicted after finishing the series. So I have to pen this down in hopes that this disturbing feeling that has been gnawing at me will eventually leave.
1. I hate that it isn’t more relevant to us
The kind of bullying that Hannah goes through feels alien, at least to me, during my time in school. Her bullying involved racy pictures of her being spread around in school, being called a slut, and being secretly photographed kissing another girl. Her bullying is so…American. Maybe times in Malaysia have changed and this does happen in our schools, but I certainly hope not.
I was a victim of bullying. But as an adult now I laugh it off as a ‘bitch fight’ with someone I used to call my best friend. Nevertheless it was damaging enough for me to cry at home everyday and beg my parents to let me switch to another school. I was met with the typical Asian parent response – “Such a small thing, you cry for what?”
From this ‘small thing’, I learned never to call anyone my best friend, never to trust anyone completely, and never to confide in my parents. I’m not blaming them – it was such a ‘Gen-Y’, ‘first world’ problem. How would baby boomer parents know how to deal with it?
So I stuck it out. Through all the nasty and vicious words being said to my face and behind my back at school, through all my nightmares up till university. I could never shake it off – and I still avoid school reunions to this day because of what happened. I wish there was something to spark dialogue about bullying in Malaysian schools. Because what happens is that your soul – if not your being – is crushed in probably a forever kind of way if you never learn to cope with it, but you’re expected to ‘get over it’.
2. I hate that there isn’t any conversation about mental illness
Not all depression leads to suicide, and not all suicide happens because of depression. But in the US, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers. And the series completely misses the opportunity to start a conversation about mental health. All we see is Hannah being relentlessly bullied, while her tapes largely talk about how the other kids drove her to suicide.
But what about what Hannah was feeling and thinking? Sure, there was a bit of it. But a bit is never enough. A lot is never enough. Depression is such a painfully misunderstood disease that is often met with responses like “just do something about it” or “think positive”. Can you will yourself out of diabetes? Or meditate pain away? I’m waiting for that one thing that will finally make people understand that depression is like any other physical illness – but potentially more dangerous because it’s invisible even to your closest, most loved ones. I’m still waiting.
3. I hate that there’s so much blame
The little things matter. #13ReasonsWhy
Posted by 13 Reasons Why on 1hb Mei 2017
Can blame be assigned in suicide? In this show, it certainly has been: to 13 people (technically 12). There’s a sense that Hannah had no hand whatsoever in killing herself (pun not intended). But she had. She made the conscious choice to painstakingly create 13 recordings explaining why she did what she did, selected the only person in school she trusted to make sure her after-death wish gets fulfilled, and steal razor blades from her parents’ store. All this, on top of her incredible, unreal relationship she has with her parents.
As much as the kids in her school contributed in destroying her mental and physical wellbeing, I hate the idea that any one person can be pinpointed as personally driving someone to suicide. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not belittling anyone’s pain in any way. But it was a choice, albeit one made while in questionable mental capacity.
I’m worried about what this says. Should we start exercising political correctness in schools in case someone doesn’t like what you say and jumps off a building? Fuck political correctness. It isn’t a way to live.
4. I hate the idea that a guy could have saved her
Everything was better before. A post shared by 13 Reasons Why (@13reasonswhy) on
And this message rings loud and true throughout every single episode. Clay Jensen, might have, could have, would have saved her if he wasn’t such a scaredy cat. If only he asked her out. If only he stayed with her even though she yelled at him to leave. She would have been alive today. Many of us may feel the same way. That a knight in shining armour is what we need to live a life fulfilled. But it doesn’t mean it’s right. And I sure as hell don’t want girls everywhere to think that they need to be saved by a man.
5. I hate that the series made suicide sexy
Hey, @itsmehannahbaker. Live and in stereo. A post shared by 13 Reasons Why (@13reasonswhy) on
A girl killed herself and left her last words behind – enough to span 13 episodes. Everyone who heard what she had to say was deeply affected, and even carried out some of her instructions. What is it, if not glamourising suicide?
Every teen would love to be heard. But there’s too much angst in this world for anyone to make their voices count. Is a suicide note the only way? It certainly seems romantic. That people care so much about what you have to say after you’re gone. That someone somewhere would lose sleep over your death. That you could have a dignified death and make a grand exit.
I sorely wish they hadn’t filmed that graphic scene of her suicide. Has anyone heard of ‘triggering’? Yes, individuals who are prone to self-harm and suicide would be encouraged to do it after seeing it on television. Yes, we are Neanderthals that carry out what we see on television. That is precisely how this series could have been such a powerful platform to spur healthy discussions among teens about bullying and mental health. But instead, we are left to believe that Hannah finally achieved peace, while leaving destruction in her wake.
6. I hate that self-harm is touted as an alternative to suicide
Skye, the heavily tattooed and pierced friend of Clay, had this to say when he confronted her about cutting her wrists: “It’s what you do instead of killing yourself.”
What about getting help? Talking to someone? Aren’t those viable alternatives to killing yourself?
It isn’t easy to admit that you’re struggling. Which is precisely why the series could have educated teens on how to reach out when they feel lost, alone, and misunderstood.
7. I hate that more bullying was encouraged
A picture was the closest he was gonna get. #13ReasonsWhy
Posted by 13 Reasons Why on 13hb Mac 2017
In one of the tapes, Hannah encourages her listeners to throw rocks at the window of a boy, Tyler, who bullied her by stalking her and surreptitiously taking intimate photographs of her. Many of them did, and when it was Clay’s turn, he went one step further. He took a photograph of Tyler, ass naked, and spread it to the entire school.
His reason? He just needed to “do something”, to make Tyler feel what Hannah felt. Sure, that is a very human and natural response. But Clay never apologised or felt bad about what he did. That all he did to fight bullying, was perpetuate more bullying. Is that a message that we want people to take home?
8. I hate how I responded to Hannah’s rape
Yes, I internally screamed “don’t go into that house”, “don’t get into that hot tub”, and “why don’t you fucking move!?” (context: Hannah knowingly walked into the party of a boy who raped her ex-best friend). In a 30-minute explainer after the end of the 13th episode called ‘Beyond the Reasons’, a psychologist explains that apart from the fight or flight reflex, there is also a third – freeze.
I’m a psychology grad, but I had never come across that. But it happens to me, all the time. That’s where I got my ‘funny’ story of how I let a Bangladeshi man bite me on the shoulder, or how I let a Bruneian man come up to my hotel room to use my washroom. Because I froze. But why did I have to watch this explainer episode to understand? And if I had to watch it to understand, the series has failed.
9. I hate that parents and schools were not engaged first
While Netflix has responded by putting in more warnings before each episode, one whole month has lapsed and it’s as if we don’t know any better – anyone who had any interest in this show particularly because it dealt with the issue of suicide, would have already binge-watched it in 1 week or less.
And teens being teens, if they felt disturbed by it, their parents are the last people they’d speak to. Because it’ll either get brushed off, or parents will start hovering over them 24/7 to make sure that they don’t pull a ‘copycat suicide’.
Parents are notoriously well-known for handling teen emotions poorly. The experience of being a teen is constantly evolving and hey, science has proven that the teenager’s frontal lobe isn’t fully developed, hence the poor decision-making skills.
I hate that we know all this, yet we still aren’t tackling these issues in a safe and effective way.
Perhaps there was a commercial need for this story to be dramatised, but despite everything I’ve said, I was also extremely drawn to what the series had to say. Maybe because no one else is saying anything like it. So I’ll take what I can get.
Everyone has a story. If you or someone you know needs help, visit http://13reasonswhy.info/ today. Watch Beyond The Reasons on Netflix to hear more from the cast.
Posted by 13 Reasons Why on 6hb April 2017
I wish every teen out there can see that there is life after school and it’ll only get so much better. Yes, I still don’t count anyone as my best friend, but I am so glad I have so many more positive experiences to make up for what happened in school. No, I’m not over it as long as I fear meeting my bullies someday, but…it’s a process. Everything is a process. And I’ll be damned if anyone has to go through shit alone. Call me.
To talk to someone anonymously, check out suicide.org to find an option that suits you.
Learn how to protect yourself. Click here to read on.