Reasons to Talk About “13 Reasons”

Jenna Leon, Opinion Editor

Warning: This article contains mentions of topics that may be upsetting to some readers, including suicide, depression, and rape. If reading about these subjects will affect you negatively, please return to our homepage to select a different article.

Hey, it’s Jenna, Jenna Leon.

Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford as Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” (IMDb)

That’s right, don’t adjust whatever device you are hearing this on. It’s me. Live and in writing. No return engagements, no encore. This time absolutely no requests. Get a snack; settle in, because I am about to tell you what makes the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, so important.
Photo: Nathan Bell

Manchester High School; welcome to your tape.

First, a thank you to Jay Asher for creating a young adult novel in 2007 that would continue to resonate with people ten years later. The 288 pages of the written version opened an even more powerful door.

For those who have not read the book or watched the series yet, I suggest you do. In a nutshell, the story is about a girl Hannah Baker who kills herself. In contrast to leaving a suicide note, she leaves a box of thirteen different cassette tapes, each with a recording of herself explaining the reasons as to why she takes her own life. The tapes are numbered and each number features a special guest, who ultimately contributed to Hannah’s death. The series tells the story by following Clay Jensen, a classmate who is not so secretly, secretly in love with Hannah.

I actually own a copy of the book. If I remember correctly I read it in eighth grade and I really liked it. I thought it was well written. I remember it being sad, I mean obviously it was sad, it is thirteen reasons why she kills herself. But, at the end of middle school, it didn’t have the same effect. I knew suicide was a real thing, but I had never been affected by it, I didn’t know anyone who had tried or succeeded a suicide attempt, and it was a subject that was in a way shunned upon when brought up, because you know…it was sad.

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in “13 Reasons Why” (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

The Netflix series that first released on March 31, 2017, my senior year, had much more of an impact. During the course of my four years in high school, I had been exposed to suicide. I was aware of it happening around me. And while I myself had not suffered the feeling of pure defeat that often leads to suicide, I struggled finding the best ways to help people I loved find the help they needed and prevent them from taking their own life.

Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minnette, and Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, in “13 Reasons Why” (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

I finished watching the thirteen episodes within just a few days. I found that I didn’t remember much of the book aside from the main concept so the characters and their influence on Hannah remained a mystery to me. I was quickly addicted to connecting the puzzle pieces which is why I understand the criticism concerning Clay’s habit of pausing the tapes. In the book, Clay, like the rest of the characters on the tapes, listens in one sitting. The producers of the show needed to drag this out to make more than one episode though, so they have Clay act as if he is unable to digest what Hannah is saying all at once. However, the reality of handing a teenager a box of tapes of that nature and expecting them to do anything but binge listen is slim for this generation especially.

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

That aside, the difference between this show and any other series geared toward the young adult crowd is that it is real. 13 Reasons Why does not sugar coat, it does not glorify, and it does not leave anything up to imagination. The goal of the producers, which includes Selena Gomez and her mother both as executive producers, was to include the harsh reality of a high school experience.

This show is not easy to watch in the slightest. It is graphic. The suicide is there, multiple rape scenes are there, and they are not glossed over.

In a short documentary titled Beyond the Reasons, which is also included on Netflix, the cast and crew of the production are interviewed about more specific details. “We had a number of people ask us along the way why we had Hannah kill herself the way we did, and why we showed it…” Brian Yorkey, producer, says as he defends the scene that depicts Hannah’s suicide, “We did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted to be clear that there is nothing in any way worthwhile about suicide.”

Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley (IMDb)

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker (IMDb)

Justin Prentice as Bryce Walker (IMDb)

The staff was surprised by the amount of complaints about this scene and suggestions that it would have been better to leave Hannah’s suicide up to the viewer’s imagination instead.

What don’t they get? That is exactly the problem! We never want to talk or actually see these “sad” things because it is easier to pretend like they don’t really happen. But pretending like it doesn’t really happen is worse. According to the Suicide Prevention website, there is no evidence that talking about suicide leads to someone committing the act. In fact, suicide is preventable and people considering suicide will typically say or do something that is a warning sign, which is why discussing the subject matter is incredibly important. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for young adults… so yes, we NEED to talk about it.

As for the scene in the hot tub where Hannah is raped, Brian Yorkey again explains that, “We didn’t look away from the sexual assaults in the show because to do otherwise is to minimize what those characters go through and what teenage girls go through everyday.”

As a girl, this is SO crucial. 13 Reasons Why vividly includes what can happen during and after a sexual assault. With a growing rape culture and rate of ‘slut shaming,’ it is essential that  schools, parents, coaches, etc are teaching teenagers what consent is, what it looks and sounds like, and that women are not objects. I can not stress enough the fear that women live with each day; a fear that they should not have to be subjected to.

Katherine Langford, the actress who portrays Hannah Baker, adds to the Beyond the Reasons episode as she says, “One of our biggest goals was to try to represent everything as authentically and as truthful as possible… It is actually in the script where it says ‘we stay on Hannah’s face longer than is comfortable’ and I think that it is important that we did that because it is uncomfortable.”

Personally, this was the worst scene to watch. Langford is right, it is completely, 100% uncomfortable. You literally watch Hannah tense up and start to fight Bryce off and then watch the light in her eye die. You watch her soul leave her body and you can almost feel the violation she no doubt felt. Yet, this was the most responsible way to set up the filming of the scene because it captured the reality of a rape. The camera is right there the whole time.

Another thing about the series that has been criticized is that it can commonly be interpreted as the show sending the message that blame can be placed on other people. I understand why some may be frustrated over the fact that Hannah’s tapes seemed to ignore the fact that a majority of suicides are associated to mental illnesses such as depression, but that was not what I took away from this. I did not think that when Hannah introduced each tape and attached a name to it, she was saying “Justin, welcome to your tape, you are the first reason I killed myself,” I saw it as her saying that what Justin did, an action any person in her life could have committed, was a factor that helped her feel alone and depressed and that each person after that, made her depression more concrete.

Thus the message I received was not that every small gesture of kindness will make the difference between life and death but rather that it is okay to feel alone, it is okay to hurt, and it is okay to make mistakes (because Hannah was not perfect either), but you MUST realize that there is someone who can help you and someone who cares.

And as for a person like Clay…life is too uncertain to not say what you want to say. If Clay had told Hannah he had loved her, who knows what the outcome would have been. Regardless, it is so imperative to speak up.

“13 Reasons Why,” Netflix, 2017- (IMDb)

So, that is the end of my tape. There’s nothing more to say.

If you want to share your story, whether it be about suicide, assault, or just your life, don’t be afraid to speak up. I would sincerely love to hear it.

If you ever need someone to talk to, you can contact one of the MHS psychiatrists, or call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Reasons to Talk About “13 Reasons””

  1. Kassandra Holder on May 2nd, 2017 10:17 pm

    Jenna Leon’s piece on 13 Reasons is perfect! Great to hear a student perspective on the show rather then an adult that hasn’t watch it at all. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the student body.

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