Does the Netflix Show 13 Reason Why Glorify Suicide?

Samantha Rosa, Staff Writer

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If you haven’t heard of the television show 13 Reasons Why yet, you are living under a rock. When 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix late April, it invited approximately 13 hours of binge-watching galore. While feedback ranged from glowing remarks to highly critical backlash, the show has started a conversation.

 

The show’s main character, Hannah, navigates the waters of a new high school while embarking on new relationships and trying to maintain friendships. Bullying is rampant in a school teeming with teen insecurity and teenage egos. Hannah is a victim of this verbal abuse and is often slut-shamed. 13 Reasons Why refuses to shy away from controversial issues, but all too often the scenes of sexual violence and self-harming seem to create a spectacle rather than an illuminating and informative television show about mental illness and bullying.  

 

The showrunners, including producer Selena Gomez, claim they portrayed suicide accurately, and as “very ugly and very damaging.” The graphic scene, however, where Hannah slits her wrists is a deliberate change from the novel. In the book, Hannah swallows pills instead. While suicide needs to be displayed in a realistic way, it also should not be a “how-to” guide. Anyone watching the show now knows how to slice their wrist at an angle that could kill them. Hannah’s explicit suicide scene is not educational; it is meant to create shock value.

 

Furthermore, although the flashbacks seem vital for characterization purposes and the development of the unraveling of Hannah Baker, they also serve to convey the message that death is not permanent. For adolescents watching this show at home, this can be a confusing message. The reoccurring flashbacks of Hannah Baker, a dead teenager, reinforces the idea that dead, is not forever. An accurate portrayal of suicide depicts the death, and then the repercussions. In life, there are no flashbacks or rewinds, only mere memories that fade. Suicide needs to be shown in a truly realistic and horrifying way.

 

If you’re looking for a dramatic, well-acted show involving teenagers, this is the show for you. If you’re looking for an insightful series depicting mental illness, maybe find a different Netflix show. While I will cautiously tune into the next season, I will not be expecting much but a plot filled with “One Tree Hill” esque theatrics.

 

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