Yes I know. Season Two has already been announced and I’m only just posting about Season One now. Trust me, I watched the series far too quickly and had drafted several, very emotional posts immediately after. It felt too reactionary. Like someone had punched me in the face and my automatic response was to punch them straight back. I’m not into violence so I decided to wait. For the hype to die down. For myself to process the emotions. So here it is. A calm, perhaps more well reasoned but still very personal response to Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’.
There are two groups of audiences -
1 : Those with personal, professional or close family/friend experience of topics explored (sexual assault, depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, suicide)
2 : Those with no such experiences
Group one, I hear you. The content is graphic and triggering. The suicide may be romanticised. The mental health conversation was skipped. It could place vulnerable young people at risk. Thoughts that came to my mind included
“Woah, that is NOT what that feels like.” “Wait, so she ends up escaping from all her pain?” “No. No. No. You need to focus on the GOOD, what she’s missing out on, there are people to support her, he wanted to help you…….."
Group two, I feel you. Sadness, anger, shock, confusion. Thoughts like
“Have I been a bully?” “Did they know I meant that as a joke.” “Could my blasé comments and actions have effected someone so greatly?” “Why is she staying silent in the cupboard. Do something. Say something. Stop his actions dammit.”
As with everything in life, our own experiences, beliefs, values, culture, environment etc all effect the way we receive information, the way we process the information and the reaction we take based on that information. This series is absolutely no different but the issue lies in the seriousness of the topics presented. We’re talking about life and death.
Sexual assault, depression and suicide are very real concerns faced by youth of today. Not all youth. But many. And too often by trying not to make things worse, we avoid the topics all together. Or we present them in such a way that isn’t relatable so the opportunity of sending a message is missed.
Is there a “safe” or “best” way to bring these issues to the forefront? Do we err on the side of caution so as not to offend? Is the risk too high of making things worse by depicting these topics fictionally? Where is the line between
a) prevention: bringing awareness to the effects of our actions; being aware that we can not ever know what someone else is going through at any moment in time; showcasing the importance of placing the responsibility of sexual assault on the attacker not the victim.
b) causation: making it seemingly okay to blame others for our decisions; romanticising suicide; depicting adults as unwilling to help.
How do we walk that line? I'm not sure. But in my opinion, we cannot afford to not walk it at all.
Initially, I was in the causative camp. I wanted to punch them in the face for the many things they got wrong. But now, creators, I applaud you. Did they get it perfect? No. Could they have done better? We always can. They have provided us with the opportunity to ramp up the discussion around these issues and make it preventative. Let's shift the focus away from what the producers got wrong and instead focus on what we can do to promote the right messages shown and provide alternative messages to the ones we are concerned about.
What do you think? Did you enjoy the series? When discussing these issues, do you think we should be walking the line or keeping well away from it to be safe?
To parents and teachers, I highly recommend Head Space’s resource to effectively discuss the topics presented in the series: Head Space, 13 Reasons Why
To anyone struggling, there are people who can help you. Reach out. Let someone know. If you don't have anyone personal you feel can turn to at this time, Lifeline (13 11 14) is there.
To everyone else, your words and actions matter.
"Be kind to one another"
- Ellen DeGeneres