Mira Berenbaum, Noah Cohen, and Sara Stolzenberg-Myers
Social Media Director, Community Editor, and Staff Writer
13 Reasons Why, the Netflix series, a television adaptation of the best-selling novel by Jay Asher, has incited a worldwide debate. The story revolves around the suicide of a teenage girl named Hannah Baker, and the repercussions that follow when her peers receive 13 tapes in which Hannah accuses them of being the reasons why she committed suicide. The series comments on and explicitly portrays suicide, rape, and self-harm. Some mental health experts have criticized the show for “glorifying suicide” and making it seem as if the fault of suicide falls on the victim’s peers. They also have raised the question of whether this show may encourage suicide as a positive end to suffering. We at The Roar feel that contemporary teenagers are the right people to comment on this show considering that it revolves around people of our own age.
Do you believe that 13 Reasons Why accurately portrays the high school experience?
Mira: Considering that I come from a very specific high school background, it does not portray the high school experience that I am used to. That being said, I don’t think a Milken high school experience is a typical high school experience. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical high school experience.” However, the show does portray several of the high school stereotypes with the different cliques and the way the jocks interact with the cheerleaders vs. the way they interact with the “outsiders.”
Noah: Many of the events and interactions in the show are very exaggerated. While this is true for me, it may not be true for all high schoolers, especially those who go to bigger schools. Perhaps there are situations where the extreme events happen in real life, but I personally have never come across some of the more heinous crimes portrayed.
Sara: While I come from a private, Jewish, almost too-safe bubble, I am still able to relate to many of the things Hannah Baker experiences. High school is an awkward growth period in all our lives where many of us are attempting to figure out who we are. As seen in 13 Reasons Why, sometimes this environment can provoke feelings of loneliness and insufficiency. In the show, we, as the viewers, are able to see where every interaction went wrong. However, when we are living in these moments, it is hard to visualize the repercussions of our actions. Despite the errors the show made in properly portraying the effects of suicide, 13 Reasons Why certainly captured a very real depiction of the emotions a high school girl is likely to experience.
Does 13 Reasons Why cause more harm than good?
Mira: Debatable. The good is that it is an entertaining show, I will admit that. I binge watched all 13 episodes and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was not until after I finished the show that I was able to fully comprehend the harm that the show causes. To teens who are depressed and suicidal, the show is very triggering. Depicting rape and suicide as visually as the show portrayed it is unhealthy for suicidal teens to watch. Additionally, friends and family of people who committed suicide could feel hurt while watching this show. People have been saying that the show portrays suicide as a game, and while watching the show I didn’t realize this. However, after finishing the show, I strongly agree that it disrespects suicide by making it a scavenger hunt. It breaks my heart when I hear someone say “welcome to your tape” in class or in passing, thus mocking both the show and suicide as a whole. The show is both harmful and good, and I’m not sure which one carries a heavier weight.
Noah: I believe that the show, while flawed, deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. The creators intended to make a show that created a dialogue about suicide and mental illness in teens. While the creators didn’t always do so in the most appropriate way, it did make me think about the dynamics of human interaction and how that affects people’s mental health and wellbeing. It may not have the same effect on everyone, but to me, it definitely made me more thoughtful towards those issues.
Sara: Because I am not aware of how this show has affected those struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, I cannot firmly determine whether or not this show has caused more harm than good. I understand the perspective many have taken in regards to 13 Reasons Why which expresses the fear of the glorification of suicide. But, I do think this show is bringing forth a necessary conversation that many are afraid to participate in. If you choose to interpret the show as a storyline that turns the idea of suicide into a fantasy, then it will only cause harm. However, if you choose to watch the show, recognize each character’s mistakes, and then learn from them, the show will only lead you to make more conscientious decisions.
What, if any, parts of 13 Reasons Why would you change?
Mira: Definitely getting rid of the rape and suicide scene. While watching it, I closed my eyes during those scenes because I found them so disturbing. Maybe showing flash moments of both scenes and leaving the interpretation up to the viewer is an option, but showing them so visually was a mistake. Even with the warning messages, the scenes were still too visual. All the mental health experts said not to make the scenes too visual, but they didn’t follow that advice. The producers should’ve known better.
Noah: Most people would probably say that they shouldn’t have made the suicide and rapes so graphic. I disagree. I think that it was important to show these events in order to fully convey the severity of these actions. You can’t “gloss over” these issues, even in a show intended for teens and young adults. To be honest, I feel that some of the characters who were blamed for the death of Hannah Baker didn’t completely deserve it. Each character had their flaws and definitely contributed to Hannah’s declining mental health, but I believe that the show too explicitly stated the false impression that these people “killed” Hannah.
Sara: Hannah Baker made the decision, when she left her tapes behind, to ensure that all those who played a role in the leadup to her suicide, would suffer. While the actions committed in the show should in no way be condoned, it is not fair for Hannah to have put the blame on every other character. I think it is the show’s responsibility to make clear to the viewers that leaving tapes behind is not something that should be encouraged. I also think it is the show’s responsibility to display trigger warnings before every episode, and to promote different resources for those suffering with depression and thoughts of suicide after every episode. When deciding to produce a show with such heavy material, it is on them to make sure they do so safely.
Should there be a second season?
Mira: The series is based off a book. A single book. Why is there a need for a second season if there was only one book? Enough said.
Noah: Netflix is in a unique position where they have a cultural phenomena being debated by people all around the world. They have the chance to make the second season fill in the gaps and misconceptions that the first season left behind. There is more room for improvement and I would absolutely give them a chance to redeem themselves and create a more relatable and sensitive season.
Sara: If a second season was made exploring all the ways in which Hannah’s life could have been saved, I would be in support. In the first season, I think it is clear that many factors were missing. The final episode leaves you feeling hopeless. A second season would be an opportunity to provide a sense of hope for the viewers. 13 Reasons Why certainly encouraged a conversation about this topic, which in theory, is a great thing. However, it had the chance to provoke serious debates about ways in which we can become more well-informed about the matter, and instead only was successful in stirring up some controversy. This is a topic that hasn’t been properly discussed and if a second season would be able to bring something positive out of it, I believe it would be beneficial.
Finally, should 13 Reasons Why have been made?
Mira: Yes… but it should have been made differently. Scratch the rape and suicide scenes and follow the advice of the mental health experts and then the show would’ve been fine. The idea behind the show is fine, the execution of it, however, is inappropriate.
Noah: Absolutely. There hasn’t been a show in a long time that has incited such a viral debate over suicide, mental health, and human interactions. It was far from a perfect show, but I found it entertaining, thought-provoking, and well-intentioned.
Sara: I am disappointed at the possibility that the show brought forth negative effects on those who suffer with mental illness. Because of this, I cannot say with confidence that the show should have been made. However, if the second season is capable of correcting all the errors made in season one, I would say then, yes; the show should have been made. A television show which encourages necessary conversations on topics like these is something we need in this current society.
There are many different opinions on 13 Reasons Why. Let us know what your opinion is in the comments.