Sunday, April 23, 2017

13 Reasons Why Not

The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why has been a big topic for young people. The show is about a high school student who commits suicide, but first recorded cassette tapes as a sort of suicide note for the people she blamed for leading her to take her own life. People have billed this show as something designed to teach students about the horrors of bullying, and if that is the case, it would be an important tool. However, if that is the case, this show has greatly missed the mark. Since the main character Hannah Baker left thirteen reasons why she took her own life, I will offer thirteen reasons why this show should be ejected[1].

1.    This is not What we Want to Teach Kids. If the point of this show is to demonstrate that bullying is unacceptable and can lead to suicide, that would be a good thing. But this program glorified and glamorized everything wrong with society. While trying to teach a moral, it threw morality to the wind.
2.    Language.  I may sound like an old fuddy duddy here, but the language in this show is flat out offensive. The cast is composed of high school students, and they all use the “f” word often and with ease. Additionally, the “s” word and “gd” are also peppered throughout. I am absolutely furious that anyone would use language like this in something peddled to students, and horrified that any parent would ever let their kids watch it. To go back to the first point, if we are trying to teach students a lesson, then why have such salty language? The real lesson that comes through is, “everybody talks like that.”
3.    Drinking/Drugs. The amount of underage drinking and drug usage is astounding. There are numerous parties where houses are filled with drunk kids and no adults, in addition to teens being stoned. Again, the take away here is that these parties and substances are par for the high school course.
4.    Sex. As one can imagine, the show is teeming with sexual activity, from locker room talk among the guys, to ranking girls’ bodies, and the obvious sex scenes. Once again, the audience is made to think this is normal behavior.
5.    Parental Absence. Some characters’ parents are nonexistent, but the parents who are featured are mindboggling. They make almost no effort to discipline or correct their kids, and they seem to be aloof at best. They stand idly by while their kids swear and drink (like the mom who asks her 11th grade son, “Are you drunk? On a school night? You never do that.”). Like much of the garbage on TV that undermines the family unit, this show glorifies the buffoon parent who exists to only cook and chauffer; there is no sound wisdom or advice from mom or dad. I can imagine students watching this show thinking their parents are lame for caring too much, unlike the checked-out “parents” on this trashy show.
6.    Bad Counselors. Like many other shows that subtly belittle authority figures, 13 Reasons makes a mockery of the school’s guidance counselors. The original counselor is a goofy woman who is predictably called the “b” word, and she is replaced by a man who seems top notch, until later episodes reveal he was a part of the problem. When the main character confided her rape by a school jock, he told her the best option was to simply, “forget it,” and, “move on.” If this show is trying to prevent suicide, they should be glorifying, not vilifying, the school counselors who can actually help at risk students.
7.    Where are the Teachers? In the same vein as the bad counselors are the moronic teachers. We see the coach sleeping through history class and playing a John Wayne movie, a rude principal, and an out of touch teacher in some type of social behavior class. Where are the Mr. Feeneys who used to go out of their way to help their students? Kids today need to know they can trust their teachers, and this show doesn’t reinforce that concept. 
8.    Too Graphic. The final episode shows the suicide of Hannah Baker. As she sat in a bathtub and slit both wrists, she began to pant and shiver and slowly, graphically die. It was so realistic I had trouble sleeping, feeling ashamed that I watched someone die without intervening. The scene is disturbing, and when we remember that the target audience is minors, it is even more disturbing.
9.    Suicide Glorified. The violent scene notwithstanding, suicide is glorified throughout the series. As Hannah is able to almost torture her tormentors posthumously, viewers can fantasize about their last revenge. A person on the edge may actually decide to go through with suicide after seeing how Hannah was able to get the last laugh. 
10. Blame Shifting. While bullying in any form is wrong, if a person does choose to commit suicide (and I say this with sensitivity), the choice was made by the one taking his own life, not by classmates or anyone else. While it is important that we teach people not to be factors in the decision (i.e., treat people the right way), this show’s conclusion, in the finale, was that 13 people were at fault for Hannah’ death, and none of them was Hannah herself. She is the victim and the 13 others bear the guilt. This just simply isn’t true.
11. No Positive Elements. Not only are so many vices glamorized, there is also an absence of goodness. With the exception of the show’s protagonist Clay Jensen, there is virtually no one doing anything noble or decent. There is no character that makes you think, “I need to be more like him.”
12. Questionable Motives. Netflix and the shows bosses are standing by their work, using the predictable line of, “starting a conversation” about this topic. It seems, though, that if the motivation was getting out the message, they could have made one movie or a much shorter season. Instead, they put out 13 hour-long shows; the extra airtime resulted in more profanity, more drinking, more sex, etc. They could have gotten to the point much quicker, and it leads me to believe the motivation behind this project was much more financial than it was beneficial. Sex sells, and they sold a lot of it.
13. Incorrect Conclusion. If this show had been done right, teenagers would come to the finale and leave with a positive message: I need to treat others the way I want to be treated. I need to watch what I say, and put others’ needs ahead of my own. However, as stated at the beginning, I’m afraid the conclusion will be far from that. I believe the conclusion will be that in order to be cool, kids need to swear like sailors, sleep around, get wasted at un-chaperoned parties, and get their advice from peers as opposed to parents, teachers, counselors, or other trusted adults.

I decided to give this show a try after hearing some middle school students talking about it. I was absolutely appalled that this garbage is available to kids, and that there are parents who either allow that filth to do the parenting, or else are too uninvolved to know or stop it. Parents, please think twice before you let your kids watch this show.

[1] I watched the first two episodes, then skipped ahead to the final show because I did not want to keep listening to the filthy language.