Unorganised and Unpopular Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

Warning: This does contain spoilers.

Starting as a Netflix hit series, ‘13 Reasons Why’ was quick to come under fire from a range of media outlets and is now deemed heavily controversial. Based on the bestselling novel by Jay Asher, the series focuses on the tale of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, whose life is quick to end for reasons marked across thirteen tapes, which get passed around to who, she states, are the cause of her suicide. With a heavy plot, there’s no wonder the show became so widely discussed; however, it now feels almost tabooed to enjoy or even give praise to the series… but I refuse to let that stop me.

Spread across thirteen episodes, the show depicts a steady and harrowing descent into grief and emotional torment, showing relatable, honest characters within a ruthless high-school environment. As far as casting goes, I feel this is one of the strongest set of actors and actresses I am yet to see, with even minor roles being brought to life. Australian newcomer, Katherine Langford, offered a beautifully vulnerable and heart-breaking depiction of Hannah, and clearly portrays both a dead and alive state (which will not make sense unless you watch it), whilst Dylan Minnette creates a perfect portrayal of Clay. There is one scene, where Clay is in the hallway, screaming with tears in his eyes, and it is an image that still haunts me, even after watching the series such a long while ago.

Much too some disagreement, I really did like Clay as a character, and although his constant pausing of the tapes did occasionally get frustrating, I honestly feel I would react the same. The script was very well written, so hats off Nic Sheff ad team, and again, although the script did gain a large amount of criticism, I felt as though it was very raw and realistic. Somewhere, I heard someone say that they never use words like “FML” (as Hannah, Jessica and Alex did in the coffee shop), which made the whole show a cheesy cliché; however, my friends and I do use sayings like that, largely as they are inside jokes. Maybe it’s because of my age, but to me, that was a very clever element to add.

Another thing I truly loved, although it was overlooked due to the other controversies, was the way in which the show broke LGBTQ+ stereotypes. This wasn’t something that I had noticed until a friend of mine commented on it (largely as it is not something I ever pick up on in our modern day society), but the stereotype was completely crushed. Alex is the boy who many presume to be gay (which I assume is down to his appearance and the fact he starts off as quiet and having friends who are girls) although he later dates Jessica. On the flip side of this, Tony plays a more alpha male character throughout and is later revealed to have a boyfriend. As said above, this isn’t something that I had even noticed; however, it is both great and refreshing to see a show not relying on any form of stereotype to portray LGBTQ+.

Elements within the show, such as the soundtrack and use of colouring were also intelligently used. Chosen songs added a real depth of emotion to each scene they accompanied and were clearly well thought through, and the use of colour harboured a clearly deep meaning whilst making the flashback style of storytelling easier to understand. When Hannah is alive, the colouring of the scene is bright and golden, clearly symbolising warmth and joy; however, after her death, the colours are dark, dim and cold. Grey tones poison every set, prop and character, showing a world drained of colour, and I feel this element alone shows just how much suicide can effect more people than one.    

The scene of the suicide is the one that many focus on, and which has caused so much criticism for the show. Within the scene, the visuals are heavily graphic and do show Hannah’s suicide taking place, even though the director and producers were apparently warned by many organisations not to display the suicide on screen. Now debating claims about whether or not this scene was used to glamourize suicide to a young and impressionable audience, many people have boycotted the series, cast and crew as a whole, which is why I feel I should state my opinion now.

To me, the suicide was in no way glamourized. On Netflix, a trigger warning was shown at the start of Episode 12 and 13, both of which do detail and display harrowing scenes of rape, self-harm and suicide, and, in all honesty, I was shocked that they did chose to add a warning (and do still agree it was required). Speaking from personal experiences, there have been several occasions where I have found films and programmes to be triggering, yet none of them had warning. As someone who has experienced self-harm, suicidal thoughts and sexual abuse, I can confirm that it is a rare occurrence that potential triggers will be forewarned, especially in a modern day society where a Facebook feed alone can resurrect many demons. Although this does not justify the fact that the imagery was so graphic, the warning is still there, and honestly, I still do slightly feel as though the graphic nature of the show is what allowed it to so loudly shout about modern day concerns that are otherwise silenced.

Personally, I felt in no way triggered from 13 Reasons Why, and, although this opinion will not be popular, I feel as though the show has really raised a voice for the tabooed subjects that it covers. More conversation has clearly been opened up regarding this topics, and I know that many people I have spoken to have discussed issues with their friends and parents since. I feel as though the series displays warning signs that would otherwise continue to be “invisible” too many, and most of all, I feel as though the after effects of taking your own life are displayed.

Many have argued that the show clearly displays suicide as a mode of revenge, yet I still can’t seem to see this from watching the series. To me, the show is in no way about revenge, but instead about actions having an effect. I don’t feel that every action that was detailed on the tapes were appropriate, but the display how elements within life do add up, as well as covering ignored topics such as bullying, slut-shaming and sexual abuse, which are all still heavily overlooked nowadays.

The show has a single clear message in my eyes: to be kind instead of cruel, and be aware that actions have consequences. The series isn’t revolving around the key theme of suicide, it’s about compassion, and I feel as though many have twisted elements of the show to make it out to be highly dangerous. The best way to judge it is by watching it yourself, although it is, as I said above, very graphic and raw in its approach on these topics.

The debate in regard to 13 Reasons Why is one that is unlikely to be laid to rest, especially now a second series is confirmed; however, the words written above are my initial thoughts on the show, and although there is always the possibility that they will change, I stand by them. These are my views and my thoughts, based on my experiences, and although there are still things that I feel could have been done differently or more subtly, it is this controversy and shock factor that has engaged more people in conversation about subjects like suicide, self-harm and rape.

But again, these are just my (rather unpopular) views, which I’m sure may change after time.


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