The recent TV show 13 reasons why is a new take on how teen suicide, mental illness and the struggles growing up is shared on screen. it can appeal to a very young demographic, which can make it dangerous for teenagers and young adults to view it as they can be extremely impressionable. The teen drama genre, alongside such graphic and disturbing scenes, may glamorise teen depression, suicide and other harassment issues explored in the TV show. Netflix aired the show in one go with all 13 episodes, conforming to Netflix’s ‘binge watching’ trends, which allows anyone to access the entire season in one go. This only heightens the impact of the whole series, leaving a pretty empty feeling inside of the viewers when they complete the series.
We follow the protagonist Clay as he listens to a series of tapes made by Hannah Baker who has recently committed suicide. The director’s use of flashbacks creates empathy as the audience has such a compassionate and personal relationship with Hannah. We see every aspect of her life slowly becoming too much, and at the end, we all experience a very disturbing ending to her life. There are multiple scenes that are distressing and deal with issues of PTSD, rape, suicide and depression. As the storyline is set in high school and we watch the characters battle with cyber bullying which every teenager watching can relate to. The show main advertising avenues were by executive producer Selena Gomez, through her social media accounts, who has the largest following on Instagram and millions of loyal and dedicated fans. The show also has a young cast, and the protagonist Clay played by Dylan Minnette, who’s celebrity status similarly with Gomez’ brings with it many young teens that know him from other films and Tv shows. These young fans may be expecting a slightly different Tv show. Having these role models sharing these stories in what they hoped would be in a positive light could easily backfire and it could unintentionally be glamorising mental health issues, bullying and suicide. The film does perpetuate the stereotypes, as there are multiple weak females who are helpless and cannot stand up for themselves in the show on multiple occasions, through Hannah and Jessica are both helpless in a rape scene and Hannah eventually ends her life. It also paints counsellors in an ignorant and useless light that they should not be seen in as it is their profession to pick up on the warning signs of someone in need.
Another issue with the film is that “13 Reasons Why failed to end Baker’s story since she lives on through the tapes. We become captivated by the drama of the suicide rather than the actual suicide itself.” (Curtis, 2017) This creates a false blanket over the idea that a life has just been taken, the flashbacks used to create empathy also create this idea of living on once you have passed away. Curtis (2017) states in the Rolling Stones article, ‘For teens who are battling mental health issues, witnessing the end of a life as easily as the show portrayed it could help desensitise kids to this very serious matter.’ The way it was shared by Netflix in a season drop, where teens could binge watch the show in one sitting also imposes the severity even further. That’s where this empathy becomes dangerous, some teens may relate so much that it almost creates an urge to copy the acts on screen.
Then intention of the series was to start some very serious conversations in the home that have been pushed to the side because it’s uncomfortable to talk about. Previously we have been in a very rigid society that shy’s away from the conversation of mental health due to the ignorance and complexities that make it difficult to empathise with. That is exactly what 13 reasons why attempted to break through. Beyond the reasons Aires at the end of the series on Netflix. It is a direct response to the series and the actor’s, producers, directors and health care professionals that helped create the series all talk about the issues that are developed. This was the intention of the series. ‘As a society, we tend to shy away from these hard topics..it says no this is a problem and it needs to be addressed.’ (quote from Prentice, Netflix, 2017) Each episode is very affect orientated by Hannah Bakers death and this hasn’t been done on such television networks like Netflix. Although the series alludes to her death in some cases it also provides the very real after effects of the death, which is much less popular in Tv shows and films with such popular actors and well-known directors. One of the executive producers Brian Yorkey states in the video: ‘Young people don’t necessarily a steady diet of truth in their entertainment’. (Yorkey 2017).