13 Reasons Why - I'm Still For It
In the past week, a lot of writing has been done about the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. My last blog post centered around representation in the show and how it was an accurate portrayal of the diverse reality in which we live, and you can read it here .
People have mixed feelings about the show and whether it's appropriate or whether it should have portrayed certain scenes/issues (i.e. suicide and rape) in a different light. I've read some of these articles, but I'm still for the show overall.
I suffer from depression and have, in the past, struggled with suicidal thoughts. I thought the depiction of Hannah's emotions and how they impacted her movement through her daily life was portrayed with astute accuracy based on my own experience. The fact that the actual suicide was shown was a bold choice to say the least, but I felt that it was in line with the tone of the show. It was clear from the first episode that the show would not shy away from the difficult things, and I appreciated the gut-wrenching honesty. Suicide is so often portrayed as this beautiful tragedy where a being broken seems desirable. There's nothing beautiful about it. Depression is scary and often all-encompassing, and suicide is an option only considered at the darkest times in someone's life. I thought showing the actual suicide on screen obliterated the myth that the choice to die by suicide is by any means positive.
Here's my problem with people making generic statements about whether the show should or should not be watched: we all have different experiences. I know what is best for me. I can make that decision for myself. I have not experienced sexual assault, so the graphic rape scenes did not trigger me to a past trauma; however, I completely understand that for some people, watching the show triggered PTSD. This goes to show that things affect us all differently, which is the reality of the human experience. We are not alike. I think it's okay that some people find the show disturbing and inappropriate while others find it a decent portrayal of real life. We don't always have to agree.
I think we all need to have an idea of what we can and cannot handle on a personal level. In college, I was so depressed that the only thing I could watch was reruns of Saturday Night Live. When people in my dorm wanted to watch chick flicks, I chose a different activity. I didn't see this as exclusion. I saw this as a way to actively take care of myself during a time when I felt extremely fragile. I still have times when I watch only comedies because experiencing other people's emotions, even through watching television, is both difficult and draining. Even with trigger warnings about suicide and depression, I know when I am able to take that risk and when it's in my best interest not to proceed.
Roxane Gay wrote an essay that deals with trigger warnings and how the media goes too far in graphic portrayals of rape in her book Bad Feminist. She says that she doesn't believe in trigger warnings because they create the facade that we can, somehow, be safe in an unsafe world. While I agree with that logic, I think trigger warnings work because they allow people to make their own decisions about what lies ahead.
The show deals with such heavy material in a straightforward way, and I felt like shying away from the portrayals would have cheapened the show. Hannah's rape isn't just a plot device; it's the culmination of her unraveling and the moment where the viewer actually *gets* why she made her choice. It's a crucial element of the story, not merely a trope to move things forward. I'm not sure I feel the same about Jessica's rape. It certainly added to the drama and story line, but it didn't feel essential to the arc like Hannah's did.
The range of responses to suicide are apparent in the show. That people who have someone close to them die by suicide are at higher risk of making that same choice. Substance abuse. Detachment. Anger. Though it often seems like the students "left behind" are actively looking out for their own interests, I think they all realize the gravity of their impact. This propels the viewer to consider their own actions in everyday life and how they could potentially affect the life of another human being. The call to action I felt at the end of the show was stronger than any response to TV, movies or books I can ever remember having.
Don't get me wrong. I won't be watching and re-watching this show on a regular basis. It's definitely an emotional journey. But I do think it's an important statement that is currently needed, and I am in total support of it staying on Netflix as is, so others may have the choice to watch it. Regardless of opinion, the show is continuing some important conversations and helping to bring taboo subjects into the mainstream. Maybe it's not perfect, but I think it's a place to start.