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The Reasons Why Not to Watch 13 Reasons Why

This article discusses self-harm, suicide, and sexual assault. Do not read if you are sensitive to these subjects.

Theresa Russell, Maroon Tribune Reporter

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In late March 2017, the Netflix original 13 Reasons Why was released. Since its release, it has received both praise and backlash. The show is based on the death of a 17-year-old girl named Hannah Baker, and the events that lead her to take her own life. The plot follows Clay Jensen, another 17-year-old, who had feelings for Hannah. After discovering a box of tapes on his porch, he immediately finds a cassette player. The first tape starts and, to his surprise, it’s Hannah’s voice. Throughout the 13 tapes, she explains “13 reasons why” she ended her own life, each reason being a different person. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the encounters with these individuals through Hannah’s eyes, as she describes how the events affected her. The series has gathered most of its controversy from the last two episodes, which graphically depict sexual assault and suicide.

13 Reasons Why is a show that had good intentions, but ultimately fell flat. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, when shows explicitly demonstrate or describe a suicide method, it increases the risk of more suicides. This show sensationalizes the subject. In other words, it abandons the truth to get a more dramatic reaction out of those who watch it.

Due to its disturbing and serious nature, this show is very hard to criticize for some because it discusses a topic as intense as this. Nobody wants to be the person to say that the show which is supposed to bring awareness to deaths from suicide isn’t good.

In this show, how Hannah ends her own life is dramatically recounted a handful of times, and each time it is shocking and disturbing. The phrasing they use is meant to catch the audience off-guard, which shouldn’t be the way suicide is portrayed. It shouldn’t need dramatization and romanticizing to be taken seriously; it is already serious in and of itself. Ask yourself, why is it necessary to add in a scene of the girl dying? How does that benefit people who may be considering suicide themselves?

In one scene in the show, Clay is talking with a girl named Skye. He grabs her wrist and points out the self inflicted cuts on her wrist. She then says, “It’s what you do instead of killing yourself.” Past this scene, the topic is never brought up again. In this way, 13 Reasons Why completely failed its viewers on educating them about self-harm. Non-suicidal self injury is an unhealthy form of coping with emotional pain. However, the way the show left it, it presents self-harm as just an acceptable way to cope with your problems, and that it is what you should turn to rather than ending your own life. What they forgot to mention is that, no, you shouldn’t end your life or self-harm. It is not a healthy coping mechanism, and you should seek help if you or a loved one are self-harming.

The final big stir of controversy came from how the show portrayed sexual assault. In not one but two scenes, the entirety of a sexual assault is displayed. It is not a clip, not a second, not an insinuation, but a full scene. It is graphic and disturbing, and possibly triggering to survivors of sexual assault. Much like the suicide scene, it is unnecessary, and only used as a twisted bit to grab the watcher’s attention. In the order of events, it is seen that Hannah is assaulted, and the following day she goes to talk to her school counselor. Instead of being supportive and trying to console Hannah, the counselor simply tries to force her to tell him who assaulted her, saying that the school can’t help if they don’t know who it is. Following this conversation, Hannah walks out of school, goes home, and ends her life. This sends a message to the audience that there is no hope or options for you if you are sexually assaulted, which isn’t true. There are several resources you can turn to for help.

Overall, this show fails to tell its audience that neither suicide nor self-harm are the only options, and there is hope for you if you are a survivor of sexual assault. Your friends. or family, or your community, will support you. You are not alone in your struggles.

Here are some resources to turn to if you or a loved one is struggling:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

How to Help a Sexual Assault Survivor: http://www.american.edu/ocl/wellness/how-to-help-a-survivor.cfm

If you are assaulted: http://www.american.edu/ocl/wellness/immediate-support.cfm

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/

Self-Harm Resources: https://www.rainn.org/articles/self-harm

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