By Meghna Gaddam
On March 31st, teens across the world logged onto their Netflix accounts, ready to binge watch the most anticipated TV show of the year, “13 Reasons Why.” Produced by pop star Selena Gomez, the show garnered more hype and media attention than your average Netflix show. “13 Reasons Why” is the most viewed show on Netflix this year, making it a huge success in the company’s books, but the rest of the world seems to feel 50/50 about its message.
The series is about a teen girl named Hannah, who leaves 13 tapes each one explaining a reason why she decided to commit suicide. Hannah is a middle class, suburban white girl with two loving parents. Before her suicide, she suffers through bullying, rape, and abandonment of friends, and when she tried to get help, her school offered none Throughout the series, we learn about the people and events that drove her to her death.
Gomez brought this show idea to Netflix almost nine years ago, hoping to start a discussion about suicide and bullying amongst teens. When the show came out, that is exactly what happened. But not all necessarily in the way she had anticipated
Psychologists, parents, and counselors have posted comments on social media complaining that the show glorifies suicide. Some examples of their posts, include:
“Middle school students are going to think high school is hell.”
“It will make people contemplating suicide think the revenge story works.”
“People who were close to someone who commit suicide will think they are to blame.”
Many schools, including d.tech, started recognizing this growing concern regarding the show. New York City Department of Education and schools in the Bay Area sent out emails urging families to talk to their children about the show. The d.tech d.mentors team is hosting a “13 Reasons Why” discussion on May 25th, overseen by administrator Melissa Mizel.
“There needs to be a conversation about this,” said Mizel.”Not about people and their deepest darkest secrets, but about how the school can maybe tweak the support they offer to students who are facing depression, etc. I’m sure after watching this show students will have some opinions.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there are adults who believe the show is bringing positive awareness to the issue of teen depression. d.tech parent, Laurel Mousseau, said she thought the show is a wake up call for both parents and teens. “As a parent, the [show] was eye-opening because each of the students was hiding important aspects of their life from their parents,” said Mousseau. “It reminded me how important it is for teens to have an adult they trust in their lives, and how important it is for us adults to be trustworthy listeners and let the teens in our lives know their worth… I also think that we must explicitly address the issues of sexual assault and intoxication with teens and young adults.”
Teens seem have very split opinions about the way the show depicts these important issues. At d.tech, the opinions range anywhere from really enjoying the show, to completely despising it.
Sophomore, Maggie Frank said, “It is just a TV show about a book. The book wasn’t controversial, but the show is so controversial because it is popular. You don’t have to see it in a bad light. There are other shows and movies about suicide, and no one says anything about those. I really liked the show.”
Junior, Amy Natarajan, similarly responded, “It isn’t a science article that’s factual. It is just Hollywood trying to make money through relatable stories. Enjoy it.”
Freshman, Zachary Nemirovsky, says he’s seen people from his community suffer through depression, and described the show as, “horrible and inaccurate, and makes people think others are to blame for someone’s death. It’s like airing a show in prison about the top 10 prison escape attempts and how they were done.”
Since its initial release, Netflix has inserted a disclaimer before the first episode and before the more graphic episodes (see above). Recently, the show got renewed for a second season, and viewers are eagerly waiting to see how the story will play out. Will the narrative be more realistic? Will part two send a stronger message? We’ll just have to wait and see.