Warning to anyone reading this: Both 13 REASONS WHY and my article deal with suicide.

My friend killed herself in the sophomore year of high school. Nothing about it could be paired with indie music or a cute opening title sequence. It was bleak. It was dreary. I remember that time in mostly black and white with rare flashes of color. I still see her in my dreams. Writing this makes my hands shake. I don’t want to compare the story of my friend with the story of Hannah Baker. I didn’t know all of her life, and she didn’t leave us any tapes, but I do know one thing – it wasn’t sensationalized like 13 REASONS WHY.

13 reasons why netflix
Clay inspects one of Hannah’s tapes she left behind.

The Netflix show based on the Jay Asher novel of the same name paints a picture of what happens when this type of tragedy strikes. This wasn’t what happened with us, though. There was no background music when we, her friends, walked through the halls. We didn’t have thirteen reasons, hell, we didn’t even have one solid reason. It plagued me for weeks, months. Teachers didn’t sleep. We didn’t do homework for a month. We skipped classes to go to the auditorium and grieve in one place. She used to spend all of her time there studying theater. Even now, it still feels like her.

What 13 REASONS WHY Misses

So much of 13 REASONS WHY spends time on the people who were responsible for Hannah’s depression and eventual death to fill out thirteen episodes of a Netflix show. At some points, it turns into a high school drama about protecting the secrets of the students who wronged Baker like an episode of GOSSIP GIRL. At others, it turns into a courtroom drama about the lawsuit between the school and Hannah’s parents.

READ: Television is a powerful art form but so are comics. Here’s how comics saved one person’s life!

Later in the series, the show becomes less about Hannah and more about the people who knew her, or about the court case against the school, or about Clay’s parents dealing with his son. Honestly, it seems like a commercial attempt to make the show more suspenseful or mysterious to gain viewers who would normally stay away from a depressing drama about teen suicide.

13 reasons why netflix
Clay and Alex are sitting on the bleachers of Liberty High.

It didn’t feel real. What was real is how I cried during the show, clutching my blankets, feeling for Clay Jensen. It reminded me how much I loved my friend. Not in the way Clay loved Hannah but goddammit, I loved her. I love her. I miss her. Sometimes, I rework the moments I interacted with my friend like Clay rewinding the tapes. I think about a dumb, fleeting comment I made about her clothes one day. Most of all, I reflect on how she used to wear dresses in the winter because she thought they were so beautiful and how three years later seeing her favorite color makes me stop in the middle of the street.

Is it still Good Television when a Show Misses the Mark?

As a result, the moments of 13 REASONS WHY that made me cry were the ones that were not manipulated for commercial success. Rather, they were the raw, untouched reality of a boy, of a girl, of a school ruined by grief. If only they had stuck to that instead of pandering to an audience. Don’t get me wrong. The pandering was good — it created riveting television and significantly expanded a novel. However, it wasn’t ideal for sticking to the tragic reality of what happens when a school loses a student, or when someone loses a friend at fifteen.

What happened at my school wasn’t a mystery, it wasn’t a drama series, it wasn’t a bestselling YA novel. The only genre it was, was grief. And unlike a Netflix show, I couldn’t turn it off. I still can’t.

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5 Comments

  1. HM

    April 28, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    I think this show tries to tackle big problems, but does so in a careless superficial way. Essentially it presents suicide as a way of getting revenge, and glamorizes suicide as an emotional weapon to use against people who have wronged you in some way. It barely touches upon mental illness of the individual, and doesn’t delve into the main character’s responsibility for her action/inaction when faced with situations like rumors, peer pressure, and witnessing an assault. These are situations that many real teens face WITHOUT killing themselves & distributing psychological torture devices (blame tapes). The old Degrassi series tackled such issues so much better, and without the graphic scenes.
    I would guess that 13 Reasons was written by one of my easily offended millennial peers who can’t see how they are responsible for their own lives and their own actions when faced with tough situations.

    Reply

  2. […] show’s visual choices and using teen iconography.  From someone who lost a friend as a teen: 13 Reasons Why Tells a Captivating Story, but Not My Story.  How the show’s promise to raise teen mental health awareness backfired.  On how the show […]

    Reply

  3. Anon

    April 14, 2017 at 1:32 am

    This was really well written and well thought out. I agree wholeheartedly about what you’re saying, there were some parts that the show expanded on that brought a lot more because it humanized some of the characters and it showed how everyone was trying to cope. A lot of it was played up for the audience but there were some moments so genuine and some parts really ring true. But it is fiction, and the real grief doesn’t end after you’ve watched all of the episodes or finished the book. Little moments bring it back up, and sometimes your mind wanders and that brings back some of the memories and emotions. I really enjoyed your piece.

    Reply

  4. Tyler Anne Nunnally-Duck

    April 11, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Love this article!! Definitely feels different than a TV drama when you’ve experienced it in real life. Excellent write-up!

    Reply

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