Over the last week I have been watching this 13 episode series. Normally I can write a review straight off. But 13 Reasons Why is a little different. It’s taken me a few days just to process it to the point of being able to write a review. I’m also not going to write this review like I do normally. I can’t do a what I like and don’t like about this series because due to the content, it wouldn’t work.
13 Reasons Why
In 13 Reasons Why a girl commits suicide, leaving the people who loved and knew her going through turmoil. She leaves 13 sides of tape behind, each side with a different story and reason that lead to her death. The catch is that only the 12 people that feature in these stories are allowed to hear them one by one before passing them onto the next person. The series in particular take place as the 11th person first receives them and ends as he passes them onto the last person.
Make Believe Meets Reality
Even though 13 Reasons Why is a made up story, it manages to target and showcase the exact climate that seems to be permeating the high school (side note: high school and college are the same thing in New Zealand) and even some university students. It is not a pleasant climate.
As her story is told throughout the tapes you are introduced to all the darker aspects of student life from the spreading of false rumours to drug and alcohol abuse to the current rape culture where the rich and popular guys take what they want, when they want. Even though some of the stories don’t seem “that bad” it’s what happens as a result of them that lead to her suicide.
So many of the “innocent” things that teenagers do aren’t in reality so innocent. An “innocent” photo taken when coming down a slide on a date is spread around the school to create a rumour of “she’s easy” or a “slut”. A boy falsely tells his girlfriend that he’s breaking up with her because he’s been fooling around with the school “slut” breaks up their friendship. Another budding friendship gets ruined because a stalker shares another photo that spreads around the school. A list that the boys put together of the “best & worst” physical assets of girls turns those girls into targets of grabbing and unwanted touching and even worse.
Each story highlights how small things create huge problems for the person at the focus of it. Which leads on to bullying. The first 8 tapes of her story talk about how each of those little things led to a bullying type scenario. One particular story actually leads to the bullying of one of the perpetrators by doing the exact same thing he did to her. His story does not end well either but it shows how much of a cycle bullying can be. Bully one person who then bullies another who then bullies a third.
Tapes 9 & 12 have a far more serious story to tell and not in a good way. They focus on the rape culture of our society. The one where the rich, the popular, the jocks all take what they want regardless. In this particular case, the same guy with two different girls. While he calls it “having fun”, the girls are either unconscious or unable to say a word to stop him at the time and what she does say is ignored by the perpetrator. The other aspect of this culture is that we blame the victim.
Another side to this rape culture is shown in tape 13 when the girl goes to see the school counselor for help. Victim blaming. The counselor shows this with the whole way that he treated her. “Did you say no or fight him off”. “You have to either confront him or just move on”. Nothing he tells her indicates to her that it wasn’t her fault. Even though it wasn’t. The saddest thing about this whole series is that counselor was her last hope. Her last chance at life. He solidified her decision to take her own life. If a child can’t even turn to the adults in charge for help, who can she turn to?
Should You See it?
This is the big question. On one hand, as a parent, it opens your eyes to exactly what our children are going through. Either as the perpetrator or the victim. It could even be a good idea to show our teenagers. It would be a good example of how their small actions can affect someone else. On the other hand, there are a lot of triggers that feature in these series. Ones that may bring one’s past experiences to mind and affect that person even more so. I guess as the saying goes “viewer discretion is advised.”