Why or Why Not?

Is "13 Reasons Why" helpful or glamorizing the topic of suicide?

By on April 25, 2017
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The Netflix adaptation “13 Reasons Why” focuses on 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Baker leaves 13 audio tape recordings for the 13 people she says contributed to her death.

The series is based on the book “13 Reasons Why,” written by Jay Asher.

The show, whose list of producers include celebrity Selena Gomez, has gotten positive and negative feedback.

There are concerns that the show could be more damaging than helpful. One worry is that people will over-identify with Hannah Baker and thus more suicides will occur, according to Dan Reidenberg, the executive director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education is a nonprofit organization that works to bring notice to the issue of suicide.

People fear that a copycat effect will occur because of the show, according to Reidenberg. The way certain material is presented in the media impacts how suicides can occur, especially for the younger population that is more at risk to commit suicide.

Reidenberg adds that the show does not mention an alternative to suicide and does not tackle depression and mental illness directly.

In a video made by Netflix to accompany the show, “Beyond the Reasons,” Gomez said the show’s intention was to portray the show’s material in an honest manner and create something that can help others because suicide should not be an option.

Also in this video, Asher mentions that it is dangerous not to talk about suicide and that there is room for help.

Senior Madeleine Harder appreciated the show and how the issue was not minimized.

“I liked that they candidly talk about suicide because I don’t think it is talked about,” Harder said. “They didn’t baby the issue.”

However, she added that too much guilt was placed on Clay Jenson, one of the characters in the show who received the tapes and liked Baker. 

“It was sad to see, at the end, how Clay just felt like he was at fault the entire time because he absolutely wasn’t,” Harder said.

Harder thought that the portrayal of the other students was interesting.

“I don’t think it was necessarily anything that they did wrong,” Harder said “It’s obviously a reminder that everybody should be a little nicer to each other.”

But ultimately, the outcome depends on the person who is dealing with destructive thoughts.

“In the case of Hannah Baker, I think that was always going to happen no matter how she was treated,” Harder said. “When a person decides to do that, you can’t really talk them out of it.”

Sharon Burke, a media production specialist and an adjunct faculty member at Quinnipiac, thinks the show sparked dialogue across generations on themes, such as suicide and rape, that normally do not get that attention.

“It was unprecedented in that I haven’t spoke of or talked of really any series like I am after watching that,” Burke said. “The series did speak to ‘we are at fault for Hannah committing suicide’, but it also spoke to ‘no, we’re not.’ She made her own choices.”

Burke believes that the show emphasized that we do not know what somebody else is going through and to keep that in mind. She thinks that it is important to understand how someone’s actions and words can affect another person.

At first, Burke was uncomfortable in viewing some of the scenes, especially in the 13th episode.

She thought the scenes were too graphic for her 15-year-old daughter. Burke said that she was thinking ‘What kind of mother am I for letting my daughter watch this type of content?’

In addition, Burke said that she understands why people thought the show glamorized suicide because Hannah Baker’s suicide was shown.

Brian Yorkey, a co-producer of the show, said that the show’s production team wanted the scene to be painful to watch in order to make it clear that suicide is not an option that people should consider.

Burke eventually came to the conclusion that the vivid images were needed.

“But then I realized, after I caught my breath, you know what? This is graphic,” Burke said. “But suicide is graphic… you shouldn’t sugarcoat it. It’s a very, very serious thing. You can’t turn back after it’s done. It’s done forever.”

“13 Reasons Why” is a graphic show, which can be seen as a positive or negative trait. However, this show provides dialogue about topics that normally do not get attention and sheds light on a prominent issue.

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