The Controversy Around 13 Reasons Why

By Ellen Amico

Thirteen Reasons Why, the newest hit show on Netflix, has been a popular topic of conversation among many students in the past few weeks. If you have not viewed the show, the story focuses on a girl named Hannah Baker, her suicide, and the 13 recording tapes she leaves behind for her classmates, each one directed at a specific individual and how he or she contributed to her suicide. The show includes flashbacks of her life and her friend Clay’s reaction to the tapes that she leaves behind.

As the show’s popularity has grown, many have become concerned about the possible harmful effects this show could have on teenagers. The show includes many graphic scenes, such as drunk driving, rape and suicide. Many schools, including Byram Hills, sent an email to parents informing them and warning them about the show.  

While many students enjoyed the show for entertainment purposes, some were concerned about its content. Gabby Kleinberg, a senior, said the suicide “wasn’t in the book” and it was “annoying” that the producers of the television show only added it for “shock value.” She felt the show “perpetuated that if you’re nice to people they won’t kill themselves, which is not true at all.”

In the final episode, Hannah visits the guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, and explains to him that she wants to end her life. She goes on to tell him about the night she was raped but doesn’t mention who committed the act. Because Hannah won’t reveal who it was that raped her, Mr. Porter feels he can’t take any more action because of this, and Hannah leaves his office feeling very upset. Additionally, the school seems to focus more on the lawsuit from Hannah’s parents rather than supporting the students following the suicide. In reality, most schools would not handle the situation in this way, and this is why many schools in our area have sent emails to parents and guardians, in an effort to explain that greater measures would be taken if something like this were to occur to one of their students and that there would be a greater support system available to whoever may need it. Adults worry that the show may make students feel like they cannot turn to their own school’s supports, such as counselors, to get help. From an administrator’s point of view, Mrs. Cunningham said,  “It’s hard to watch when I see how many supports we have in place here weren’t present there. Also, the response from the school personnel caused them to be depicted in a light where they weren’t helpful.”

Others, however, praise the show because it is focusing on the consequences of bullying and suicide, which is extremely prevalent in the lives of teens today, as the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds is suicide. Mr. Walsh, on the other hand, believes the show is bringing attention to these issues in the wrong way. “I have a difficult time with the ideas of revenge and that someone would have a voice after killing themselves,” he says. He sums up one of the major issues of the show, the fact that the the suicide does not seem final, as Hannah continues to have a “voice.” By including Hannah throughout the series, it seems like she is still alive, and she can see the reactions to her death. However, in real life, this is not the case at all. Death by suicide is final, and you do not have a voice once you are gone. Because of this, some students who are suicidal will not fully understand the finality of their decision to take such actions after watching the show. Additionally, it seems the suicide is used to torment those who have hurt her. One contemplating suicide may turn to it after watching the show because they think it’s the best option for revenge.

Because this show is so sensitive, many are questioning if teens should even watch it in the first place. Mrs. Kelly, a counselor at our school, says “It’s out there, so the reality is that kids will watch it. Having a Netflix show available anywhere makes it hard to tell kids not to watch it. However, it’s important for parents to be aware.” One sophomore says, “The rape scenes were uncomfortable but the show wanted it to be that way because it teaches us a lesson.” In contrast, she also believed the suicide scene could have been excluded, and she chose not to watch it. Yet, the producers of the show argue that this material needs to be included because it shows the reality of these experiences. As someone who has personally watched the suicide scene, I can say it is very difficult to watch and definitely had a lasting impact on me. However, it could have also been extremely difficult for individuals who have dealt with suicide in the past to watch this. Producers say it was included to show irreversible consequences of suicide. However, Mrs. Kelly is concerned “teens would see suicide as a viable option, and it shouldn’t be.”

The show seems to convey the message that you can only be heard through suicide. Hannah consistently mentions throughout the show that she just wanted a friend or someone to talk to. When she fails to get this, it results in her suicide. Mrs. Kelly encourages “kids to process it with an adult so they learn from it and get the right message.” This is a major concern among educators. Many feel parents should talk to their children about the content so they can work through it together and make sure they know the reality of suicide.

Reactions to the show have been varied. One concern is the jokes circulating around social media. For example, some joke that “Jeff [another character in the show] deserved better” because he also died in the show. Additionally, there have been some theories about what happened once the show ended. A sophomore adds, “When watching a show like this, you have to be mature about it. It is a sensitive topic, and you can’t be joking about it.”

While they may be funny at the surface level, they take away from the seriousness of the show. Despite its flaws, 13 Reasons Why tries to send a strong message that suicide and bullying are never okay, and it is raising awareness on these important issues.

In the past week, it has been announced that the show is being renewed for a second season, but with a few changes. Hannah will no longer be the narrator and a new technology will be used rather than cassette tapes. The show will likely answer many of the questions left at the end of season one. However, a question must be asked: will the second season be as graphic and controversial as the first?