Five minutes into the Netflix series 13 Reasons, I was hating it. If you’re not familiar with the show, 13 Reasons is based on the book of the same title, written by Jay Asher.
The 13 episodic series tells the story of Hannah Baker’s suicide, why it happened, and who she thought was responsible. Hannah recorded 13 tapes and were given to one of the people she blamed for her death. Once they were done with the tapes they were to pass the tapes on to the next person.
Hate is a strong word, but, what I hated about 13 Reasons is based on my 26 years of working with teens and parents as well as being an ardent observer of teenagers and their culture. There are some things the series got right and some they got wrong. I will be posting another article on my take-aways from the series, but for now, these are the things I hated.
Warning: Potential Spoilers
Every teenage movie has dumb or absentee parents because the movie needs a foil for the jokes. I hate the way many of these parents are portrayed. Th only thing words than parents who are portrayed is buffoons (think almost every sitcom) are parents who are absentees.
Of the families featured, three of them that had a nuclear style families with mom and dad being present including Hannah Baker’s family. One family had two dads who were responsible and caring. If the series shows anything, ti shows that no matter if you have a nuclear, blended, or alternative, family, no one is exempt from the distress of adolescence.
The rest of the families feared, or not, were helmed by a tiger mom, drug addicts, or were, in many cases, non existent in the show at all.
For all those absentee parents there’s an army of caring parents doing their best to care for their kids. These parents are engaged,, have late night talks with their kids, talk about culture and it’s effects on their kids, and yes, talk about suicide and depression no matter how uncomfortable with their kids. These parents pick up on signals and signs of disturbing behavior and act on it, which Clay’s mom eventually did.
Snappy West Wing Style Dialogue
Kids do not talk like this. The content is real but the delivery is not. I understand that this is a scripted show meant to deliver a certain cadence and pace to audiences. I am not saying that students are not articulate or snappy, but when it come to real life, communication is more awkward than awesome.
Devoid of God
Let’s face it, if Hollywood had put a Christian in this movie, the believing student would have been represented by a stereo type rather an empathetic student of faith. In fact, my guess is there would have been an angle about some Christian kid preaching about suicide and hell (not that this doesn’t happen…) rather than a caring believer trying to make an impact.
It’s my belief that if you put one caring, Christian teen in this series, we may have a very short series with Hannah Baker finding hope instead of death.
Romanticizing/Revenge Aspect Of Suicide
I didn’t read the book so I was shocked at the tapes being used as a plot device. When I first heard Hannah speaking, is when I started to hate this show.
On the tapes, Hannah is heard to be calm, cool, and collected. It’s also where I heard the tinge of revenge in her voice. I started to feel like I was watching the movie The Ring. where if you watched (or in their case, listened) to the tapes, your death (or something really bad) would be imminent.
I get it. She wanted the lives of others to be destroyed the way her life was destroyed. Mission accomplished but he best revenge would have been to graduate, become successful in life, married Clay, ultimately to say, “You didn’t beat me” .
The Plot Mechanism of Tapes
Hearing Hanna’s voice was like listening to a sick version of The Wonder Years. In today’s world of social media, there are more than enough ways for a teen to communicate their pain and suffering, and they often do behind selfies and smiles.
I would hate to think that some kid right now is making YouTube videos and scheduling them to post every day after his or her death so they can make their point to those who’ve harmed them.
Suicide Wrapped in Narrative
Watching Hannah suffer day after day, knowing the outcome, was just heartbreaking. I would have rather watched a documentary with facts and stats than the gut wrenching downturn of a young soul.
No kid really wants to die. Hannah didn’t want to die, but every suicide has a story. Maybe I just hated the fact the story had to be told at all.
By episode 3 I knew that nothing good was going to happen to Hannah, or anyone else, in any episode. I just waited to see what terrible thing happened next. It felt, almost, sadomasochistic. You knew the bad thing was coming and you just couldn’t look away and you couldn’t stop it.
If the goal of 13 Reasons Why was to show that high school life is pure crap. they succeeded, but don’t kids already know that?
The types of kids, in 13 Reasons Why, existed in my high school universe. None of them were as extreme as the ones shown in the series. The producers, and writers are much like the caricature artist at the fair.
The artists job is to offer a
a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.
I have had several students tell me, “These kid are not real” and this is true. In actuality, these characters are not true, or meant to be true, but their cruelty, their apathy, their insecurities, are all true.
I hated 13 Reasons Why because, although the characters were not real, their conversations, motives, and fears were real and nothing as gong to stop them from acting on them.
In real life, we have to look past the stereo types and look a the heart of a person. Sadly, the script only showed the malevolence of the teenage heart instead of it’s capacity for mercy.
I hated this series, not because the moments were real, but because they were too real. Nothing is left to the imagination. It was raw the way Passion of the Christ was raw.
The rapes, the sexual assault, the bullying, all too real. I had to fast forward though much of it and I’m glad I did. I hated that the directors and producers had to be that graphic to get a point across. Some may need the wake up call, but most don’t; especially students.
A Map For Middle Schoolers?
Another point I had not considered, was brought to the front by the CPYU podcast. This movie acts like a distorted map for middle schoolers. If I were a middle school kid, this series would scare the hell out of me.
“Is this what life is really like? ” and “Am I going to commit suicide because I can’t handle the pressure?” would be just a few of the questions I might be asking if I were a middle school student.
At the end of the series there is a suicide attempt. One of the main characters is seen being rushed the hospital.
Were we supposed to see this coming? Was this the shows way of showing that another attempt was right in front of our eyes, that we had somehow missed the Easter eggs they planted?
I hated that it was this character. There was, to me, no reasoning behind why it should have been this character or that there should have been any attempt at all.
Why didn’t the show take a positive take at the end? Because life just sucks? I think they did a good job of showing that for 12 episodes. Why not show a kid making a difference? Why not draw a map for those middle school kids that leads them to taking positive action?
Yep, there’s enough loose threads to lead us to believe there will be a second season. 13 Reasons Why is the most watched show in Netflix history. If they plan in cashing in on a second season, I think they will have devalued what they tried to say in this series.
Magnified the Negative
I listened to a podcast by CPYU (Center for Parenting and Youth Understanding), and they brought out why I felt terrible with every episode, no one was having any positive happen to them in High School.
I can relate. I hated High Schoo. I don’t go back to any reunions because I felt my four years there were a compete waste from both social, as well as, academic reasons.
Maybe I hated 13 Reasons because it was too close to my real high school days. I had several flashbacks to the days I was bullied or left out of life. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that suicide crossed my mind as an opt out, but I think I respected my opportunity at life more than I hated it.
Let me break it down
Should parents watch 13 Reasons Why?
Yes, if they want to (and they should want to ) have a discussion with their kids about the subject matter of the series.
Should students watch 13 Reasons Why?
Many have already watched it but for the few that haven’t, real life is hard enough with our watching others be destroyed episode to episode.
What do you think?