I began watching 13 Reasons Why because of the hype- I thought it was going to be a good depiction of what high school is like at its worst, and how it could cause a teenager to want to end their own life. In 8th grade, I was bullied, so the concept resonated with me. I am also in the field of psychology, and I wanted to see how everything was depicted because everyone is RAVING about this show. This post has spoilers, heads up.
Bottom line: I was disappointed. Quite frankly, disappointed beyond belief.
This show really does one good thing, and that is the depiction of Justin and Jessica’s relationship. Justin comes from an abusive, drug-using household and does not know very well how to stand up for himself, which is translated into his friendships – he allows his friend to send out a picture of Hannah to the whole school without saying anything, and ultimately he allows his girlfriend to be raped by the same friend, because he does not know how to respond to authority. Jessica (the victim of said rape) responds to the rape by beginning to drink before bed, then after school, then in school and all day. She begins to hang out with her rapist more frequently and one-on-one in a flirty fashion, in an effort to get her boyfriend to admit what happened. She does not cope with it in a healthy way. She does, however, cope with it in a way that makes sense. Other than this dynamic, the show is a flop. So if you want to watch it to see how different types of abuse are handled and how they interlace in a romantic relationship, go for it. If you want to watch it for any other reason, you’re wasting your time. And here is why:
- The setting: The show is supposed to be set in high school, partly in order to show how parents are not taking a front-row seat of their kids’ lives until it is too late. Even if we set aside the fact that these teenagers look like 25 year olds, with toned muscles and are covered in tattoos at the ages of 16-18, their mentality is not that of teenagers. They are too insightful for their age. Teenagers are stupid, they are not fully developed. That is why we stopped saying that babies are tiny adults…they aren’t, and neither are teens. They are impulse-driven, they do not understand the consequences of their actions, and they are not remorseful to the level that these characters are. The characters think too much about what is going to happen to them as a result of their actions in the show. The show would have been better set in a college, when some of these things would developmentally make more sense.
- The Diagnosis: Nobody was clinically diagnosed with a disorder in this show, which is totally fine. However, the idea of the show is supposed to be that Hannah is bullied, which causes her to decide to end her life. This is not really presented well, because a lot of what happens to her is not bullying. Hannah takes the events in her life, records them on 13 tapes, and makes the tapes a ploy to get her classmates in trouble, and to guilt people for her decision. She manipulates people into believing that she was always a victim. She overreacts in certain situations and she lies in the tapes. Hannah is not depressed; she is not suicidal from what is presented in the show. Other students call her dramatic, and say that she “is drama”. She also does not respond to the bullying in a way that appears to be consistent with what the message of the show is. She doesn’t cower away from the “bullies”, she stands up for herself, she actually has friends and people who like her, and the things that she says, like feeling “alone” or “invisible” are not depicted in the show very well. She is more than likely someone who can be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Now, this is not a reason that makes the show bad and having a personality disorder is not “bad”. It also, on its own, does not discredit the show. It is, however, a huge deal. Creating a show on the premise that the viewer is supposed to better understand suicide, and having the person who is committing the suicide be someone with a personality disorder is a huge mistake. People who have Borderline, or characteristics of it, are more likely than the general population to take things more personally, feel things more intensely, and either self-harm or attempt suicide. That fact alone ruins the premise of the show, because it would be based on someone who views the world in a more emotionally-driven, rather than rational way, and this is not representative of the general population. So you have in turn taken a diagnosis, not told your audience about it, had that person with said diagnosis kill themselves and have not in the slightest bit educated your viewers about what just happened.
- The Lying: Personality disorders are tough. They are challenging to have, they are challenging to deal with, and some of the characteristics of them are sometimes unfavorable. Such as Hannah lying on the tapes. When she lied the first time in the tapes, her credibility is over. Once someone catches you in a lie, no matter how big or small, you cannot be trusted anymore. So, how do we know that everything Hannah said is actually true? It is one person’s word against another’s, and one of them is dead. Which leads me to my next point.
- The Manipulation: Hannah is dead, so she has more leeway. It sounds weird, and it’s not really that weird. Everyone is on edge in the show, because they are afraid they are the ones that “killed Hannah”. Hannah lies in the tapes, and she is more likely to be believed because she is dead and the other characters, who did things “wrong”, are just trying to cover their asses. So, essentially, Hannah is manipulating the school even after she is gone. To believe her, to see how much of a victim she was.
- The Guilt: The fact that this was never addressed in the show killed me a little inside, no pun intended. It infuriated me that throughout the entire show, people are allowed to say “you killed Hannah”, “did I kill Hannah” and “who really killed Hannah”, and nobody corrected them. She told Clay that she wanted him to leave, then yelled at him to leave and then in the tapes asked him why he didn’t stay with her. She basically wanted him to feel guilty for her decision to end her life because she communicated the opposite of what she wanted. That poor kid was losing his mind throughout the entire series, listened to a tape that he did not even need to be on because he reacted to what she said, because she wanted people to feel guilty because of her choice. I will clear the air right now: Hannah killed Hannah. Feeling guilty for doing something shitty is one thing. Feeling guilty for something that someone else chose to do is another thing, and it is absolutely fucked up that the show perpetuates this concept of guilt for another person’s choice to end their life. Unless someone held a gun to Hannah’s head and told her to pull the trigger or they will do it, nobody, NOBODY should hold guilt in their hearts and minds for someone else’s choice. The show is set in today’s time. Mental health is more openly talked about now than it ever was. She had avenues. Her parents seemed level headed. There was help and she chose to end her life. And that was her choice.
Now let’s talk about the actual “bullying” that was happening in the show:
- In the first few tapes, Hannah is kind of held a shitty hand. She goes on a date, and a picture of her flashing the camera accidentally gets sent around the school, people call her a slut, and “easy” and it sucks. I’ll give you that, it sucks. I will also say, that there was never teasing, or name calling. There was just an “air” of this idea that Hannah is a slut. Mean Girls did an amazing representation of what bullying was in high school, and this show, not so much. Again, it’s closer to how it is in college. People think you’re easy, and then they just really don’t care anymore. The situation was bad, and at the same time I didn’t really feel like Hannah was bullied over it.
- The List: Again, not really bullying. This is something that really did sound like high school. Some little asshole makes a list of the “best” and “worst” features. And Hannah gets “best ass”. If the show is about bullying, why didn’t she get “biggest slut”. That would match more up with these rumors that are supposedly going around the school. Hannah says that this list fractured the only friendship that she had, even though it seemed to me like she had a lot of friends.
- Marcus’ tape: Marcus takes Hannah on a date and assumes that she’s going to have sex with him because, as we’ve already discussed, everyone thinks that she’s a slut. He gropes her inappropriately, and she gets upset and hurt. Fair. Not bullying though. That’s sexual harassment.
- The Compliment Bag: The guy took compliments out of her bag. I mean, come on. That made an entire tape! It would be more believable if some girls took the compliments out, and then were snickering in the corner when she went to look in the bag and saw nothing. That shit will fuck with your head. Instead, she hurts a guy’s feelings and embarrasses him in front of everyone when he asked her out, and takes no responsibility for that, and then says that he’s part of the reason that she killed herself.
- The rapes: Hannah sees her friend get raped. Says that she couldn’t stop it, which I guess makes sense, I don’t know, I’ve never really known a person who watched another person get raped, that’s a pretty specific event, I don’t really have a basis for how to react to that. I’m sure it’s awful, though. Why does that make her tapes, thought? It didn’t happen to her! At this point, it’s like she had things she had to get off her chest, so she just put it on the tapes and spun it in a way to make it match up with her decision.
She does also get raped, by the same person. Traumatic, yes. Bullying, no. Felony, yes. Actually, to put rape into a category of “bullying” is so insulting and minimizing of what rape actually of, that I cannot believe that people are not more upset over this. I actually would be curious to know the statistic of women who get raped and complete/attempt suicide. However, again, if the show had been set in any time before 2017, I’d empathize that people would care less. So again, she had avenues, she had her parents, and she chose to tell nobody. That is her choice, she doesn’t have to vocalize that it happened to her, and she could have. Blame him for the rape, the man is a fucking rapist. Not the suicide.
Ok, I’m done with the bullying aspect of it.
- The Suicide: Another thing that was not discussed, or addressed. Hannah basically kills herself as a way to get back at the people that hurt her. Someone called it “revenge suicide”. The only problem with this, is that the only person that’s really hurt, is Hannah. Because she is dead. The concept seems to be to kill herself as a punishment to the people who hurt her. The show glorifies suicide, as something that can, or maybe should be done, in order to show people that they are hurtful, or to teach them a lesson.
- The tapes: The whole idea behind the show is strange. Creating a set of tapes, in order to essentially frame people for your death… if she had killed another person with that much thought and effort, that would be first degree murder and you’d go to jail forever. She basically committed first degree suicide, and put the blame on a bunch of other students.
- The Guidance Counselor: The guidance counselor is the last tape. Hannah tries to tell him that she got raped, and he tells her if he does not have a name, he cannot do anything. And he also tells her that he cannot promise that the rapist will go to jail. Those are both facts. He did not do anything wrong. That is how reporting works. You cannot just guess who committed a crime and hope that you are right because someone else refused to give you a name, and you certainly should not be promising anything, especially to a client, when you do not know, 100% for a fact, that it will play out that way. I’m sure Hannah would have been pretty ticked off if he promised that the guy would go to jail, and then the rapist’s loaded parents made it not go that way. Once you make a report, the situation is really out of your hands. I will say that he did not really handle some aspects of his meeting with Hannah as gracefully as could have been done, and I will say that generally the adults in the show acted like they were born yesterday, and had never experienced anything in their lives.
Hannah says at the end “some of you cared, none of you cared enough”. It seemed like she was having a tough time. And nobody can save you except for yourself. No matter what. Expecting someone to save your life by loving you is not how the world works and it may help you feel better for a while, and if you’re empty, after some time, you will feel empty again. She did not want to do it for herself and she wanted and expected others to do it. Basically, her life is a test of who loves her enough and who does not, and guess what? Nobody failed. We are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness other than our own. We can work hard to not be mean or cruel, or insensitive to others. We can work on being kind and not bullying. And we are the only ones that can work on building up our core and finding our own strength and not allowing every little thing to ruin our day or make us feel bad. We are all humans, we make mistakes and we cannot never hurt another person. It will happen, it probably already has happened, and no matter how hard you try, you will hurt someone again. And we shouldn’t have to live in fear that if we say something wrong, another person will blame us for their death. That is why you work on you. Find help to build your esteem, to build your confidence, to not need another person to “care enough” for you so that you do not have to. That is not the message that this show sends. This show sends a message that everybody needed to take responsibility for themselves, except for Hannah. She was exempt. And she is the only person in the entire show that took absolutely no responsibility for a single thing that she did. That is so wrong, and kids are watching this shit, thinking that it is okay, and if they feel the same way, why wouldn’t they do the same thing. Kids are the audience, and we are telling them that they do not need to be responsible for their own happiness, they can just kill themselves instead and blame others for everything. That is horrifying. This show is a horrifying example of how to deal with any problem, and any mental illness
If you need help, someone to talk to or are feeling like you want to hurt yourself, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to get help right away. There are options.