AllieBartlett, Staff Reporter
If there were a list of ways not to portray suicide, “13 Reasons Why” would hit the mark on each and every one of them. The plot line centers around a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who takes her own life. In the wake of her death she leaves behind cassette tapes addressed to 13 people she believed contributed to her fatal end. These tapes explain in depth the relationship she had with each of them and what they did that hurt her so deeply.
The tapes play out some sort of revenge fantasy, allowing the audience to believe Hannah got the last word; that her death had somehow achieved something that her life never could have. Hannah’s suicide is depicted as a rational and legitimate response to the challenging experiences that she was facing. It permits its viewers to believe death was the only answer and that even though she was the one taking a blade to her wrists, the blood was on someone else’s hands. By the end of all 13 episodes the viewers are supposed to understand why she did what she did. No doubt that the producers aimed to spread awareness to young teens on how their words and actions can affect someone else, but I believe this message was overshadowed by the romantic portrayal of a death by one’s own hand.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon amongst our culture; therefore, the relevance and importance of diving deeper into the subject is not misguided. However, the show contains an obscenely graphic scene of Hannah slitting her own wrists and bleeding out into a bathtub. The viewers are violated with this, along with two other disturbing rape scenes. The intent of this production was undoubtedly to reveal how horrifying these acts truly are, but the directors seemingly forgot the susceptibility teens have toward anything projected by the media. The graphic suicide could almost serve as a “how to” guide for anyone contemplating taking their own life. I strongly believe the message this show was aiming to get across could have been achieved more appropriately had the graphic cinematography been cut out.
The show’s most infamous line, “Welcome to your tape,” has made its mark on society and become a trending topic on several social media sites. This phrase was Hannah Baker’s opening address to the subject on each of her tapes. What was supposed to be a suicide prevention message has now become another serious social issue trivialised by the media.
The show’s most tragic flaw is the way it characterizes suicide as a feeling, rather than the act of something final. It glorifies suicide; depicting it as a way Hannah could bring justice to all the people who wronged her, somehow bringing her life to some peaceful end. However, the reality is that ending your own life leaves nothing but chaos. Maybe it’s OK to take advantage of the media’s power to shine light on bullying and teen suicide. Maybe it’s important to act out the painful and horrifying scenarios that high schoolers may be experiencing; but for goodness sake it shouldn’t be so enjoyable to watch. The show takes at a thrilling pace that hooks its audience and keeps them wanting more, ultimately leading them to forget that suicide should never be an option in the first place. There was an excitement that came along with each episode, a feeling that was only intensified by each revelation of another heartbreaking tape.
To have the audience searching for the culprits in Hannah’s death is to misinterpret suicide altogether. Hannah was a victim of bullying and rape, and maybe her death could have been avoided had someone heard her cry for help, but in the end Hannah Baker was not a victim of her own death. Her actions were her’s alone, nobody pressed that blade against her skin. Suicide is a choice and an act that results in more pain than what you started with and that sort of tragedy should never be glorified and manipulated into entertainment.