'13 Reasons Why' — Podium or Poison?

Has this piece of pop culture taken a poisonous turn?
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Photo courtesy of KieferPix/Shutterstock.com

With a topic as controversial as suicide, it's no wonder making it the focus of a TV show has resulted in so much conversation. The series, “13 Reasons Why,” stars Katherine Langford as “Hannah Baker” and Dylan Minette as “Clay Jenson.” Hannah chooses to commit suicide, and leaves behind a package of tapes for Clay that tell the story of her life and why she ended it. The tapes contains a story for each of the 13 people she felt were responsible for her suicide. There are two ways I find myself looking at the show and what it has accomplished, as more and more people binge-watch it into the late hours of the night.

The Teen View

The first way I look at it is through the eyes of a teen, which makes me want to say “Guys, it’s just a show.” The show made its mission clear in a later behind-the-scenes episode, during which the producers intended to bring the uncomfortable issue of suicide to light in hopes of seeing positive change come out of it. I really do think there has been evidence of some of this good, because as more and more people talk about the show, suicide becomes something that isn’t overlooked or brushed to the side as it once was, since it isn’t easy to bring up.

My girlfriend and I literally had a 30-minute conversation about the show. She mostly shares this teen view while I sort of sit on the fence between this view and a thought process I’ll explain later on.

I do believe the show brings up good points, such as how one person’s behavior can deeply impact another individual who may be under a lot of other pressures, so you can never be too careful about what you say and do. Peoples’ hearts are often fragile — some more so than others — but it is imperative to be kind and understanding, and I think this show does a good job of outlining this principle. A lot of good can be said about the show, or at least its premise, but of course there’s always another side.

The Young Adult View

The perspective I find myself leaning more toward is that of a young adult, which is why I wouldn’t want my future kids watching this show. The most important thing to me about the series is that it seems like because Hannah had 13 reasons for justifying her suicide, she was communicating that others had chosen her fate for her. Although it’s true that one’s words and actions can push someone into depression or suicidal thoughts, there is always a choice to be made by the person in distress. In the end, the person who decides to kill himself or herself decides on his or her own; if someone else did it for him or her, it wouldn't be suicide.

I realize that this was not the original premise of the show, but if everyone agrees on one meaning behind the same concept or idea, life would be a whole lot simpler. We live in a world of gray — not black and white — so I really do think the premise of this show is up for interpretation.

As I said before, I really do think this show does a good job of bringing a tough issue into the arena of conversation, but I also think it romanticizes the act of suicide and makes it seem justifiable.

Alex Baker is a senior at Apex High School. He plays basketball and lacrosse, and is also a member of the school's Academy of Information Technology.


Categories: Family, Parenting, Teen Scene, Teens