“13 Reasons Why” is a ball of despair. It is about a teenager lying in a fetal position because no one can really see her. The stories are the poems and epics that foretell the fall of empires. “13 Reasons Why” is as dense as a solitary tear rolling down a dry cheek on a winter morning.
The tv series adapted from a novel by Jay Asher is a story told through 13 episodes from the perspective of a girl who has killed herself. Each episode is a tape that she has recorded shortly before committing suicide where she names the people, their actions which were responsible for her decision to commit suicide. “13 Reasons Why” is the saga of teenage life (centered around the life of Hannah Baker) told to emphasize the darkness that can surround a seemingly innocent life.
Is it a tragic story? Is it a warning? Is it a rebuke of modern culture? That is up to you to discern.
Hannah Baker recounts her life in high school through this series. She calls out her exes, her friends, her teachers, her acquaintances. She questions vociferously the violence that is allowed to exist in schools, the social boycotts, the whispered name calling, the sexual harassment, the abject loneliness that is often imposed on people. And, as you watch the series you wonder whether it is is a statement of her submission to these forces or an act of defiance.
The show has its problems. It doesn’t offer any alternative ways of intervention. It doesn’t offer the much needed water to a parched soul. It doesn’t give you any respite from the gut wrenching feeling of hollowness that will engulf when you binge watch it on a Friday night. So yes, in the context of the distress this can cause, it is imperative that it is screened with a warning for the audience about the emotional response it may cause. Trigger Warnings are a simple tool that is used to protect people from these unsolicited moments of distress. While the show did include warnings on some episodes, but they were only scenes where the most graphic scenes were shown.
But that didn’t stop people from watching, did it? So why is it that despite its 13-hour long endorsement of what I think is tragedy porn, a lot of us just couldn’t stop watching the series? If you haven’t watched it, I’m sure you’re curious as to why people can’t stop talking about it.
Maybe because it felt real? Maybe because in our little privileged lives, we finally had a moment of confrontation with the violence we grew up with? And when you did, did you greet it as an old friend? Or, did you ask it for peace? Or redemption?
“13 Reasons Why” made me think. It made me stroll down the dark hallways of what I then thought was my entire world. It made me think of a conversation during a skipped class, under a tree, with a crying girl who confided in me that she was tired of the slut shaming. It made me think of the people we lost in school, which we never really took the time to process. It reminded me of the time I lost sight of who I fundamentally was in a comment section. I thought of all the times I was a mere spectator to violence.
It would be ironic, if in my review of 13 Reasons Why, I left you parched. So here’s the water.
I made it.
A bunch of us did. We swam past the whirlpool, waiting out the time when our worldview was comprised of the notion that no one could ever love us. I discovered after school that people were capable of kindness, and love, and empathy and decency. It made me ponder an alternate timeline where Hannah manages to graduate, finds people who respect her, finds comfort and hope, and discovers all that life can be. That reflection is both terribly sad and powerfully hopeful for a lot of people.
“13 Reasons Why” caused all these reflections, it caused all those repressed emotions to pour out. After 8 years, it caused a moment of genuine catharsis. And in the end, that’s why I liked it. I acknowledge and understand that emotions are complicated. And not everyone will process it the way I did. And it’s fine! But I feel like the way forward is for us, ( us sometimes being a small community and other times being us as a society) to process it together. The way forward is for us to talk about our feelings and listen to each other. As the other protagonist of the show, Clay observes, “It has to get better. The way we treat each other.”