Based on the young adult fiction novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why follows teenager Clay Jensen (Dylan Minniette). He gets home from school one day to find a strange box with his name on it. Within, he finds an assortment of cassette tapes recorded by his school colleague and crush Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who committed suicide fourteen days prior. In essence, she tells a tragic story: the thirteen reasons why she killed herself, leaving no stone unturned. Through the eyes of Hannah and Clay, this show tells a soul-destroying story of the twenty first-century teenage experience, an experience that every millennial will relate to.
There’s not a single superlative in the English language worthy of detailing how I was feeling after watching this show. Episodes ten through to thirteen are enough to make you break down, let alone the rest of the season. Anyone who has been through high school (secondary school in the UK) knows that it is a hard slog. Anyone who has thought about their own suicide knows what severe solitude feels like. To cut it short, hope is darkness. There is no light. Only darkness, and this story is a good depiction of that: unapologetic and raw, leaving audiences thinking with a lot to think about.
This is the show I needed when I was fifteen/sixteen years old. This show tackles real problems, not just teenage ones. e.g. Mr Porter (Derek Luke) being one of many links to this show’s look at the Bystander Effect. This girl was hurting, and he and others stood by and let it happen. They say it takes village, but in this case it took a school. It’s difficult being a teenager, or a young person. The constant expectation to fit in is thrust upon our shoulders. Social media has made it worse. At one time, your problems would be in school and only in school. No thanks to Facebook, Twitter and their like. Now they’re at home as well.
Young people and others like Clay and Hannah have so much to deal with, from their parents, but more so from than peers. Boys have to fulfil a certain image: tall, muscly, goodlooking etc. If you’re not, your life is over. That’s how the young think. For girls, it’s either you look like a Barbie doll or you’re ugly. It’s all a part of this Male Gaze. “Hot Or Not” is only one example. Technology has made kids crueller, it’s made humanity crueller. And teachers think they’re combating the problem with awareness programs. When people like Hannah kill themselves, it make schools look bad, and that’s when school’s start to move their asses.
This show is all about people, not just as people, but as a concept as well. It’s about the value judgements we make, like the real life online activity of “slut-shaming” girls. When you see stuff like that in shows like this, you hold a mirror up to the world and think, well shit. And as a society, we let it happen. The Bystander Effect again, this is not okay. Rather than deal with problems head on, we’d rather sweep them under the rug because it’s easier and nicer. It doesn’t create a fuss. 13 Reasons Why is real life starring at us in the face. It shows the causes and effects of people’s actions, and how one text or one Facebook comment can change one person’s world. One comment is enough to push someone over the edge.
This is not another teenage angst show. It shows the darker side of being an adolescent and how some are backed into a corner, a suicidal corner. This is the show I wish I had when I was a teenager. From the cinematography to the acting to the gritty realism, this show is enough to break you. Its depiction of rape is in your face, lingering on victims’ faces far longer than what is normally comfortable. And its representations of rapists are truly well-done as well, if that’s the right choice of words. Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice) is the most popular kid in school. Surely he couldn’t be a rapist. Well think again. That’s how they often come, untouchable due to their position in the social hierarchy.
As I write about this, I’m still sitting on a mattress of thorns and my mood is highly depressive. Though, the show is impressively made and brings that teenage sadness which is so often hidden from the parental eye. It’s a well-rounded view of human behaviour on how we don’t care about how we interact with others, or how easily words can hurt but moreover, our actions can to. And there are those out there who simply don’t care, especially in schools. People like Bryce and his “what’s mine is yours” rule in relation to Jessica (Alisha Boe), his best friend’s girlfriend whilst he went into the bedroom to have sex with her drunk unconscious body. Seriously… what the frick?!
You need to be stone-cold robot to not feel anything towards this show. I would never wish the ugliness of this narrative to happen to anyone in real life. But at twenty-one years old now, I can say that I knew a version of all these characters. They’re all secondary school archetypes… but the actors portraying them gave them new life. Whether it be the fashion freaks, sports enthusiasts, geeks, emos or even people like Hannah or Clay, individuals who don’t fit into any subculture. Nonetheless, it feels damn horrible when you don’t fit and you’re the one alone, and you’re bullied because you are different.
From the slut/body-shaming to its stance on rape to its representation on the power of social media and its depiction of the loss of a child, 13 Reasons Why is just one long jeremiad. As a former-Communication & Culture student, I can say its perspective on the Male Gaze and the Bystander Effect is also well-executed, even if it did make me hollow inside. There is no hope with this show. And if you do choose to watch it, I implore you to ask around so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Once you go down that path, there is no coming out.