If you ask students their favorite pastimes, some will say social media, others will offer athletic training, whereas many will disclose that Netflix eats up their free time. Netflix, an Internet television network, supplies subscribers with countless shows and movies of all different genres.
A New, Increasingly Popular Release
A recent release on the network is an original show that transforms the New York Times bestseller, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, into a 13 episode saga, titled 13 Reasons Why. Increasingly popular with a teenage audience, the show has picked up attention on social media platforms and discussions between friends alike. Even on Twitter, tweets and conversations regarding 13 Reasons Why have been more numerous than any other Netflix show in the past, gaining as many as 3.5 million tweets within the first week of the show’s streaming.
The plot is as follows: Hannah Baker, high school junior, commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes behind, each one dedicated to a person who contributed to her death. The tapes are secretly mailed between each person who she decides is a cause of her suicide, and the show’s narrative follows Clay Jensen, a classmate of Hannah’s, who also receives the tapes. Each episode reveals a new person and story and how it affected Hannah. As a result, nearly every story in the show is intertwined, and the viewer receives a full-scale picture on why Hannah’s life ended.
13 Reasons Why has had a large effect on teens already. The show depicts to its primarily adolescent audience that one’s actions, however small they may appear, often have a domino effect and cause other events that may be more harmful than intended. Each character in the show has an effect on Hannah that he or she may not have planned or even desired, but nevertheless, seemingly playful or innocent actions culminated in her suicide.
Thus, 13 Reasons Why has a deep impact on its millennial and centennial viewers. Additionally, as these two generations have grown to be increasingly reliant on technology, the show’s message is even more significant. Though technology and social media seem to have adopted a scapegoat position today, they provide new platforms to communicate with others- inevitably in sometimes negative ways. As technology usage is at its highest point ever, teens today have an increased capability to bully and spread negativity anonymously. And because 13 Reasons Why sheds light on how one’s words and actions have deep effects on others, it definitely shares a much-needed message in high school settings.
Abby Bartlett (`19) offered insight on the lessons the show provides, as she shared that 13 Reasons Why inspires viewers to “have a positive impact on someone’s life every day, because that smile you share, the door you hold open, or that compliment you say could brighten someone’s day and give them a glimmer of hope when life may be very rough for him or her.” Through the show’s intense plot line that follows high school students’ daily actions, the audience gains a new perspective on how one action and a single word have immense ripple effects on their surroundings.
In contrast, 13 Reasons Why spreads a problematic message, too. At the very end of the show, Hannah’s suicide is graphically depicted, which has a potentially harmful effect on those viewing the images. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides recommendations for covering suicide in media, and 13 Reasons Why crosses several of those lines. For instance, the recommendations share that when the media “sensationalizes or glamorizes a death,” viewers who are at risk for suicidal behaviors may be more inclined to end their own lives. And with suicide being one of the three leading causes of adolescent deaths, it is reasonable to conclude that vulnerable teens are watching the show and may be impacted negatively by the graphic portrayal of death.
Nevertheless, its heavy message and portrayal of suicide make 13 Reasons Why very meaningful and unique for viewers. Instead of shying away from intense subjects such as mental illness and self-harm, the show tackles them head on. Bartlett said that the show’s coverage of such topics is beneficial, for it “provides you with education on how to help people who may have depression. The show makes it public knowledge that suicide is not the option and that there is always someone there to help you.” Pyper McDowell (`18) similarly shared that the depiction of mental illness in 13 Reasons Why “tells people that suicide goes further than one death,” and encourages viewers “to be less afraid to talk openly about emotions and suicide.”
Because 13 Reasons Why has gained popularity and the attention of many high school students, it is imperative to take into account the sensitive issues that the show covers and its possible effects on its audience. Conclusively, though the show embodies a positive message that may have a ripple effect on schools nationwide, it also may be harmful to students and should be watched with caution.