Monday, May 8, 2017

Reasons Why I Watched 13 Reasons Why

I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. - Hannah Baker, 13 Reasons Why

I watch Netflix, a lot.  I first began shortly after I married Lisa so we could watch Friday Night Lights without me having to ask who each character was.  Over time, I used to watch the occasional movie, and then I began to binge whole seasons of Breaking Bad, and I was hooked.  I was a Netflix junkie when I discovered Orange Is The New Black.  Then came Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Even now I get excited thinking about The Defenders.  Yep, I'm hooked.

My wife will tell you that I waste a lot of time investing in characters like Walter White, Jessie Pinkman, and Saul Goodman; however, I feel it is time well spent.  

When looking for a new series to invest, or waste, my time in, I came across the trailer for a new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why.  When I realized that the series was about a young girl that takes her life it piqued my interest.  When I heard it proclaim that Selena Gomez was the executive producer, I took pause.  My only true recollection of her work was one of the typical Disney shows where the adults are all idiots, the kids are all smartasses, and the script seems to be written by a room full of chimps banging away on keyboards when they take a break from throwing their feces at each other.  When I thought about watching 13 Reasons Why, all I could picture was the After School Specials from the 70's.  I was even prepared for Scott Baio and Kristy McNichol to play the concerned parents, and Kirk Cameron to play the hip, but understanding, teacher.  However, after the series dropped and positive reviews started to come in, especially from my students, I decided spend some time watching at least the first few episodes.  

The first episode piqued my interest.  It take place at the fictional Liberty High School, and was filled with the stereotypes that one would expect to find in a show about high school. You have the arrogant jocks, dumb jocks, and quiet sensitive jocks.  You have the nerdy kid who likes science fiction and rides his bike everywhere.  You have the high achieving Asian student.  You have the angry, heavily tattooed student who administers sage advice.  You have the rebellious, yet sensitive, bad boy with a cop for a father.  You have the openly gay intellectual.  You have the creepy stalker with the camera. You have the Yoda-esque hoodlum from the wrong side of the tracks. You have the weaselly  principal more concerned with the school's reputation.  You have the clueless, coddling parents, teachers, and counselors.  And of course you have the pretty girl from the good family whose suicide is the focal point of the series.  

It took several episodes for the show to really get going, but once it did, I was in for the long run and finished the series.  While I will never say 13 Reasons Why is a great show, it does carry a powerful message.  Yes, there are some substantial issues with the show, but you can read about them here, here, and here.  I am not here to talk about the problems, but to applaud the show itself.  For all of the faults within the show itself, the one thing that stands out to me is that it had the balls, gumption, wherewithal, and nerve to tackle an issue that far too many in our society still consider a taboo subject.  

The series revolves around Clay Jensen, the aforementioned bike riding nerd who receives 13 audio cassettes recorded by the now deceased Hannah Cook.  Each of the tapes is dedicated to one of the students that have led Hannah to take her life.  There is the typical teen angst, but also sexual harassment, bullying, and cyber bullying, homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, and even rape.  The kids are kids, they are nice to each other when they need something, they treat each other like sh*t when they don't, and are more interested in saving their own asses when ever the situation calls for it.  

Clay relives the pivotal moments of Hannah's last few months through her narration. He discovers just how horribly his classmates treat each other, but especially Hannah.  How an innocent date with a boy turns Hannah into a slut. How the law of unintended consequences applies to an act of revenge towards another student and brings Hannah unwanted attention and harassment.  How stress at home took it's toll on Hannah.  How rejection and betrayal sent Hannah even further down the rabbit hole. How those that are there to protect failed Hannah, and how one person, enabled by status and money, could commit an act so heinous that became the breaking point for Hannah.  

Clay's anger toward the others on the tapes grows and festers as he wants justice brought for Hannah, but the others try and try to cover up, get their stories straight, and hide the truth. Even the depiction of Hannah slitting her wrists is deemed "too graphic" by some.  I'm sorry, but at what point did running a razor down your wrists become and object d'art?  If she had used a shot gun, or hung herself, it would have been just as bad.  

While it is true that there were several swings and misses, mainly the absence of any issues of mention of mental health issues that factor into 90% of all suicides. 13 Reasons Why touches on several key factors such as the overwhelming stress kids feel today in school. How the desire to fit in and belong can outweigh every other aspect of a child's life.  How repeated cruelty and rejection can push a person over the edge.  How bottled up feelings can cause so much pain that the person feels no other recourse but to take the final step.  Even how schools slathering the walls with suicide prevention posters AFTER a suicide is about as worthless as travel brochures in a coffin.  Some schools have even gone as far as to forbid students from talking about 13 Reasons Why at school.  

Despite all the negatives, there are some positives that come along with the series.  First and foremost, it has people talking, especially its intended audience, teens.  As I go through social media, I see entry after entry regarding 13 Reasons Why, and see real conversations coming from it.  Kids are openly and honestly discussing their problems and issues openly. Michigan's Oxford High School is setting up their 13 Reasons Why Not program in order to open up and shed a light on suicide and mental health issues.  All of these are good and needed.  

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I advocate for education and awareness for suicide awareness and prevention.  Sadly, it was Netflix, and not schools or parents that stepped up and took the lead.  For good or bad, 13 Reasons Why was needed as suicide moved up to the  #2 cause of death for 13-24 year olds in our country.  So the decision is yours dear reader.  You can choose to watch 13 Reasons Why and be offended or enlightened, but the decision will be yours.  But please, form an opinion and put that opinion out there for others to see.  Perhaps by voicing your opinion, some one might feel compelled to talk about their problems, and get the help they need.  These are the reasons why I watched 13 Reasons Why.