“13 Reasons Why” sparks controversy

Photo courtesy of @themamiproject/Instagram –
“13 Reasons Why” is based on a bestseller by Jay Asher.

If you were part of the reason why someone close to you committed suicide, would you want to know?

The popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” explores this concept in detail, along with many other difficult topics related to suicide. The show has had the social media world buzzing since its March 31 debut, largely because of its sensitive subject matter.

Following backlash from  individuals sensitive to the graphic nature of the show, Netflix has pledged to add futher trigger  warnings to the series.

Despite its few narrative flaws, “13 Reasons Why” has recently become one of the most discussed shows on television and on streaming services. The series covers topics that are often avoided in the public eye and reinforces the need for awareness about suicide, bullying, and sexual violence.

The main character, high school student Clay Jensen, is given a series of tapes recorded by his friend, Hannah Baker, before she committed suicide. The tapes refer to events that took place before Hannah’s eventual death—events that led her down a dark path toward ending her own life. Clay is implicated as one of the instigators of her downward spiral, or at least as a bystander who never took action to help her.

The series explores a number of themes related to suicide and the difficulties of being a high school student. Alongside depression, peer pressure, bullying, and sexual assault, the show explores grief and coping, and presents a fairly honest depiction of emotional scenes. Baker’s sad and disturbing tapes, as well as Jensen’s interactions with his classmates, come across as genuine. Because of this, it can be easy to be pulled into the series.

“13 Reasons Why” has become the subject of praise, criticism, drama, and memes online, largely as a result of its various available interpretations.

The show has been praised by many for its mainstream portrayal of suicide, sexual violence, and bullying. If the series has an overarching message, it would be likely that society could use a wake-up call on a number of these issues. The plot centers around Baker’s tapes—the purpose being to inform others of the adverse effects of their actions or of the shortcomings of bystanders. Though the focus is on suicide, the message can be applied to any of these topics that are often swept under the proverbial rug.

Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford give admirable performances as Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. Selena Gomez was cast for the role of Baker, but she thought it would be better for someone else to play the part.

Gomez, instead, was an executive producer on the show. It seemed to be a good move to have someone less recognizable in the spotlight, since the series was in danger of being too “Hollywood.”

Some critics argue that the series romanticizes suicide. A prominent adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, has spoken out against the show, urging that it be pulled off the air immediately. Koplewicz, the president of the Child Mind Institute, said he sees “13 Reasons Why” as an irresponsible and unethical show, citing that teenagers are often vulnerable.

He continued to explain that the show promotes suicide as a coping method for loneliness and depression, rather than showing suicide as a permanent and irreversible end to life. Koplewicz believes it will not be long until we see an increase in suicide rates because of the show’s prominence. His criticism goes against  other reviewers’ praise of the show for its commentary on bullying and suicide.

Where “13 Reasons Why” tends to fall short is in its variance within its narrative. The show is heavy and emotional, but at times, it can become monotonous and draining. Though there are  positive moments, the on-screen material is typically depressing to get the point across, which can make the show into a bit of a downer.

The series also focuses substantially on the people oblivious to Baker’s internal struggles. Although it is an important part of the plot, it becomes too much of a stereotypical trope, especially among the adults in the show. Nearly every adult is a cookie-cutter, mindless individual who dismisses Baker’s cries for help. It seems there were opportunities missed to create a few more multidimensional characters.

The month of May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, which has aimed to bring attention to mental health issues in America since its creation in 1949. Previously, mental health problems were often left untreated or dismissed as unimportant, but the month’s “Break the Stigma” campaign is attempting to change how mental illness is viewed in America. “13 Reasons Why” is the latest popular show that mentions mental health issues and places it in public view.

With the stress of school, especially with finals coming up, we often feel substantial pressures in our daily lives. We all deal with it in different ways. We can all benefit from a break from studying at the beach or any San Diego hotspot to get some sun for a mental health day.

For any students who might feel overwhelmed or are in need of assistance, or just someone to talk to, be sure to seek out on-campus resources, including the Counseling Center.

Anyone who is in an emotional crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, 800-273-8255, to speak with counselors at any time or the San Diego Access & Crisis hotline, 888-724-7240.

Written by Walker Chuppe, Arts & Culture Editor