The theme for Youth Sunday at our church was “13 Reasons Why Not.” I’m not sure how many of them had seen the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. (For those who don’t already know, it’s about Hannah, a high school student, who kills herself and records 13 reasons why she did it.) Most of our youth are in middle school and high school, so the serious nature of the issues on the show is probably stuff they’ve encountered—if not in person, but possibly the friend of a friend of a friend. I recently stopped by the room where they were discussing their plans and said I like the show—and please, for those who’ve seen all the episodes, no spoilers! I still had one more episode to go.
You’ve no doubt heard reviews, both good and bad, about its content and how graphically it portrays bullying, depression, rape, “slut-shaming,” and of course, suicide. Some have said that it glorifies suicide. I found the exact opposite to be true. 13 Reasons Why is such a brutally ironic title.
Nic Scheff, author of episode 6, “Tape 3, Side B,” in which Hannah’s Valentine’s Day is horribly ruined by a groping Marcus, addresses the critics. In a Vanity Fair article, he speaks of the unflinching way the show depicts suicide. A former meth user who attempted suicide, he speaks as one who has his own story of depression and the desire to end it all. He acknowledges the ever-present realities that young people face, but he also reflects on how timely the show is. “I saw the opportunity to explore issues of cyberbullying, sexual assault, depression, and what it means to live in a country where women are devalued to the extent that a man who brags about sexually assaulting them can still be elected president.”
It doesn’t look like Scheff would soft-pedal suicide. He notes, “For me, I’d lost everything. I couldn’t stay sober; I’d destroyed my life and nearly destroyed my family—and there seemed no possibility of anything ever getting any better. They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but the problem really didn’t seem all that temporary. In fact, it seemed f*cking eternal.”
Clay (along with Hannah, of course) is the focal point of the show, which constantly transitions from the present to the past. In the present (post-suicide), he crashes while riding his bike and cuts his head on some branches. Just as it’s beginning to heal, Clay gets into a fight with Bryce, the guy who raped Hannah. He bears his wounds, clearly a commentary at several levels.
Mixed in with all of that gloom and doom, there are some truly joyous moments. I love Tony, with his love of 80s music and his Walkman, which requires the archaic information storage devices known as cassettes! He and his dad keep his ’68 Mustang in peak condition.
And though she has a small role in the show, I really like Skye. Once upon a time, she had a crush on Clay (and still does, but Clay seems oblivious to it). She went from being “normal” to having piercings and tattoos—which is kind of normal, except in their high school, it still seems to be an act of defiance.
Right now, 13 Reasons Why is on the cutting edge. (I’m sorry; I didn’t mean for that to be a dreadful pun.) The creators of the show hope it leads to conversations which are ever more honest. Surely there are more than 13 reasons for that.