If you haven’t seen it yet, be warned, ’13 Reasons Why’ (on Netflix) is not for the faint hearted. It hurts your eyes with gratuitous violence at times. The language is supremely foul. But the story line is both heart wrenching and gripping. The premise of a high school girl committing suicide and leaving behind thirteen guilt-soaked cassette tapes to explain her death is harrowing in itself. The lives that are affected by the contents of these tapes and the enormous ripple effect is where the story develops it’s gravitas and universality.
Of course, I had to watch it. But it left me cold and here are my thirteen reasons why.
1. It was like watching my high school career all over again
I didn’t deal with the “big” issues in 13 Reasons. I wasn’t raped, for example. But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t faced some of the issues that are dealt with in the show. I faced many of them. As did many other pupils I knew at the time. When I say “big issues,” I mean full-on rape, I mean sexual assault with a broom stick, I mean attempted suicide by gunshot. The secondary, more minor assaults are just as brutal. Skye self mutilates, for example. There’s under-age drinking. There are drugs. There’s bullying and cyber-bullying and slut-shaming and double standards for boys versus girls. And the part they got so right in the show is how subtle it can be. It’s a total mind-boggling experience that a simple wink can leave you feeling awful when it comes from someone who has sexually assaulted you. It honestly made me remember things I wish I had never had to think about again, not just events that took place in my life, but the things that took place in the lives of my friends. High school, even twenty years ago, was not a walk in the park.
2. The topics are so on-point
Cyber bullying is so real. The photo that is shared of Hannah and misconstrued and misinterpreted is what starts her journey towards suicide. Children today play with their social media accounts with little cognisance of the danger that lies within. One photograph can ruin a person’s life. One mis-sent text can land you in serious legal trouble. I loved how this show faced issues that were topical. Yes, it was painful to watch a school boy fall off the wagon and become a heroine addict, but it is happening today more than we care to admit and a conversation needs to be started if we are to deal with it in a meaningful way.
3. I felt sorry for her teachers
Hannah asked for help, but not explicitly enough. I remember seeing children I taught falling apart and wishing that they would trust me enough to open up. Or to ask anyone to help. But like many teachers, Hannah’s were spread thin and ordered to follow a syllabus and stick to a schedule. They simply were too focused on their task of teaching to notice the desperation and deprivation simmering below the surface.
4. It made me want to be a teacher again
After watching this show, I wished I could sit down with a classroom of youngsters once again and discuss each and every issue as it arose. It could easily fill a year. I would be a year that would change their lives. And after doing that for five years with five classes, it would change the way a school operates. As Clay puts it at the end of season 1: “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.” This show could start a profound conversation – and I mean a conversation so profound it could actually stop a suicide, or a bully, in its tracks.
5. I was reminded of so many of my friends.
We were definitely the mean girls some times. God help the girl who stole one of our boyfriends or who tried to call us out on our bull. We were also often the victims of slut shaming, sexual abuse, bad choices and very bad boys. Watching how friendship was something that at times hurt the characters in this show and at other times was all they had, I remember high school and how at times it felt like the loneliest place on earth. But at other times, if my friends hadn’t been there, the consequences would have been so much worse.
6. I was reminded of the times I was in the wrong.
Yes, I was wrong sometimes. I made terrible choices. I walked dangerous paths. I skated very close to the edge and sometimes I even fell over that edge. I look at the girls in 13 Reasons and want to shout at the screen: “No! Don’t go to that party!” “No! Don’t fall for that line!” “No! Don’t believe that lie!” Watching the follow on show: Beyond the 13 Reasons, one of the experts who consulted on the show articulates it beautifully: It is about worth, and so many of the bad decisions are made because the person involved is basing their worth on something that doesn’t matter, such as appearances and who you’re dating.
7. Season 2 saw some restoration and retribution, not enough though. But that’s life.
Season 2 is all about the court case and getting justice for Hannah. And for Jessica. But ultimately, they don’t really get what they deserve. The school is found not-guilty for playing any role in Hannah’s suicide. And Bryce, who was a serial rapist and uber-bully, was given three months probation for what he did to Jessica. It’s brutal and makes you feel quite ill, after walking the entire journey, to realise that the victims were brave enough to stand up and yet, the guilty were hardly reprimanded. But that happens more than we care to admit. It’s frightening. Brock Turner’s date rape story
8. I was Hannah, I was Skye, I was Clay, I was Alex.
Gosh, I was actually Justin, Chloe and Bryce too. I find the concept of the show brilliant from that aspect. At different stages of the story, you can identify with each character and see how your own life is replicated in their story. It’s genius story telling, in my opinion. To be able to honestly relate to a character and honestly identify the times in your life you’ve been the oppressor, or the oppressed.
9. I have daughters
Damn. I have three little girls and one day, this could be their story. Please God, not the very hectic stuff, but almost certainly some of the less-hectic stuff. I survived but it nearly broke me more than once. Read my post Moving on from the Slut-o-sphere to get a fuller picture. My heart is honestly the same as it was when my first daughter was born, I want them to know their own worth in Christ and in our home. I pray that this will be enough to protect them from some, if not all, the unnecessary hurt.
10. My daughters will be teenagers one day.
I need to help them see that they can’t be mean girls. And they should never use their phones to share photos they won’t want me to see. And they should never date the cool guy just because he’s cool. Oh my, the lessons are endless. But I think I will ultimately want them to be surrounded by enough love so that they don’t go looking for it in the wrong places. And work my butt off to protect their self-esteem and their confidence, so that they don’t ever feel the need to sell themselves short. What more can I possibly do aside from hand it over to the Lord?
11. My parents didn’t know half the stuff that went down.
Clay’s dad asks him, “Why don’t kids talk to their parents about… we, anything?” And I get that we simply didn’t. I suppose it’s true that we didn’t want to disappoint them. Or scare them. As Clay says, “Maybe we’re protecting you.” But mostly, we didn’t think they would understand. My mission for the next twenty years or so is to try to always remind my children that I will understand. And if I don’t, then maybe I can just listen and try to understand.
12. The school I went to was guilty too.
My history teacher turned a deaf ear when I was called mean names in his class. He could hear a sweet wrapper from a hundred meters but couldn’t hear the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ being bandied about? Please. School staff hear rumours and the good staff members follow up. I had ‘snitches’ but they weren’t snitches. I had students who I would ask questions and follow up when I needed to. I hardly ever needed to. My opinion was very much, if you went to that party and did a few too many shooters, that is not my business. But there was a time when a girl was essentially gang banged while unconscious and filmed whilst this assault was happening. Then, I needed to intervene. And I thank God every day that I did. She didn’t even know it had happened. I do believe schools can do more and should. Which leads to the next and final point.
13. Hannah dies, but others don’t have to.
The years between twelve and twenty are a mine field. Hormones, body changes, feelings, uncertainties, school-yard politics, ascertain of power… these are some of the hidden explosives lying in the field. Parents can try, but research sadly shows that children are far more inclined to speak to an adult they trust who is NOT their parent, than their actual parents. Teachers, friends, counsellors and anyone else who is able to listen to actually listen and watch. One thing teenagers are, apart from a mine field of angst, is painfully obvious. It’s time we started acknowledging their feelings as real and perhaps helping them navigate this treacherous time with as little damage as possible.
It’s a tv show and I don’t even think I was the target audience. But the story of Hannah, her suicide, the hurt it caused and the ramifications for all involved are conversation starters. Important conversations. Nothing can be done to fix these things if we don’t create an open dialogue. And if this is the show that gets us all talking, then it’s worth the squirming.