Uncovering the Controversy of 13 Reasons Why

PLEASE NOTE: Contains Season 2 spoilers!!! Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Sparking debate, outrage and heated discussion amongst individuals, Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why is no stranger to controversy. Let’s break it down, 17 year old Hannah Baker takes her own life and leaves suicide notes through a set of tapes directed at those she claims were responsible. The tapes are then passed from one individual to another with secrets being unravelled and threatening to destroy relationships. Many have accused the show for glorifying suicide and have criticised its graphic scenes, while others insist the show should be removed from Netflix altogether. You’ve all heard about the show and added your two cents, now it’s our turn to add ours.

Let us be clear that 13 Reasons Why is definitely not a show for the faint hearted. The series captures a completely raw and honest view on teen suicide, rape and several other issues faced by young adults. It acts as a conversation starter and catalyst for change by raising issues that are considered sensitive and uncomfortable to talk about. Mental illness can get worse if it’s bottled up, potentially leading to damaging and sometimes fatal consequences. Many of us shy away from talking about it but keeping quiet is not going to change the fact that these are real life issues being faced by young people around the world.

Hannah’s graphic suicide scene in Season 1 left us all gasping, cringing and proceeding to look away from our screens in angst. Not only do we see the blood gushing out from her wrists but we are also made aware of the pain it causes her loved ones. From the shock horror of her parents seeing their deceased daughter, to the emotional suffering of grief and distress experienced by her friends. That in itself shows viewers that suicide is NOT in any way glamourous and should not be a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

A large part of Season 2 deals with rape culture, particularly tackling the aftermath of rape victims. We see Jessica Davis evolve from an overtly submissive girl to a determined, fierce woman after being raped by Liberty High athlete, Bryce Walker. Although she is initially too afraid to speak out, she overcomes her PTSD through the support of her friends and family, and by attending survivors’ support group meetings. Through Jessica’s character, 13 Reasons Why builds a sense of confidence for rape victims to reach out and create their own closure. After reporting to police officials and undergoing court proceedings, the judge’s verdict reveals Bryce only gets a slap on the wrist, showing the sad but realistic nature to rape cases. If you’re mad with the outcome, you should be because it’s still happening in real life and justice needs to be served.

In the final scene in Season 2, we come face to face with another controversially graphic scene where Liberty High photographer, Tyler Down, is sexually assaulted by a group of athletes in the school bathroom. They continuously push his head down a toilet before shoving a broken mop handle up his rear end. It is without a doubt extremely difficult to watch, leaving us flinching to the point where we still have the disturbing image in our minds. In this very scene, we as an audience are invited to feel sympathy for Tyler. But what we see comes no where near the excruciating pain and suffering endured by male victims of sexual assault.

Being so badly traumatised and embarrassed by the ordeal, Tyler resorts to gun violence by later arriving at Liberty High with the intention of committing a mass shooting. Now a lot of you may think, incorporating a potential school shooting into a teen series is quite troubling and far from necessary. Well, let’s put it this way, when we think about gun reform in the United States, what action have the government and the Congress taken to prevent these massacres from reoccurring? I think we know what the answer is. Although this scene could be subject to copycat behaviour, perhaps 13 Reasons Why is attempting to get viewers to continue advocating for change. Given the popularity of the series, discussions will form and we could be one step closer to creating a brighter future.

At the end of the day, everyone’s reception of 13 Reasons Why will be different. What we need to acknowledge is if we continue to avoid these issues, with silence you will be damned. The series tells the truth without filters, without sugar coating, but most of all without leaving any stone left unturned. It’s 2018 and we’re going through a time in our lives where we have the opportunity to make a difference. 13 Reasons Why is not as black and white as simply sending young viewers the wrong message, instead it has given us many reasons to address the confronting issues of mental health, suicide and rape. This ultimately can allow us to work towards a better society, not only now but also for the next generation.

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