Review(ish): 6 Reasons I’m on the Fence about 13 Reasons Why

Last night, I finished a show called “13 Reasons Why.” Now that it’s all said and done, I’m frankly not sure I should have watched it. And I’m not sure how I feel about it. Did I like it? Not really. Did I hate it? Nah. Too harsh. Did I need to watch it? Not sure. Is it topically important? Yes. Absofuckinglutely. Was said topic handled properly? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. On the fence here.

Before I begin: If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. Right now. Right. Fucking. Now. You aren’t alone, and there are people who are fucking eager to help you. Don’t wanna talk to anybody? How about texting? Some awesome people who realize phone calls can be scary have set up a texting crisis line. Go. You’ve got nothing to lose if you’re at that point.

The Premise:

High school girl commits suicide. She leaves thirteen cassette tapes (well, thirteen sides) explaining why she chose to end her life, hence the title. The show follows one particular student as he listens to the tapes, which leads to at least half of the show being presented as flashbacks to when the girl – Hannah Baker – was still alive.

636268249942475577-2052136067_13-reasons-why-serie-de-tv-sound

13 Reasons Why I’m on the Fence (spoilers ahead):

  1. The blame game. No sense in saving this one for last; it needs to be addressed right away. Hannah (and therefore the show) strongly asserts that there are thirteen people responsible for Hannah taking her own life. Not Hannah, the girl who sat down in the bathtub and opened her wrists. Not Hannah, the girl who baited her guidance counselor into failing her. Not Hannah, the girl whose mom asked more than once if anything was wrong. The reason I’m on the fence? Well, that’s easy: it’s realistic. It’s extremely realistic for troubled people, regardless of age and stage in the whole hormones and puberty thing, to seek out people to blame. I think it’s more realistic for us to blame ourselves, but we do point fingers. If only that motherfucker hadn’t… If only she’d listen… If only he’d stay… If only they would pay attention… If only… They all hate me… They’re better off without me… Why do they all treat me like shit?… It’s so. Fucking. Realistic. The problem lies in the fact that teenagers and other people who are in highly susceptible states of mind are watching this show (based off of a book that I didn’t know existed until the end of the show), and they’re thinking…yeah! Fuck those guys! I’ll show them! So where do we draw the line between depicting realistic scenarios and being socially responsible? Do we only show one type of suicidal narrative? Do we avoid it altogether? Do we allow the conversation to occur in all forms? Was the show irresponsible? Or was it honest? Or…was it both? I’d say both. It was honest to the narrative of some and irresponsible to all. Does that mean it should be censored? See what I mean? Fence-rider.
  2. Dangerous implications that are never addressed. There are things shown or implied in the show that never get proper treatment. For example, toward the end, the boy who plays a photographer / stalker is shown stockpiling weapons in a secret compartment at the bottom of a clothing trunk. This is never addressed, but the implications are clear. There isn’t one gun. There are several. And the picture the mind paints in this post-Columbine society is one of an impending black trench coat and a troubled, bullier / bullied boy, going out in a “blaze of glory” in the middle of school, taking out as many students and teachers as he can before he aims the muzzle at his own head. Again, these are conversations that need to be had. The problem is that we are shown one or two images that imply these things, but there is never any discussion about it. It’s merely displayed there and left to you to understand that this is yet another terrible type of fallout from bullying and exploitation.
  3. Soft-core pornification of rape. Two girls in the show are raped: Hannah and her one-time best friend, Jess. As with the previous two points I broached, I’ll also say that this is yet another topic that needs to be addressed. It’s all too often swept under the rug, hidden away as something shameful and secret. So I’m okay with the fact that the show discussed rape, the rape mentality and the conflicted emotions felt by victims and witnesses. What I’m not okay with is the way one scene in particular was drawn out. When it gets to Hannah’s rape, it seemed like the scene would never end. Were producers trying to convey the endlessness of victims’ experiences? Were they trying to make viewers feel as much discomfort as possible without showing rape-porn? Perhaps. And I understand that – we need to be uncomfortable. We need to be confronted with shit we try to hide from; otherwise, it will never be addressed. But the soft lighting? The endless slapping sounds as he took her from behind? The close-up camera zoom on Hannah’s breasts as the perpetrator fondled her and slipped her bra down? Or the zoom on her ass as he pulled her panties down? Was that really fucking necessary? “Hey guys, I need you to get a better shot of her ass! Wait, hang on, there’s not enough tit in this scene! If we’re gonna show a real rape, we need to show WHY THE FUCKING RAPIST WANTED HER?!?!?!” What. The. Fuck. And how long are we supposed to sit there while we watch her body rocking back and forth, back and forth, as she’s being raped? I sincerely think this was mishandled. And that isn’t me saying we shouldn’t talk about rape. We should.
  4. Okay so I’m not done with the blame bit. How many times are we told that Clay, the main character who listens to Hannah’s tapes, is responsible for Hannah’s death? Sometimes he’s told, “We’re all responsible.” Okay, fair enough. Fine. But right before Clay begins his own tape, he asks Tony something like, “Did I kill Hannah Baker?” And Tony tells him that yes, he did kill Hannah Baker. A few fucking minutes into the tape, Hannah says YOU SHOULDN’T BE ON THESE TAPES, CLAY, BECAUSE WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN US WAS MY FAULT. And yet, the narrative through the rest of the damn show is that yes, Clay did kill Hannah Baker. Is being shy, nervous around girls and somewhat introverted a crime? He didn’t kill Hannah Baker; he only hurt her by his inaction sometimes. Yes, he could have stood up for her a couple times. But fucking hell, is there zero room for “mistake” in life? Not according to this show. You so much as breathe around someone who dies the next day, and it’s your fault. Yeah, we need to have discussions about our roles in each others’ lives. About how we treat each other. About compassion and empathy. But you fucking killed Hannah Baker because you left the room AFTER SHE TOLD YOU TO LIKE A HALF-DOZEN TIMES? Piss right off.
  5. The treatment of authority figures. Throughout the show, the students / kids are taught a myriad of lessons. Whether they stick or not isn’t my issue – it’s realistic that most people aren’t gonna fucking change. And it adds to the true story of how horribly we treat each other, and how we all need to do a gut-check. The kids are shown discussing these matters, though. They at least get chances at redemption, telling the viewers that they deserve another chance. The authority figures? Hmm. Let’s see. Over the course of the show, we watch as Hannah’s perception of her parents grows more and more negative, though I will say they are treated the kindest. Them and Clay’s dad (though he is a bit oblivious, but not criminally so). (Oh, and by the way, of fucking course the victim’s parents – victims themselves – are painted with a soft brush. God forbid they have flaws aside from extremely common arguments over finances. No, let’s save the flaws for everyone else in the show – every last one of them are murderers! Until they kill themselves, then Hannah’s parents morph into villains, too.) Alex’s dad, the police officer, has no redeeming qualities. He’s proud that his sons fight people. He let’s them break the law, regularly. He’s constantly looking for a way to escape responsibility, for himself and his boys. Is this realistic? Yeah, for a lot of people it is. But he’s not even a three-dimensional character. There’s no depth to him and no opportunity for reflection or growth. He’s a stock stereotype. (Oh, and by the way? Alex shoots himself in the head at the end of the show. With one of his dad’s guns. AND WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT AT ALL.) Justin’s mom and her boyfriend, another set of stock stereotypes: abusive, neglectful drug addicts. Yes, these people exist. But in the show – all the kids get a chance to own up to shit they did and change their ways. Repeatedly, in fact. “Oh you won’t be reasonable in this episode? Well, you’ll get a chance IN EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE REMAINING TWELVE EPISODES! Your parents? Man, fuck them. Adults suck.” The guidance counselor? He never fully accepts his responsibility and his role in his students’ lives. Realistic for a lot of people, fine. But again, young and susceptible viewers are validated, “SEE! THIS is EXACTLY why I won’t go see Mr. Smith. Guidance Counselors are a fucking joke. AND SO ARE ALMOST ALL ADULTS IN THE HISTORY OF EVER.” There are a lot of shitty adults. Because, all too often, shitty kids turn into shitty adults. But a show that claims to want to help the suicide epidemic is making it worse by telling kids that adults are useless.
  6. How peaceful they made the act of suicide look. When it came time for Hannah’s suicide scene in the denouement? It shows the whole scene set-up, from start…to finish. And it fucking wrecked me. That part, I’m not gonna take umbrage with. It should have wrecked me. People need to be wrecked to take this shit seriously. It’s fucking serious, and people are in danger. The problem I have is that, once Hannah slits her wrists (which it shows – explicitly), there’s no real demonstration of pain. Maybe there is no pain – maybe she’s too numb and in a state of shock to feel it or express it. But you know what’s fucked up? How g-damn peaceful they made it look. I even thought, “Damn. Maybe…I mean, look how easy that was… WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, STEPHANIE.” I knew right then they’d fucked that part up. She shivered. Hannah shivered. She fucking shivered, then closed her eyes, slid down a little, and peacefully went to sleep while the bathwater turned a warm shade of pink. Yes, suicide is a private thing. Probably often done in silence. And there’s a complete sense of being abjectly alone. But I think creators of a show like this had a responsibility to make it not look like you’re TAKING A FUCKING NAP IN THE BATHTUB. Look. Just LOOK at how EASY it is: a momentary wince and then a nice little nap. <—THAT is irresponsible.

You know what? I’ve just talked myself out of almost any redeeming quality about this show. It’s irresponsible and dangerous. Hell, I knew what it was about going in – and my reaction when it was over? “I should not have watched that show.” I even said that same thing to two people: “I should not have watched that show. I really shouldn’t have watched it.” I was a fucking wreck. And I’m a grown-ass woman with at least like, one or two coping mechanisms. And it fucked me up at the end. I can’t imagine what it’s doing to kids. No, I won’t go so far as to say: ban it. Not gonna do it. But is the show irresponsible? Fucking right it is.

P.S. I’m fine now, by the way. At least from the effects of the show. I’m more concerned with the impact it’s having on kids – or adults who aren’t currently strong enough to fight.

 

Advertisements

A Public Censure from a High School Outcast

I am in the process of preparing my house to put on the market. This is finally the year that I put myself first, no matter how difficult that is for me – because it is completely out of character. And this is going to involve some major changes and upheaval. I always put others first, even (usually) to my own detriment, almost without exception. I have been this way my entire life.

This change wasn’t some lameass resolution for me. I don’t do resolutions, at least not in the way most do. Life changes and extensive shifts in perspective don’t suddenly and miraculously happen simply because the clock ticked over to a new year. Time as we know it is a man made construct anyway, but I’m seriously digressing here.

The point of bringing this up was to mention I’m working on getting my house ready to sell. And this means days and weeks of meticulous sifting through thirty-five years of accumulated stuff. Some of that stuff is meaningful; some of that stuff is being donated; some of that stuff is being sold; some of that stuff is outright garbage and has been hauled straight to the bin and to the side of the road where people pick it up (you know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure), but some of that stuff is meaningful to me in some way or other and cannot simply be tossed out. Like the box of letters from my paternal mamaw. She was my penpal for a good two decades. Or my diplomas and commendations. Or my report cards and IEPs from elementary school, and the notes from teachers and little awards I received. Or the stacks of photos and photo albums. There have been lots of laughs, lots of tears, some raging and ripping up photos of that man who ruined my childhood and so much of my life and my outlook and behaviors, some quiet reminiscing, some shock; you get the idea.

One thing I came across was surprising to me. I didn’t even know I had it. A simple piece of paper brought on a flood of memories. Unpleasant ones at that. I was in 11th grade, I think, which puts me somewhere between 16 and 17. I was depressed and miserable and hated high school with all that I had. Not long after this period, I experienced some of the best years of my life until the bottom fell out of that, too. But for now, I was fucking miserable. I experienced suicidal ideation. I never cut myself, but I’ve always had this problem with picking and digging and tearing at my skin. So I’d wear long sleeves almost exclusively, in order to hide my arms.

I had changed schools that year, which is what seriously ramped up my depression and self-loathing. Those last two years of high school did a lot of damage to me, but the others did as well. Before I changed schools, I never had what you would call friends. There was simply a group of outcasts who would gather together during lunch. Some of them hung out together after school, but mostly we just clung to each other on the sidelines of life. It was our own little depressed group of grunge kids on this life raft we created to weather the storm of cheerleaders and jocks and geniuses and rich kids and bullies. It raged around us, splashing us with its venom and vitriol. The bullying had gotten so bad that I perfected this death to you glare and assumed anyone and I do mean anyone who looked at me meant me harm. I struggle with that still. And so we gathered together in this little corner at lunch. Playing hacky sack. Sneaking to the bathroom to smoke a roach. Talking about The Doors and Pink Floyd and Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Wearing the tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt I bought at a yard sale. Long sleeved of course. And that silly “Elvis is Dead. Deal with it.” t-shirt I wore all the fucking time. Mostly because it was black. And I was in a black wearing, flannel over-shirt phase. Close friends and confidantes we were not. But we needed each other. Or at least, I needed them.

1990s-grunge-wear
This is what we were like. Only there were far more dudes than chicks. Most of the chicks were banished for bringing drama to the group.

So when I changed schools, I lost that. I no longer had a shield or raft to cling to against the raging tide of bullies. Especially the preps. They were the worst. Those were the ones that made my life hell all through high school. And now I had no protection. I had no wall of outcasts surrounding me to buffer me from the storm of bullying and back-stabbing. Which leads to the piece of paper I found last night.

I had an AP English class, which I would have loved (because English. Yay. My favorite subject for years.). Except there were about a dozen cheerleaders in that one class. They chose it on purpose because the teacher was the mother of one of them. I had no idea, or I would have scheduled a different class or requested a change. Such as it was, I was stuck in a very special hell of torment and glares and snickers and cruel jokes at my expense. Me, the poor girl in hand-me-downs, thrift store clothes, high-water pants and shoes held together with duct tape I’d taken a black Sharpie to on the black parts and White-Out on the white parts so the tape wouldn’t stand out so much.

At some point during the year, we had an assignment. We were instructed to write an original poem and then select one from our textbook that went along with the same theme. Then we had to buy white t-shirts and somehow paint our original poem on the front and the textbook poem on the back, then wear them to school on the day they were due and recite our poems from memory. This terrified me. I didn’t learn how to be able to do public speaking until college in my twenties. I can do it now, but I was terrified back then. Like vomiting over it a couple of times leading up to it the week it was due.

I couldn’t persuade my father to buy a new white t-shirt for me. “I don’t have the money for some fucking school poem bullshit. Use one of my old undershirts.” No, of course he didn’t have the money. He’d spent it on the twice weekly sacks of pot and pain meds from his 19 year old dealer. The shirt he gave me had the inevitable pinhole burns in it and huge deeply yellowed pit stains. I stole change off of his dresser to buy this glittery green puff paint to get the poems on the shirt. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. But I knew I would be humiliated, and I was. But this time, it was mostly in my head.

It was time. The teacher called my name. My stomach flipped and then flopped, and I felt dizzy and off-balance as I left my back-corner desk and walked to the front of the classroom. Voice shaking, I began:

Nobody

You think that you are better than me
From your clothes, to your style and your hair
You think that you are better than me
But I have ceased to care

You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I am not here for your pity
You smile and pretend that you are my friend
But I will have nothing to do with your sympathy

In your eyes, I am nobody because I don’t measure up to your standards
But I am not the one who tries to be something I am not
So before you judge me again, take a look at yourself
And face the reality that you are no better than me

And as time marches on
And your shine is all gone
For all of your glitter, you have nothing to show
Now you are nobody, and I am somebody

And you will never be better than me

To their credit, after the snickering subsided, the room got dead quiet. Not even the usual whispers and note-passing that happens during things like this. And the looks on their faces were a mixture of confusion, disgust, surprise, shame. This quiet, wallflower, grungy, nerdy weakling was speaking words of condemnation. To them. This was directed at them, and they knew it.

And then I read the poem I had selected from the textbook, and their shame and confusion turned to shock and fear. I could see it in their eyes, because I had finally worked up the nerve to make eye contact. And so I began:

Richard Cory
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

I somehow got through to some of them. But not in a way that made them nicer to me, more in a way to make them lean away, look away and leave me completely and utterly alone. Which was a relief and respite from the bullying, at least in that class. I think they were afraid of me. Nervous. Fine. Yes. Great. This I can use. And so my death to you glares increased. I rarely spoke, but I could shoot daggers. And I did. And I relished them shifting in their seats and looking away. I felt guilty for a lot of this later, in some ways still do. But at the time, I finally felt relief and used my anger as my new wall of protection, my new life raft.

I read the paper. I re-folded it and sat there in this reverent silence. Then I opened it and read it again, finally re-folding it and tucking it away among the things I’ve decided to keep. At least for now. As a reminder of what I was, and what I’m working so hard to leave behind. The anger, the fear, the skittishness, the guilt, the distrust, the anxiety, the self-loathing, etc.

Here’s to my year of change. It will happen slowly and then all at once. And I can’t fucking wait.