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Does "13 Reasons Why" Glamorize Suicide?

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on April 30, 2019 17:30

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A recent study shows that teenage suicides increased after the show premiered.

A recent study revealed that teen suicide rates increased a month after the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why premiered. Psychologists and educators worry that the show has glamorized suicide for impressionable teenagers.

The show revolves around a high-schooler named Hannah Baker who took her own life. She had been viciously bullied, raped, and slandered. She complained about the sexual assault to her high school counselor. When he told her to forget about it, she chose to commit suicide. Prior to her death, she recorded and left tapes behind explaining her ordeal. Each tape was dedicated to a person who had contributed to ruining Hannah’s life. The recordings ultimately ended up in adult hands by the end of the season.

In season 2, Hannah’s trial moved to court. The Bakers sued the school for negligence and apathy towards bullying. Hannah’s rapist was on trial for sexually abusing another girl. Unfortunately, efforts to attain justice were unsuccessful. The school was cleared of all charges while the rapist, who was a minor, got three months of community service.

In my opinion, 13 Reasons Why realistically depicted issues many teenagers face, such as homophobia, bullying, sexual assault (towards girls and boys), gossip, and social isolation. The show has been criticized at times for being too graphic. While some scenes are unpleasant to watch, raising awareness around these matters is important. 

The question of whether the show romanticizes suicide is a difficult one. Hannah’s suicide was portrayed as a tragic event. Her family was devastated, and students at school were likewise shocked.

At the same time, the show could be interpreted as saying that people will not care about your suffering until you die. After her death, the tapes Hannah recorded were distributed to those who drove her to suicide. The tapes terrified the recipients. If the recordings became public, their reputations would be damaged, and some may have even gone to jail.

The tapes also served as evidence in both trials. Although the school and the rapist were not punished to the degree they should have been, Hannah’s case forced the community to confront the underlying issues. For example, the counselor who had dismissed Hannah’s complaints recognized his wrongdoings. To sum it up, the tapes had accomplished what Hannah couldn't while she was alive.

When I was watching the show, I viewed the tapes as purely a cinematic element. They added additional drama and suspense, making the episodes more entertaining. But others may have viewed the tapes, along with the suicide, as agents of justice.

In future seasons, 13 Reasons Why needs to emphasize that although the tapes exposed Hannah’s tormentors, no amount of retribution could compensate for her lost life. This message must be firmly established to prevent misconceptions.

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on April 30, 2019 17:30

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Source: NYT

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in a scene from the series "13 Reasons Why," about a teenager who commits suicide.

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