—This article contains minor spoilers and possibly triggering content. Please read it at your own risk. —
The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why came to an end on June 5th, with the drop of its fourth and final season. This show has caused great controversy since its sensational debut of season one, which mainly addressed sexual assault, bullying, depression, and, most concerningly, depictions of suicide with raw, graphic scenes. Over the subsequent seasons, this show has departed from these initial topics and expanded its themes to other issues such as PTSD, substance addiction, LGBTQ+, gun violence, racism, immigration, and corrupted justice systems. Through the show’s four seasons, the audience witnessed almost every social issues you could think of.
This show has served as a catalyst for many conversations.
Obviously, people have different opinions on a show like this. This show has been highly divisive since the release of its first season. Having done personal research on opinions from both sides of the debate, I still applaud the production of all four seasons for raising awareness around the above-mentioned issues. Indeed, this show has served as a catalyst for many conversations regardless of whether they were positive or negative.
One of the most common criticisms is that the content of the show should place viewers at risk for suicide contagion. In fact, multiple studies have confirmed this phenomenon. Still, I don’t think this show should be taken down or taken back. To justify this, let me quote Brian Yorkey, an executive producer of the show, from the spin-off documentary 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons. When asked about portraying sensitive issues in mainstream media, he hit the nail on the head:
“Not portraying [an issue] doesn’t make it go away. And not telling the story doesn’t mean it’s not happening in society. It just means we’re not talking about it.”
As such, this show has great potential for educating viewers. However, I strongly emphasize that this show is not for everybody. I would not recommend adolescents watch it, as the show may be too dark and heavy for them to handle. I would not recommend it to people who are currently suffering from the previously enumerated issues either. It could greatly affect such viewers and even disrupt their healing process. Overall, I believe this show is specifically for those that are mature and mentally stable for the content depicted, and those who are willing to educate themselves on sensitive issues to cultivate their empathy.
You say they make terrible choices? Well… so don’t you?
To be honest, this show (especially season four) was mind-boggling. Usually, I am not the type of person who screams at the computer screen to comment on the show as I watch it, but I could not help doing so with this show. I was screaming at every character as they proceeded to make terrible choices. Everyone acts on emotion and ego in this show, which I found extremely annoying.
Some people even criticize this show for this. But you know what… it’s easy just to be a cool-headed viewer because you’re not the one who’s making the choices in the show. In reality, where you are the one who’s actually making choices, you can sometimes let your emotions and ego get the best of you and make irrational choices, right? You mess up and you regret, over and over again, and that’s life.
So, maybe this show would make you reflect on your own life instead of rambling about characters on a screen. Maybe you might check your own attitude before you criticize theirs. On this account, let these word from the Bible speak to your heart: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4 ESV)
Some people also criticize this show for not being realistic. For instance, some mental illnesses are left thoroughly untreated when the symptoms are as obvious as a billboard. Kids get away with so many crimes, like violence and vandalism, when in reality, there is no way they could get off the hook without consequences. Yes, everyone is protected by “plot armor” in this show. Still, you should not look at this show as a fantasy. Despite it’s occasional lack of reality, the issues introduced in this show are surely real and ongoing.
We should (be able to) talk about our issues without shame.
Just like the people in this show, we also make bad choices and mess up in life. We all are flawed in certain ways and thus there is room for betterment in all of us.
One thing I like about season four is that it shows people can change if they are willing, even including “evil people” like a serial rapist Bryce. While I don’t condone wrongful actions like murders and rapes, I also want to acknowledge that everyone is capable of changing themselves and deserves to live a better life regardless of what they have done in the past.
So… I guess what we really need now is a forgiving society where we can talk about our issues without shame and to find solutions together as a community to continuously grow and better ourselves. Sharing our issues with others and being vulnerable requires a great deal of courage, but it will also allow us to take part in life together and grow love among us. This sentiment led me to this quote of Brené Brown:
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. … Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are)
What we can learn from 13 Reasons Why is that everyone struggles and needs support. In order to seek this support, we need to dare to be vulnerable and discuss our issues with others. Doing otherwise could lead to a sequence of great tragedies like those faced by the characters in the show. The path to solutions and growth may not be straight or easy, but it is worth it.
This show has long been a catalyst for conversation and I hope it will also serve as a reminder of the importance of being vulnerability.