**Warning: Plot Spoilers Included**
I want to make it clear that I realize what this show is: a young adult novel turned into an underfunded (I base this on the ridiculous “special effects” makeup), over-sensationalize teenage drama that has been pushed out on the content generating buzzsaw that is Netflix. And while that doesn’t excuse its poor plot structure, wasted minutes of teenagers staring at each other, and overall terrible portrayal of bullying, teen angst, and sexual assault, it does at least place a rose colored, 16 year-old mindset filter on the presentation of the show. But, where Big Little Lies got mostly everything right about its depiction of both the after effects and consequences of sexual assault and the devastation of an abusive relationship, 13 Reasons Why exploits the epidemic of teen suicide and the horrific treatment of women who suffer through assault. It turns what is a serious and ongoing problem on high school and college campuses into a caricature.
It’s pretty clear that the creators of this story wanted to make some statement PSA for teens, so here’s some thoughts for the men (the women all seem to get it and didn’t make horrific, cringe inducing statements, so they’re excused) who created 13 Reasons Why, and then discussed it on the post-show commentary:
Thank you so very much for mansplaining sexual assault and how it affects women. Thank you for excusing the actions of a character who is literally a school psychologist by saying they are not equipped with the skill set to deal with it (spoiler alert: that’s number 1 on the required skill set for that job). Thank you for stating that Hannah’s not perfect and she sets her counselor up to fail to save her by not telling him the details of her assault when he defines sexual assault probably 7 different ways and then uses those to excuse away what has happened to her while simultaneously slut shaming and blaming her. And lastly, thank you for whatever that part was where you blamed her for her assault.
Congrats on giving yourself pats on the back for realistically and authentically depicting cyber bullying and slut shaming, when in reality you sugarcoated that, and then graphically portrayed sexual assault and suicide later on. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it, because this technique is a failure. The situations are weak, unbelievable, and portray Hannah as a girl who perceives even the minor embarrassment as an affront to her entire being; which she then holds onto to build some sort of revenge podcast to haunt her assailants. The phrase “Hannah’s truth” is used over and over again, and I’m still not sure if I’m suppose to believe that Hannah’s version is completely correct, or as with most situations, there are two sides to each story, and the truth lies somewhere in between (violent crimes excluded). Most of these situations would be classified as “not cool”, and I get that you were doing that thing where “teenagers think everything is world shattering” but none of these come close to the realistic unending torture that happens to kids everyday. Her world is neither shattered, nor ended by them externally, and most of what bothers Hannah, is internally fueled by misconceptions of the way the players in her world are reacting to her behavior. Truthfully, you missed an opportunity to make this more about mental healthcare in general – which Hannah desperately needed from the start of the series.
Most of the women who were involved in the making of this production seemed to have a better understanding of the topics that were being discussed, and sure Selena Gomez took this on as her passion project, but listening to the author of this book and producer of this show was almost more eye-roll worthy than the tattoos on the 16 year-old characters (I’m still waiting for the explanation on that one) that they created.
Suicide is no joke. Sexual assault is not a joke. Depression (hardly even mentioned in the 13 hours of this show) is not a joke. If you’re a teen or a young adult or a parent of a kid or a teen and you want to learn about these topics, I suggest starting with Aubrie and Daisy (also on Netflix) first, before putting this one on.
Also if you or someone you know is struggling and need help, it definitely will get better. Put on some Wilson Phillips, hold on for one more day, talk to someone, and check out some of the resources below: