Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Inevitable Backlash of 13 Reasons Why


I've mentioned before how much I love 13 Reasons Why, both book and show. It definitely isn't an easy watch by any stretch but it's an important one. It has sparked so many conversations that we as a society desperately need to be having.

Unfortunately, some people still aren't ready to have any of those discussions. Some people are afraid of the subjects raised by the show, and as people will do when they are scared, they attack, and pick fault. Is 13 Reasons Why a perfect show? Of course not, there's no such thing. The fact is that this is the very first TV show that has done what this one has. Other shows have touched on the topics of suicide and rape but none have gone as far as this one. Often we only get an episode or two of a character feeling extremely sad, they may contemplate suicide, then something happens and they have that 'Oh my God, what did I almost do?' moment, and then everything's OK again. I've always found it frustrating how few shows are willing to go the whole way and show the aftermath. Degrassi is an example of a show doing a pretty good job of that, quite a few years ago, but it isn't well known here.

I've seen quite a bit of criticism about 13 Reasons Why, and that's fair enough, I've seen plenty of praise too. Then today, I read an article that just frustrated the hell out of me. So I want to address it directly. The article is here, definitely worth a read if you want to share in my frustration (and make sense of the rest of this post).

In short, the article was written by a psychotherapist, Brooke Fox, on the website of Fox, Levine and Associates. After reading the article, it sort of terrifies me that she is a therapist within an association that deals with not only adults but adolescents and children, because she has a pretty patronising opinion of teens, but we'll get to that. The article presents the main points as a list, so I'll respond the same way:
  • Nobody is responsible for our mental health: Of course not, I won't argue with that on its own, and I know a lot of people had a problem with this aspect of the show. But this idea that Fox has that all Hannah needed to do was 'dig deep' and 'find her power' shows a lack of empathy and understanding. Hannah believed that she had tried everything. That might not necessarily be correct, but when a person is severely depressed, worn down by their environment/situation, they don't see things as they are. This is something a lot of people seem to be ignorant of when they criticise the show, Hannah was not in her right mind. She believed she'd done everything she could and that she was worthless, that things wouldn't get better. And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't encourage people to find the power within themselves to defeat these things, although that certainly wouldn't work for everyone, but the fact is, Hannah didn't have anyone around her helping her to do that. So as much as Fox believes that's important, none of the other characters did. I've also heard it said a few times that they failed in not outright telling the viewers that she was ill. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea, to help people to know the right kinds of terminology, but otherwise, I thought it was because it was so obvious?
  • It's a suicide revenge fantasy: Maybe this is a matter of perspective? I mean, that isn't what it is at all. It's about many things, this is not one of them. Also, suggesting that a teenager is incapable of processing the concept of death? That's what really made my blood boil as I read the article. I sincerely hope this woman doesn't actually work with teens, because I can only imagine how she talks to them. Not all teens are out of this world smart, but neither are plenty of adults. Most teens can perfectly process the idea as much as any adult. It is highly unlikely that teens are going to watch this show, and then kill themselves in an effort to exact revenge upon people who have hurt them, believing they will then be loved and worshiped. If that's something a parent is worried about, that's when it's a good time to make sure you have good communication with your kid. If your kid tells you they are uncomfortable having a conversation about this with you (*cough*) seriously consider why they are uncomfortable talking to you. It's important. 
  • Girls are depicted as dis-empowered: Yes, they are, that's one of the best things about the show is it really shows how some boys believe they can treat girls and get away with it. I also loved how it broke down the way that a group of people will stick together over something they all know is wrong, given the right set of circumstances. This isn't a bad thing, it's showing something terrible that goes on in real life, to start a discussion and also educate people. 
  • The suicide scene is cause for outrage: Now, as I've said before, I couldn't watch this scene. However, I've heard/read quite a bit about it and by all accounts it's brutal, harrowing. No-one can realistically complain about it being 'instructional' because we all know how if we wanted to. If you see the pain she's in, you see how horrible and gory the act is, that does not make it appealing, it shows the truth. It isn't a case of nicely falling asleep, it's bloody and painful. 
  • Its glamorises suicide: As I said in my previous point, that isn't at all the case. As for this list of rules, I haven't read them before but my God, they are terrible. It basically amounts to - don't talk about it, ignore it, let's all pretend it isn't a real thing that can happen so people don't get any ideas. 
There are many reasons that people become suicidal, and because they saw it on TV is not one of them. It isn't a bad idea for a parent to watch it with their kid, but it should be as a way to facilitate conversations that should happen anyway. If your kid doesn't want to talk to you, you are probably the reason. And if they, or anyone you know, says something like 'I feel that way'/'I want to do what Hannah did'/'I relate to that' for God's sake, do not tell them that that's not an option. Talk to them about it, ignoring it will not make it go away, and see how you can best help them to get help. It is one of the worst things to hear, and really hard to deal with, but if someone chooses to share it with you, they are asking for help. That is one of the lessons to take away from the show, figure out how to help people, and remember everyone has something going on most of the time. As Ellen says 'Be kind to one another'. 

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