Warning: A bit of a rant ahead, regarding something that I’m incredibly passionate about.
A show, based on a somewhat popular book, has come out recently that’s generated quite a bit of buzz for being “shocking” and “daring,” among other things. I’m heartbroken to say I’ve even seen from a variety of sources, including friends in my own Facebook newsfeed, that their biggest takeaway from a show depicting abuse and revenge suicide was a “lack of enjoyable characters.”
The reviews that were far more analytical and struck far closer to home were from those with a bit more actual stake in the lives and emotional/psychological wellbeing of the audience, rather than simply an appetite for entertainment. One daring article summing it up extremely well stated, “It teeters dangerously on the edge of emotional torture porn, a territory already frequented at an alarming rate by the very teenagers that the show is desperate to help” (New Statesmen). The scary point is, the show itself acts as a dark and depressing, yet subtly tempting advertisement for the very sort of mental disorders and acts of self-harm it claims to be protesting. One 19 year old, after watching the series, stated ,”Had I been watching that as the vulnerable, fragile kid that I was when I was 13 or 14, I might have watched that and thought, ‘Oh, that’s the easy way out. This is going to get me the attention that I need. This is what I have to do.‘”
As someone with a bit of experience in working both with kids and with those with moderate to severe mental struggles…
As someone who cares deeply about this next generation, advocates for kids being able to address tough situations like depression and bullying, and is therefore strongly opposed to the idea of a culture being entertained by broadcast media presenting someone reasoning, unchallenged, that the rational response to bullying and injustice is revenge suicide… That is now how you “make a hard topic discussable.” This is how “making a hard topic discussable” is done:
A few obvious things that still, apparently, need to be said:
1. Bullying is real. It could be called a natural part of life, particularly of the social life of school-age kids, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a major issue.
2. Anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts are seriously worrying and dangerous situations that require a response.
3. Kids desperately need to be able to talk about these type of struggles safely with close friends and family, without worrying about judgment, condescension, or a desire to provide an “easy fix,” for which anyone who has struggled with those issues knows does not exist.
4. The answer to this issue is NOT, I repeat, NOT to glamorize, in one of the most popular entertainment mediums of our culture, suicide as a legitimate and rational response to the bullying or general lack of kindness that is prevalent in a fallen world.
Rather than seeing “13 Reasons Why” as an interesting, hopefully entertaining show about the drama of life in school, please think about it from the perspective of the main audience demographic of the show: kids in school likely dealing with the very same struggles the show goes to such great lengths to portray.
Not only does the show intimate that the most effective response, perhaps the only response, is to get even with those who’ve hurt you by killing yourself and thereby guilt-tripping them for life for being unkind and therefore being the cause of the end of another young person’s life.. but beyond that: by portraying a suicide (and the mental thoughts and process leading up to it) so graphically and in detail, 13 Reasons Why makes suicide easy.
Please. Don’t be entertained by one of the most prevalent causes of death for school-age children.
DO something! BE the friend, the sibling, parent, teacher, counselor that someone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts feels safe talking to, venting to, and seeking answers from. Rather than leaving them in the dark and simply echoing back the gloom and sadness, be the one to REMIND them of the light, of the beauty of life, of all the things we have to be grateful for. And if they have less of those things in their lives than their fellows, BE that light, that beauty in their life that reminds them that there’s more to life than the temporary yet tunnel-vision struggles of life.
And even further, whether you’re a fellow student or a suburban white collar soccer dad, when you inevitably run into the bleak, cynical, unthinking, unfeeling harshness that courses through this world: confront it. Take a stand, say it’s not okay, that there’s a line between joking and bullying that should never be crossed. That verbal, physical, and sexual assault are never okay, are never justifiable, are never “understandable.”
Be like the kids at Oxford High School. Be the light in a dark world. Be honest with your struggles, and with what keeps you going – it’s uncomfortable and vulnerable, but maybe another student, another friend, another coworker around you desperately needed to hear someone say “I’m broken but that’s okay. I’m broken but there’s hope. I’m broken but I’m mending.“