“13 Reasons Why”: An Exploitative Circle Jerk


Netflix’s new darling has taken the internet by storm. With many praising the show for what they see as a beautifully heartbreaking and an all around important portrayal of mental health, others feel the show is dangerous to the very people it claims to help.

If you didn’t gather this by the title, 13 Reasons Why can eat my entire ass.

Don’t get me wrong. 13 Reasons Why is, technically, a good show. It’s well acted, well written, well directed, well shot, etc. For the majority of the population, those who are not currently dealing with suicidal thoughts, the show promotes awareness and empathy and all that good stuff. But for the rest of us, 13 Reasons Why is dangerous. It’s exploitative in it’s romanticization, and, in the end, comes off as nothing more than a convention of self congratulatory circle jerking.

The show, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Jay Asher, follows a community dealing with the suicide of teen girl Hannah Baker. In it, Hannah leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes explicitly detailing what, and who, drove her to suicide.

For 13 Reasons Why, it’s problems begin in it’s very premise. Mental health experts advise against publicizing suicide notes, as any publicity for such a note only acts to affirm the fantasies of someone dealing with suicidal thoughts. In fact, many suicide prevention experts have spoken about the show, explaining in detail how dangerous it is for mentally ill people. Suicide prevention experts even consulted on the show, and every single warning they gave to the production team was ignored. This is not a case of ignorance, rather, one of willful endangerment.

When I first encountered the book after it climbed the bestseller list back in 2011 I was dealing with suicidal thoughts. To me, the reactions of her family and her peers were not remotely heartbreaking. They did not paint the picture of a cautionary tale. I did not feel bad for them. Instead, having been wronged myself, I saw their pain as justice. They deserved to feel that way because they didn’t do anything to help her, and in some cases actively hurt her. Hannah herself was not a tragedy in my mind. She was a hero. She was someone who lost in life who found a way to win in death. The book only affirmed what I thought I had to do.

Suicide is a harsh realty, and we should be finding healthy ways to talk about it in mainstream media. However, the specific way it is portrayed in 13 Reasons Why is the exact fantasy many suicidal people have. It may not be romantic to you, but it is incredibly romantic to the mentally ill. This, and the failure to heed the experts’ advice, is what makes the show so exploitative.

What’s worse is experts and people who have dealt with suicide are making these critiques and bringing up these points and they are being ignored. The fact that so many people who love the show are failing to empathize with these critiques just goes to show that 13 Reasons Why isn’t actually raising the awareness it thinks it is. While everyone is collectively patting themselves on the back for supposedly giving voice to tough issues, the real people who deal with those issues are quietly pushed to the edges of the conversation.

Hence, the self congratulatory circle jerk.

Several suicide prevention groups have come together to create 13 Talking Points for parents to discuss the show with their teens. The talking points highlight that 13 Reasons Why is far from reality and is a gratuitously romanticized version of how suicide is actually handled. Several mental-health focused social media groups have also taken to the streets to warn their followers away from watching 13 Reasons Why. And yet, the production team continues to insist they’ve done the right thing.

13 Reasons Why is irresponsible. It willfully endangers and misleads at risk viewers because, for some reason, the producers of the show were sure they knew more than suicide prevention experts.

If you or someone you know is dealing with self harm or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255

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