Viewpoints: Does the TV series “13 Reasons Why” romanticize bullying and teen suicide?

Paves way for necessary dialogue

By Kaylin Tran

World Editor

Since “13 Reasons Why” debuted on Netflix on March 31, many people have voiced their outrage at the show’s graphic scenes of rape and suicide. Some parents and educators have called for its removal from the streaming service. Although the show’s content focuses on highly sensitive teen issues, “13 Reasons Why” brings necessary attention to teen bullying and suicide, opening a path for discussion between teens, parents, administrators, and other adults.

The series tells the story of Hannah Baker, who records the 13 reasons that led to her suicide through tapes dedicated to the people who influenced her decision. Through Baker’s narrative, the show addresses a number of heavy topics, including stalking, bullying, sexual harassment, and rape. All of these issues are faced by teens today, but they may not feel comfortable confiding in anyone about their situations.

The National Bullying Prevention Center reported last year that only 20.8 percent of students that are bullied actually report their experiences. Similarly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated that only 20 percent of the estimated four million teens with mental disorders are identified and treated. Clearly, these serious issues are not being talked about or effectively addressed.

The lack of attention discussion about teen problems is dangerous, and “13 Reasons Why” has opened the path to a solution for this crisis. Although critics of the series focus on the show’s graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide, they overlook the fact that the series sheds light on the factors that can lead to suicide and opens a path for conversation among viewers.

Eric Beeson, professional counselor and faculty member of Northwestern University’s Family Institute, stated to Chicago Tonight, “If nothing else, regardless of the pros and cons of the show, it certainly got people talking more.”

Although Hannah’s death is too graphic for some viewers, it shows the reality of countless people who relate to her struggles.

According to John M. Grohol, founder and CEO of Psych Central, “The series depicts a realistic, honest representation of some of these challenges, these issues, these questions. It is a painful reminder of how much more we need to do in order to reach people.”

Rather than allowing someone with suicidal tendencies to become yet another statistic, it is important to address the severity of such topics, and the show’s producers chose not to sugarcoat Hannah’s suicide scene for this exact reason.

In an interview on “Ellen,” actor Dylan Minnette stated, “The main goal is to start conversations and to bring these issues to light.” Minnette plays Clay Langston, the character through whom the audience hears all of Hannah’s tapes.

Tommy Dorfman, who plays Ryan Shaver in the series, added, “The whole point of creative expression is to hold up a mirror to the world.”

Despite its graphic content and inevitable controversy, “13 Reasons Why” has challenged society’s ignorance about the important teen issues of bullying, rape, and suicide. Instead of rejecting the show’s attempt to raise awareness for these problems, and attempting to close a can of worms that society has long kept hidden, conversations that everyone needs to hear and be engaged in can now take place.

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