I've had the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher on my Kindle for a few years, but had never been tempted to read it until the recent buzz about the new Netflix adaptation. I read the book and watched the series over the past week, so I wanted to share my thoughts on it here. The book is very different to the series, but for the purposes of this I'll stick to the events in the series.
|Copyright - Netflix|
1. Assholes v Bitches
In the series, Hannah says "boys are assholes, girls are evil". This is a terrible message to give out - in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists, she says "If we see something often enough, it becomes the norm. If we do something often enough, it becomes the norm." By making the athletes macho assholes and the cheerleaders bitches, isn't this just perpetuating stereotypes? If the cheerleaders are expected to be bitches, and athletes are expected to be assholes, how does this help change anything? Where are all the "in-between" kids? There are a huge group of people who are struggling through school who aren't on a team or don't know the popular kids. Where were they in this series?
2. Self Harm
A character, Skye, says that she self-harms because "it's what you do instead of suicide, suicide is for the weak". Skye is the only "alternative" girl in the show, with a unique style (tattoos, piercings, wears a lot of black). She's also the only non-cheerleader apart from Hannah. By calling suicide "weak", she sends the message that self-harm is a valid escape without the finality of suicide. This is so dangerous and isn't addressed more than once.
3. What About Jessica?
I'm really conscious of not crossing over into victim-blaming territory here, but Hannah sat in a room and watched Bryce rape Jessica while she was almost unconscious. Justin also knew what was happening. They both then continued to hang out in a group that included both Jessica and Bryce, all the while knowing what had happened. WHO DOES THIS. Who watches their friend being sexually assaulted and does nothing? Who still hangs round with their best friend when they know he is a rapist - not just a rapist, but your girlfriend's rapist?
4. The Blame Game
Hannah takes her life because she feels there's no other option. She feels like she isn't good enough for Clay, that she is a disappointment to her parents, that she is a laughing stock with a bad reputation and that things will never get better. She lays all of that on Mr. Porter - saying "I decided to give it one final shot". The discussion doesn't go the way she wants, and she carries out her plan. She said she began to feel like she could do this, she could get through it - what could Mr. Porter have said to change her mind about the suicide, then? What could he have done? Or, was this a red herring, and would his response have made things better until the next time Hannah felt she had upset someone or something else had happened to her? Was she a ticking time bomb all along? Was she always going to take her life, regardless of what was happening around her?
5. What the hell IS Tony
At the start, I thought he might be some kind of guardian angel from the 1950s. He constantly pushes Clay to keep listening to the tapes, knowing that Clay didn't do anything bad - but instead of letting him know that it was okay to keep listening, he says "yes" when Clay asks if Tony thinks Clay killed Hannah - what?! "Listen to the tapes, Clay" - Fuck OFF, TONY. Also - okay. The first tapes are full of stuff that could send people to jail. Rape, assault, stalking, dangerous driving - why would Tony continue to do what Hannah wanted instead of handing the tapes straight over to Hannah's parents (or the police) - Hannah was already dead, he was in control of both sets of tapes, if he felt that guilty why engage in ridiculous chain letter behaviour, why leave her parents in limbo, why risk someone not passing the tapes on - who the hell is he to play God?
6. While we're on the subject of Clay's tape...
Hannah left him until number 11? She knew he loved her. She knew he was a good person. She knew he would blame himself. So she makes him sit through 10 tapes, listening to all the bad stuff that ever happened to her, before she lets him off the hook? Really cruel. Really fucking cruel. Tony got a letter - but Clay didn't? I understand why Clay was on there, and why she wanted him to hear what happened to her, but I think it was cruel to leave him waiting so long.
7. Hannah's Parents
In the book, they're pretty non existent, so I was glad to see Hannah's parents in the series and watch them deal with the aftermath (as awful as that sounds). I was also glad to see them in Hannah's life - they were busy, and they did get annoyed with her (any parent would be annoyed if their kid lost hundreds of dollars) - but they didn't get a tape. They didn't get a letter. Hannah didn't confide in them. She left tapes to her rapist, her stalker, her tormentors - but nothing to her parents. This terrified me as a parent - the notion that you can do all you can for your child and they still won't tell you when something's wrong.
8. Peeping Tom
You know what you do if you catch someone taking photographs of you? A) Close the curtains, B) Report the fucker. Call the police. In the book, Courtney and Hannah deliberately pose seductively knowing that Tyler's outside taking photographs. It's Courtney who turns on Hannah, joking about the contents of her bedroom drawer with others at a party. In the series, Courtney is gay and comes on to Hannah - then they catch Tyler taking photographs. Tyler then turns on Hannah after she rejects him and releases a "blurry photograph that nobody could identify" (only if you have eyes) - Tyler is walking round with a camera, photographing whomever and whatever he wants, AND NOBODY REPORTS HIM???!!!! Clay later stalks him right back and spreads round a naked picture of him - a really dick move that makes Clay seem petty.
9. The School
When I was in Secondary School (maybe 14/15), one of my friends started saying that I fancied the caretaker (old enough to be my Dad). I actually became so paranoid about it that I didn't want to go to school, and I certainly didn't want to go past him - "there's your boyfriend, Sharon" - I was MORTIFIED. Like Alex's "list", that kind of crap went on all the time and I suspect will go on until the end of time. This show doesn't teach people how to deal with that. This is stuff that goes on in every school in the country - it's happening to kids today. Teenagers will come home tonight and cry because of something stupid that was said, or something that was laughed at. This show tells us that there are two ways to deal with that - 1) suicide, or 2) self harm.
10. Abandon all hope ye who enter here
There's no hopeful message in this. None. I'm not one for branding things "triggering" but I can't imagine watching this if I was still in Secondary School. There's no message of hope, no message that it's going to get better. Should there always be a message of hope? Maybe not, maybe that's not reality, but those few last years of Secondary School can be really, really shit and IT DOES GET BETTER. I swear to god it does. Yes, you'll always come up against toxic people, and toxic environments, but you'll learn skills to deal with them. You'll grow in confidence. The noise won't matter so much. It gets better. Do you hear me?
IT GETS BETTER.
11. Where are all the phones?
There were three pictures circulated. That's it. No online bullying, no Facebook page, no group chats, no forums - one of the major differences between when I was a teenager and now, is the internet. I find it really weird that in 2017, the only mention of technology or phones was to circulate the three pictures.
12. Was the suicide scene necessary?
I watched through my fingers. Hannah's voice, her pain, the sight of it - I couldn't watch it, I felt it was too far. We don't need to see that. It has been argued that we do need to see it - we need to see what suicide looks like, and what rape looks like - but I disagree. I think it was graphic for the sake of being graphic. They showed her getting a specific type of blade and dragging it across her wrists, while shouting in pain - it's one of the most horrifying things I've ever watched. I felt that the scene where Hannah's parents found her was far more effective at showing the horror and shock of suicide.
13. Rapists are untouchable... if they're athletes
After she witnesses him raping Jessica, Hannah then goes to a party at Bryce's house, where he rapes her. We watch him get away with Jessica's rape so he's free to do it to Hannah as well (and lord knows how many others, given his "every girl at that school wants to be fucked" speech) In Louise O'Neills Asking for it, we also see a young woman raped by an athlete. In reality, we saw a Stanford rapist get a measly sentence after he raped a girl, and we saw him described in the majority of reports as "Stanford swimmer". The notion that athletes are untouchable needs to change - had the tapes not been passed to Clay, it's possible that nothing would have been done about Bryce. Had Clay followed Hannah's preferred order, Bryce would have received the tapes next - did Hannah really believe that having heard everything, Bryce would have handed them over to Mr. Porter? Yeah right?! Bryce raped Jessica, there were witnesses, nobody did anything. Justin convinced Jessica that Hannah was lying and that Jessica wasn't raped. HIS OWN GIRLFRIEND. Hannah told Mr. Porter about her rape, he said "name him or get over it" (paraphrasing here, but that was the gist of it). That's an appalling message to send out to young teenagers. So many young women already don't come forward - but when you see, on a screen, nobody doing anything to help? That was a huge missed opportunity to let young women know that this doesn't have to be the norm anymore.
The main issue I have with this is that Hannah was a bright, articulate, friendly, beautiful woman who felt so alone and lost that she felt suicide was her only option. Is that not enough, without the elaborate set up? So often we don't get closure or answers when someone dies. We don't get tapes. We don't get reasons. We are told to be careful what we say or do to others, because we don't know how it will affect them. We're told to be kind - there were people here who were kind and it made no difference. Clay was kind. Tony was kind. I came away from watching this absolutely terrified about parenting through teenage years - I appreciate that is has opened up discussion, but unfortunately the biggest thing it has done is create a new meme - "welcome to your tape". In saying all of this - the series is a hundred times better than the book (which was a hot mess).
We really didn't see enough of Hannah's headspace - mental health is a huge factor in suicide, and we didn't get enough of an insight into how Hannah really felt. The emotional wellbeing of our teenagers is at risk here - every day we see more and more young people dealing with their emotions, trying to cope with the pressure of being a teenager in a digital age where everything's scrutinized and judged, trying to work out their place in the world, trying to fit in, trying to overcome anxiety, depression - trying to get through the day.
In my humble opinion, we got 13 reasons, but we still don't know why.
So how do we help?
If you're a young person and you're experiencing bullying, sexual abuse, or suicidal thoughts, you can contact:
Youth Suicide Prevention Ireland (for people aged 12-22): http://yspi.ie/. Even if you have no credit, you can text HELP to 50015.
Childline (for young people up to age 18): http://www.childline.ie/. You can call 1800 666666 or contact teentext by texting CHAT, or if you're experiencing bullying, BULLY to 50101.
Spunout.ie have a helpful article here (http://spunout.ie/health/article/sexual-abuse/) about how to identify sexual assault and what to do if you've been assaulted. You can also contact the National 24 Helpline for anyone who has experienced rape, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse at 1800 778888.
You're also free to contact me if you want to. I'm not a counsellor or therapist but if you're reading this and you don't have anyone to talk to, you can talk to me.