Why is it that most shows or movies based on high school don’t get high school quite right? “13 Reasons Why” has been a trending topic for most teens these past few weeks, and I think it’s time we give an honest breakdown of the show.
If you are unfamiliar with the new 13-episode new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” is setup to be a “bullying” saga based on Hannah Baker, who has killed herself. She leaves behind audio cassette tapes to the people she claims responsible for her death. Each episode a new tape, listened to by the main character, Clay Jensen. Each episode reveals a character’s actions that’s caused Hannah to ultimately take her own life.
Reason #1: The Actors
Let’s take a look at some of these so-called high school sophomores. What 15-year olds do you know with 5 o’clock shadows? The main characters of the show look like 21-year old college students. Off the bat, the show does not present the average high school sophomore appearance. Judge for yourself.
Reason #2: Hannah Baker
To many watching the show, Hannah’s reasons for killing herself may seem like trivial events that any other girl in high school may have experienced. In terms of bullying today, Hannah Baker wasn’t bullied, but merely taunted. Some of the trivial reasons that added to her reason for killing herself include making the “best ass” list, Zach stealing her compliments out of the homeroom compliment bin, and having to switch friend groups.
Reason #3: Privilege
Hannah had a great home life. Hannah is a white and attractive young girl who lives a privileged middle-class life. She lives in a nice house, in a safe neighborhood, has two parents at home and the family owns more than one vehicle. (Hannah received a new car just for the winter formal dance.) Many high schoolers bullied today not only face trials at school but have a difficult home life as well. Hannah had two parents she could have confided in for help. The life Hannah was born into has advantages well above the average American teenager. In my opinion, Hannah failed to put her problems in perspective.
Hannah’s problems are exposed for how trivial they are once the show reveals Justin’s home life. From the outside, Justin is the perfect hot jock with the perfect hot girlfriend. Once the show continues to go more in depth showcasing Justin’s home life, we are able to see he lives in poverty and has a single mother who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. His mother not only struggles with addiction, she also neglects Justin for her different boyfriends, some of whom may have abused Justin as a child. “13 Reasons Why” may have unintentionally drawn this contrast, but for me this exemplified the drastic difference in problems they faced.
Reason #4: The Cassette Tapes
The cassette tapes Hannah left behind are a creative new idea for a suicide note, but the tapes are blaming others for Hannah’s own decision. It’s not her place to guilt trip others for her own choice, and many of the people she blames are hardly responsible for her suicide.
Reason #5: The Reasons Why Hannah Killed Herself
Although many of Hannah’s reasoning is childish, she did undergo some mean high school drama. Courtney making up sexual rumors up about Hannah to get the spotlight off of herself was cruel, but this does not mean she was bullied. With the progression of the show, the episodes switch from day-to-day high school drama, to characters engaging in illegal —with a capital “I” — activities. For example, Sherri runs a stop sign, which ultimately causes Jeff to lose his life in a car crash. Another very illegal event depicted is the act of violence Bryce commits against Hannah.
The final episodes cover the events that occur from Jessica’s to Bryce’s parties. This a pivotal point in the show. In the episodes covering Jessica’s party, Hannah witnesses her former best friend being raped and is partially responsible for a murder. This no doubt, would be a lot for a 15- or 16-year old deal with, but again, this is not bullying. While having a lot weighing heavy on her, she goes through a despicable event as well. In the last episode of the show, Hannah is raped by Bryce and then kills herself.
“13 Reasons Why” no doubt is a very intriguing and easy watch; however, the show fails to depict what bullying looks like today. Bullying today, unfortunately, looks like extreme cruel interactions on the internet, the passing around of naked pictures that more often than not, end up on social media through “exposing” or “finstas” profiles, physical and or verbal abuse and more. For some who may be unaware, finstas are second private Instagram profiles many teens have created. The purpose of a finsta is to have a small amount of followers, which the user usually knows personally, so the user feels comfortable speaking his or her mind and posting words and photographs they wouldn’t normally feel comfortable posting or their main account. Often, harmful things and images are spread on these profiles. Exposing pages are Instagram accounts dedicated to the sole purpose of posting naked photographs of students (normally girls) to embarrass and “expose” that individual.
“13 Reasons Why” would have been a more powerful and realistic watch had it been based on the more trying challenges teenagers face today. If the “problems” Hannah faced in the beginning episodes had not been so trivial, then the show would have resonated more with high school life today. Although season one was a bit of a disappointment, there’s a cliffhanger in the last episode.
At the end of episode 13, we learn that Alex has shot himself in the head and is in critical condition. Maybe season two will take a look into Alex’s troubles and maybe they will more accurately reflect high school challenges. Also, there are several theories already floating around about Alex’s attempted suicide. In the last moments of episode 13, Tyler is seen loading a car with weapons and then taking down a picture of Alex from his bedroom wall. Maybe Tyler is the one who really pulled the trigger.
We will just have to wait for season two.
Jhoanna, 16, attends Atlanta Girls School. She is focused on becoming more aware of issues important to teens right now.