[Adapted from my facebook page]
I’ve had some time to process through <<13 Reasons Why>> and find myself unable to recommend it to anyone, and also find myself conflicted for a number of reasons (3.5 critical, 0.5 appraisal):
1. I resonate with the high school lebenswelt that was portrayed, because it reminded me of my suburban high school days–obviously without the unashamedly stereotypical characters. There is a fair amount of development in the characters, however, sandwiched between the flat protagonist Clay and antagonist Bryce. For me, it was interesting to note the ways I identified with multiple characters’ behavior, good and bad.
2. Suicide is a real issue for many people, many of whom we are unaware. Some have experiences that can be triggered by the slightest of suggestions, and for that reason I found the show uncomfortably explicit in depicting the kinds of struggles that a person who is/may be suicidal goes through. The real problem here is that it attempts at an “open conversation” mode for a reality which has yet to receive healing. There’s a scene where a girl is giving a testimony and the interrogator presses her on a question which pries deeper than is necessary, and another character warns, “Don’t force her if she doesn’t want to.” This show potentially forces those who “don’t/may not want to,” and does so too soon.
3. The same goes for the explicit date-rape (and rape culture in general) presentation. At certain points in the series I would ask myself, “These people are supposed to be in high school–why do the producers feel the need to show _____?” There are many points that can be made without having to subject the viewer to certain acts, and even more so if the characters are purportedly underage. The assumption that it is worth making explicit that which can be intuited is one of the causes of desensitization.
4. One of the major themes in visual arts is the vigilante youth whose sense of justice/love/etc is so profound that it precludes the experience and wisdom of adults. The children are the ones who are teaching the adults a lesson, and it is the adults’ job to catch up. (Basically the premise of 90% of animated movies today) In the show, Hannah Baker’s “13 Reasons” in the hands of sophomore Clay Jensen drive the narrative (rightly so) and hold everyone accountable (dubious). In the end, Clay, at the end of his quest for his own justice, is enlightened–but has been motivated by survivor’s guilt, and forces his super-human sense of responsibility on students and adults alike. This is wrong in many ways, but in this case, the question is: how mature is a sophomore in high school, really, to have such an acute sense and perception of justice and insight into the way of the world, that he/she can go about it without the aid of “those who have gone before” them?
4.5. Lastly, the parenting examples are stereotypically flat, but within that framework are sweet moments of genuine concern and wisdom that are completely undervalued because, frankly, they have no value in the show. There is one moment where Clay’s mom says to him, “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.” A genuine moment of concern and invitation to relationship–but it’s shot down by Clay sentimentally shutting the door on his mom, because, ultimately, he knows best. Any meaningful action taken by parents is stifled by their lack of tenacity and uneasiness with being all in their children’s business (which is the point of being a parent, no?).
There is a long road to get to the point where a show like this can be received, but there has to be healing, justice, and love in order to get there. The healing doesn’t come by showing a high schooler’s death; justice doesn’t come by showing a high schooler being raped; and love isn’t learned without the help of adults–parents, teachers, mentors, pastors, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. And ultimately, it is not all up to us. Hannah Baker on her last day says, “Some of you cared, none of you cared enough.” The reality is that we will always never care enough, because we will constantly let ourselves and others down. But there is grace for us there, and the giver of grace is there to fill in where we fall short to overflowing. Not only so, but even where we meet one another’s needs, he is there, too, enriching our relationships and giving us a sense of what it is to be truly human. To be human is allow God to help us along the way, and guide us, teach us, love us, save us, and bring us back to him. He always cares enough.