What is the controversy in 13 Reasons Why?

Over the last couple of days Gigglez and I have binge watched “13 Reasons Why” (https://www.netflix.com/title/80117470). The general premise is simple, yet quite complex.  A high school junior commits suicide, but before she does, records a series of audio tapes. These tapes involve all of those that contributed to her decision to end her life. Each person on the tapes are to listen to them and pass them onto the next person.

I think that this may be the most important series that I have watched in quite some time. The level of passion in the work harkens back to Dead Poets Society. Reaching deeply into the high school minds.

I am a fan of what Stephen King says about banned or censored works:

“Censorship and the suppression of reading materials are rarely about family values and almost always about control about who is
snapping the whip, who is saying no, and who is saying go. Censorship’s bottom line is this: if the novel Christine offends me, I don’t want just to make sure it’s kept from my kid; I want to make sure it’s kept from your kid, as well, and all the kids. This bit of intellectual arrogance, undemocratic and as old as time, is best expressed this way: “If it’s bad for me and my family, it’s bad for everyone’s family.”

Yet when books are run out of school classrooms and even out
of school libraries as a result of this idea, I’m never much disturbed not as a citizen, not as a writer, not even as a schoolteacher . . . which I used to be. What I tell kids is, Don’t get mad, get even. Don’t spend time waving signs or carrying petitions around the neighborhood. Instead, run, don’t walk, to the nearest nonschool library or to the local bookstore and get whatever it was that they banned. Read whatever they’re trying to keep out of your eyes and your brain, because that’s exactly what you need to know.” 
― Stephen King

So, as controversy is starting to stir, we decided to see why. What is the idea that “they” did not want us to see?  Was it the sex, drugs, suicide, free thought, bullying, or what? The negative press is asserting that the show is somehow condoning suicide, rape, drugs, and alcohol.  We simply did not find that to be the case. We found it to be illuminating the problems rather than glorifying them.

This series draws you in tightly with a broad spectrum of demographics and personalities. The cast was convincing in their roles.  Their portrayals caused emotional response and reflection for me.  It may be too hot of a topic for the various award giving entities to give the appropriate accolades.

Katherine Langford plays the role of the girl who chose to end her life. The life, death, and everything in between had such vibrancy it was the girl next door.

Dylan Minnette, the male lead, pulled of his role to such quality that it had me thinking of my youth. Back came the memories of the girls that I wished that I had the courage to approach. The cheerleader in math class, everyday taunting my middle school mind.

I think the one who stood out most for me was Kate Walsh. She played the grieving mother, struggling to come to terms with what happened with her cherished daughter. Why did she lose her daughter and could there have been anything that she or the school could have done to prevent it.  I could see in her the pain of all of the mothers who have lost a child. I have enjoyed her work since Gray’s Anatomy, but this role was far beyond the characters that I have seen her in before.  I know that she has kids, and that may have been part of what propelled the emotional buy-in that we saw. It was an utterly stunning role to see her play out.

As the series unfolds and we see more and more of the factors come to light it is difficult to watch as you know what is about to happen.  I am being mindful of spoilers so there is much more that I would like to say, but, it would be better for you to watch for yourself.  The episodes delve into areas that we wish did not exist, and for some, pretend that they don’t.  Guess what people, kids are mean, bullies exist, sex is had (consensual and rape), drugs and alcohol gets consumed.  When you watch this series (and I hope that you do if you have the strength) take the time to watch the follow-up episode.  The breakdown of the rationale for the way that certain scenes were carried out was quite valuable.

My wife and I were both reminded of those that we lost in our youth. The names, and faces from the past. We lost people, almost lost people and have had some that we reached out to when we were worried. In the end we cannot help but wonder how many times we missed a friend in need.  We also have to think about how something we may have said, or NOT said could have nudged someone to a darker place without meaning to, or realizing it.

Where does this leave our society? We need to be more thoughtful in how we interact and raise our kids. We have to be open, mindful, watchful, and communicative.  It is too bad that we cannot instill the golden rule upon our kids and have it stick with them for their entire lives. We are not perfect, nor are our kids.

 

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