“13 Reasons Why” fulfills suicide revenge fantasies

A couple of months ago, the book “13 Reasons Why” was turned into a Netflix series and like many of the streaming site’s other originals, it gained popularity very quickly. The show is about a girl who committed suicide and the effects that it had on certain people in her life. While suicide is a big deal and should be addressed more, the TV show took all the wrong angles and highlighted all the wrong things, making the show just another insensitive, dramatic Hollywood film that doesn’t do anything other than use powerful and fragile topics to make a profit.

The first time I picked up the book “13 Reasons Why” I was excited to read it. It was one of those books that everyone spoke about with reverence and I wanted to know what all the buzz was about. However, once I learned more about the plot and characters I found myself unable to read anymore and it was not because of its tough subject matter.

It took me quite a bit to pinpoint it, but Hannah – the girl who kills herself – is kind of a jerk and steps way out of line even after her death. She sends out tapes to people in her life who led her to commit suicide explaining exactly how it was their fault. While this is a faulty plan in the beginning, it progressively gets worse as the show goes on.

One of the people Hannah blames for her suicide was a guy named Alex, who was also her friend. Alex had published a list in the school stating who was hot and who was not. He put Hannah at the top of the list and her friend – and his ex-girlfriend – Jessica at the bottom. This caused Jessica to slap Hannah and cut her off completely. Which, consequentially, made Jessica the next person mentioned in the tapes.

While both of these people were definitely in the wrong, neither of them could have possibly imagined the side effects. Because of these tapes, these two relatively innocent people are going to have to live with the guilt that they caused a girl’s death, a girl who used to be their friend. Hannah had absolutely no right to do that to those people.

While it is later justified for some of the people on the tapes, for quite a few they didn’t deserve to be blamed and those tapes could essentially be the tailspin that leads others to take their own lives.

Other than the fact that the plot was just plain stupid, the effect that it had on the audience needs to be taken into account as well. When you put something into a video format as opposed to print, you are widening the audience significantly, which should have been considered before “13 Reasons Why” was put on one of the most popular streaming websites in the world.

Netflix cannot control who watches what. It does not have a person do a psych test before they watch a tough film because that would be insane, but it should be more careful. For someone who is suicidal, “13 Reasons Why” gives off the feeling that if they do decide to kill themselves, it is fulfilling the ultimate revenge fantasy. That if they die, everyone will mourn them and they can throw that in their faces from beyond the grave. This should not be taken lightly and should not be spread around as a good thing. It is not a good message to give to those who might already have suicidal thoughts.

Other than not caring who watches what, Netflix developed a show that does not acknowledge the mental health of any of the characters. While it does say that certain people felt sad or betrayed, it mentions nothing about Hannah’s depression and what it was like to try and combat that. If “13 Reasons Why” was trying to be a series that demonstrated what it was like to be suicidal, they would have capitalized more on mental health than on who was – and wasn’t – sleeping with whom.

Discussing suicide has immeasurable importance, especially in today’s world with high suicide rates in people of all ages. What we need is a TV show with a character experiencing suicidal thoughts and then have another character walk them through the different options, such as therapy or medication. Portraying suicide as a form of revenge for the person committing suicide is the last thing needed in a country where there are nearly 121 suicides a day. While the discussion has already started in different formats such as on Broadway and in Bollywood films – India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world – the discussion needs to move to a bigger format, a universal format, and it needs to be open and honest about what it is really like to be suicidal and what can be done about it.