Netflix series causes controversy in community

13 Reasons Why's depictions of suicide, rape lead to discussions, concerns

June 17, 2017

Imagine waking up one day to discover that an acquaintance at school has killed herself.

The Netflix original television series “13 Reasons Why” has garnered much attention and spurred controversy because of its handling of topics such as suicide and rape. The series, based on a novel by Jay Asher, premiered on Netflix on March 31 and has since been a headlining news story and topic of conversation because of concerns about the harmful effects watching the show may have on adolescents.

The show follows teenager Hannah Baker, who commits suicide, shocking her community. Before doing so, she creates thirteen audio tapes for ex-friends, ex-love interests and acquaintances to explain why they are one of the reasons she killed herself. The tapes circulate among the characters as they each discover further insights into Hannah’s life and the impact they had on her.

The controversy surrounding the show led Superintendent Christine Johnson to send out an email on May 2 to parents to encourage them to speak with their children about the show’s content.

Adjustment counselor Deb Guterman weighed the benefits and harmful elements of the show.

“I think with anything that’s controversial, one of the benefits is that it generates some discussion, but in this case I think the potential harm could outweigh the benefits,” Guterman said.

The scene in which Hannah commits suicide was deemed extremely graphic and critics have claimed it romanticizes suicide and self-harm.

Guidance counselor Lisa Connery also sees the danger in a television series such as this.

“I am concerned that students would be watching a show that would send any kind of a message other than the fact that suicide is never an answer instead of encouraging students to seek out help,” Connery said.

“I mean if you get those kids who are really searching for acceptance seeing Hannah’s story and hearing about her in the tapes and all that, they might fantasize,

‘I’ll be missed’ and ‘everybody will be in disarray because I’m gone,’” health teacher Melissa Arvanigian said.

Connery discussed the support that Algonquin offers to students who may be contemplating suicide, such as help contacting parents, specialists or even the police if necessary, and giving them access to therapy and outside resources.

“I think a lot of kids are not aware of the frequency with which we deal with suicidal ideation with students,” Connery said. “We take it very seriously. We seek out students immediately if we have significant concerns about them.”

“In a preventative sense, I think we do a good job connecting with kids and making sure that we build some trust with them,” Guterman said. “We make our offices friendly spaces that students feel welcome and comfortable in.”

According to the 2016 MetroWest Health Survey which Algonquin participated in, fifteen percent of females and nine percent of males reported suicidal ideation.

On the other side of the issue, however, there are many viewers who believe the show is helpful in creating a platform to talk about important issues such as suicide.

Junior Rowan Moreland described the emotional effects of the show.

“I think [the show] represented real high school issues well and brought to light issues everyone should be aware of, but I think it did so in the most damaging way possible,” Moreland said. “It did what it was meant to do, but in a way that was harmful and hard to watch.”

Another controversial part of the series is the two rather graphic portrayals of rape and its attempt to show the gray area of what is considered “consent.”

Sophomore Sean Neusch discussed the graphic nature of some of the scenes and consent.

“I personally think that it was a good idea [to include the graphic suicide and rape scenes] to really just hit people,” Neusch said. “I don’t know if I’ll forget that.”

Connery emphasized the support and resources Algonquin has in place for victims of sexual assault in comparison with the lack of support from the school in the show.

“We do become aware of students who have experienced sexual assault,” Connery said. “We do have referrals in place [for outside counselors and specialists] if students come talk to us.”

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OPINION: “It definitely got people talking about the issues that matter”

OPINION: “It definitely got people talking about the issues that matter”

The new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has been a heated topic of discussion lately, receiving both backlash and praise by critics and viewers alike. Although I can see both sides of the argument, I think the show is more helpful than harmful.

“13 Reasons Why” addresses hard-to-talk-about topics including bullying, suicide and sexual assault. Even though many people do not agree with all of the methods the show uses to portray these topics, such as Hannah Baker’s graphic suicide scene, I think that the intent behind these types of scenes is to raise awareness and get people talking.

Tragedies like suicide and rape are difficult to talk about, and even harder to portray on screen, which is why the show is being so heavily criticized. However, if these things were easy to talk about, “13 Reasons Why” wouldn’t be so controversial. It addresses the types of things that many teen shows and movies steer clear of, or only scratch the surface of.

It is important that high school and these horrific incidences are portrayed in a real way. The real thing is damaging and it is critical that the viewers see these events for what they are so that they truly understand. Glossing over and sugarcoating things like suicide and rape and having a “happy ending” is unrealistic and disrespectful to people who really experienced these events. The sad truth is that there is no way to accurately and truly portray suicide and rape in a way that isn’t horrifying and hard to watch. This show does the best it can to be respectful of its audience, but also be realistic.

Not only does the show depict the events very raw and realistically, but it has overarching positive messages of hope and awareness. The show promotes compassion and sensitivity towards others in the sense that you never know what someone else is going through or the way your actions could impact someone.

Although some people may not agree with its raw portrayal of controversial topics, I think it is critical that these issues get addressed in a real way. Love or hate the show, it definitely got people talking about issues that matter.

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OPINION: “…Not everything in the show is similar to real life circumstances”

OPINION: “…Not everything in the show is similar to real life circumstances”

The controversy surrounding the recent Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has two basic sides: those who believe the show and its discussion of suicide, bullying, and rape are beneficial in opening up a dialogue about these issues, and those who think the show glamorized the harsh reality of such topics. After having watched the entire series through, I can see the potential dangers in watching a show such as this, especially for adolescents who are at risk for suicidal ideation.

Viewing a television show surrounding a topic such as suicide may unconsciously activate an impulse in teenagers and cause them to glamorize these issues.

According to CNN, some critics believe suicide clusters, or a large number of suicides in one place within a short amount of time, will emerge because of the show’s romanticizing of suicide. Whether or not this will occur because of the series, any risk of someone killing themselves because of the show is risk enough for me to condemn its glamorization of suicide.

The suicide scene in the show is also problematic. The main character is shown getting into her bathtub in her empty house and cutting her wrists before bleeding out and dying. There is white light coming in from the windows of the bathroom in the scene and besides a short burst of her screams, it is quiet, her death seeming almost peaceful. To disguise suicide as anything but harsh, painful, and horrifying is to do a disservice to all viewers of the show.

While there are warnings of graphic content that play at the beginning of the episodes that show the suicide and cases of rape, a less disturbing depiction of these events may tackle the issues at hand while still giving them justice.

If there is any underlying romanticizing or even encouraging nature regarding suicide in the series, which I believe there may be, it is detrimental to viewers, especially those already at risk for suicidal ideation. If you do decide to watch “13 Reasons Why,” do your best to distinguish truth from fiction and a drama television show from reality, because not everything in the show is similar to real-life circumstances.

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About the Contributors
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Cassidy Wang, Editor-in-Chief

Cassidy Wang has pursued journalism since her freshman year. As A&E editor her sophomore year, she reported on theatre productions. As news editor,...

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