What educators need to know about ‘13 Reasons Why’
"13 Reasons Why" is a popular book and Netflix TV series that is stirring up a lot of emotion and conversation around suicide. However, in some instances, it is seen as a glamorization of suicide.
I want to take a look at the events in the book and how can we as educators can speak to the young people we work with about this book and subject.
I would first like to state that this book-turned-TV-series is a work of fiction. Yes, it deals with a real-life topic, but the book is not a historical account of an actual person's life.
The main character of "13 Reasons Why" is Hannah Baker, a junior in high school who commits suicide. She leaves behind a package containing cassette tapes and a list of names she sends to a boy in her school, Clay Jensen, and asks him to pass the package on to the next name on the list and so on.
The tapes contain the "13 reasons why" she committed suicide, and they list the people she blames for committing suicide. Jensen listens to the tapes and this is what he finds. The following is a list of the subject matter on each tape (spoiler alert):
1. A boy named Justin Foley was Hannah's first kiss, then he started a rumor that they had sex.
2. Jessica was Hannah's best friend. Jessica's boyfriend Alex made a list of girls at school with the best and worst physical attributes. He rated Hannah as "best ass in school" and Jessica as "worst ass in school." Then Alex breaks up with Jessica, and Jessica blames Hannah and slaps her in public.
3. Hannah blames Alex and his list for the unwanted attention she starts receiving from boys about her body.
4. Tyler spies on Hannah through the window to her bedroom. One night, Hannah has her friend Courtney over, and they drink and play truth or dare. Courtney dares Hannah to kiss her, and the two make out. Tyler takes a picture of the two making out and tells Hannah that he will keep it a secret if she goes out with him. Hannah refuses, and he sends half the school the photograph.
5. After the picture of the kiss surfaces, Courtney blames Hannah. She says it Hannah's idea, and that she asked for a threesome. She also builds on the Justin rumor.
6. Marcus asks Hannah out on a date, and he brings the whole basketball team with him. In the booth at the dinner, Marcus forces himself on Hannah, putting his hand up her skirt. She pushes him off, and he states that he only went out with her because he thought she was "easy."
7. Zach asks Hannah out on a date and gets rejected. To get revenge he starts emptying out her "compliment baskets," anonymous baskets that students can leave for each other, in communication class. Hannah leaves a note for Zach saying that she relies on those compliments, Zach rips the note up and throws it away.
8. Ryan steals a poem Hannah wrote about her personal problems and puts it in the school newspaper.
9. Justin allows Bryce to rape his girlfriend Jessica when she is unconscious and intoxicated.
10. Sheri drives Hannah home and hits a stop sign. Hannah wants to call the cops, but Sheri refuses. Later on, a student dies in a car crash caused by the missing stop sign.
11. Clay dates Hannah, but she refuses to have sex with him and he just leaves.
12. Bryce rapes Hannah in his hot tub.
13. Mr. Porter, the school counselor, does not believe Hannah is suicidal and does not give her proper help.
Wow, that is a lot for one teenage girl. And that is why we need to remember that it is a work of fiction a drama.
The major problem with "13 Reasons Why" is stated clearly by my colleague, Alex Moen, a school counselor in Minneapolis, in an article for Slate. She said the show's entire plotline is "essentially a fantasy of what someone who is considering suicide might have — that once you commit suicide, you can still communicate with your loved ones, and people will suddenly realize everything that you were going through and the depth of your pain. That the cute, sensitive boy will fall in love with you and seek justice for you, and you'll be able to orchestrate it, and in so doing kind of still be able to live."
The truth is that suicide is a permanent solution. Being able to shame or get back at those who wronged you through the suicide is not how things work in real life. You cannot have the expectation that people will find out why or that they will feel bad for what they did to you.
This is what makes "13 Reasons Why" so dangerous, and this is what we need to make sure we get across when talking about the show to students.